Voice of Experience: Stephanie Ruhle, Managing Director, Relationship Management, Deutsche Bank

StephanieRuhleBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

“It’s an interesting time to be a woman in this business – you have the opportunity to be a pioneer and affect change. Women might be on the verge of real change thanks to women supporting women. There is a sense of urgency to promote and empower,” said Stephanie Ruhle, Managing Director in Relationship Management at Deutsche Bank.

Ruhle thinks more women are entering the discussion for senior roles on Wall Street. She spoke enthusiastically about the opportunities afforded by the field, as well as the importance of senior female role models to empower the next generation of women.

Unbelievable Energy

Ruhle began her career in 1997. While studying abroad in Italy, she took an internship with Merrill Lynch – which sent her to New York for the summer.

“On my first visit to the trading floor I was so impressed by the energy and spontaneity. This was a business environment unlike anything I had imagined. The sense of opportunity was palpable – a real meritocracy.”

Ruhle joined Credit Suisse and took a role in sales and trading right after graduating college. “I began in corporate bond sales and started to focus on credit derivatives – and this was really when hedge funds were getting into the CDS space,” she recalled. She stayed at Credit Suisse for six years working in hedge fund sales, and moved to Deutsche Bank in 2002.

She explained, “Deutsche Bank is the preeminent powerhouse for credit derivatives on the Street.” Last year, Ruhle transitioned to senior relationship management, covering some of the banks largest clients for all Corporate & Investment Bank business.

“Based on the way the market has moved, it’s been great. In 2010, Deutsche integrated investment banking and sales and trading. You could see the synergies day one.”

Currently, Ruhle said, she is energized by the Corporate & Investment Bank (CIB) integration. “Being present for this change is “both challenging and exciting.”

She continued, “Connecting hedge fund clients to broader product offerings has expanded my role to work with new areas both within the bank and with our clients.”

Moving the Needle

Ruhle founded Deutsche Bank’s Global Markets Women’s Network five years ago. And it has now grown from a grassroots effort to a task force spanning CIB, with support from the top. “This initiative is owned by front line business people,” she explained. “It’s designed in this way so the women who sit in the middle of the revenue generating businesses can drive the right cultural initiatives. We serve as a conduit for business opportunities, recruiting talent, professional development, retention and leadership.”

“We started with a women’s network to give junior and mid-level women access to senior management. There’s a sociological idea that ‘you have to see it to be it.’ You need to have the confidence that you can do it. Women often don’t have that advantage of watching their female peers rise to the top,” she continued. “We are also now focused on our senior women population. It’s no longer about work/life balance and keeping women in the game. It’s about giving us the tools to win it.”

She added, “When I retire, one of the things I hope to be proud of is moving the needle for women in the business.”

In addition to her work with CIB’s women’s network, Ruhle is also the co-chair of Deutsche Bank’s Women on Wall Street (WOWS) steering committee. “It’s great to be a part of both. I really get to be part of the think tank.”

Ruhle was especially proud of a Deutsche Bank initiative to reach out to college sophomore women, so they have the opportunity to learn about the finance industry. “There are amazing, talented women out there whose access to the financial services industry may have been limited. We want to expose and prepare them to the opportunities and the industry early, so they are interested and ready for the coveted internship programs.”

“As a firm, Deutsche Bank is considered quite young in the Americas, which has also afforded us the opportunity to build our own culture. When Deutsche wins high honors like being named #1 in US fixed income, it is especially rewarding because it is the direct reflection on our collective achievements and culture.”

Challenges for Women in Financial Services

Ruhle said she doesn’t believe there are any specific barriers for women, per se. “Women are talented enough for the big jobs,” she said. “The only thing in the way is giving them the seats. We hear a lot about men being evaluated on potential and women being evaluated on experience.”

She continued, “The industry needs to take the leaps. For a woman to take a senior position, she has to work harder to prove herself. And it’s not about having a “job” – it’s about having a career. Women are leaving, not because they’re burnt out, but because they’ve hit a level and they can’t move up.”

The challenges women face in the workforce are not simply a matter of work/life balance, Ruhle said. “With the financial crisis, we learned work/life balance is about men and women – in my experience, everyone I’ve worked with is an overachiever. Being successful means always looking at the next level.”

She continued, “We need to stop calling work/life balance a problem. This is what the world looks like for professionals now.”

Advice for Professional Women

Ruhle said that women should look to leaders for inspiration as the plan their careers. “As you set out in your career, you need to look at those colleagues whose leadership attributes you admire. You need to be honest in evaluating your strengths and weaknesses. You need to focus on building on your experiences and incorporating those positive leadership attributes into your skill set.”

Additionally, she said, women should actively build a career plan and network. She said, “Think about your three to five year plan. Where do you envision yourself? Most importantly, how do you get there? You need to establish a game plan to get there: networking. Make the time and plan for networking – it will open doors for you in the future. You will experience different trajectories and plateaus along your career path. Those are times when you will need to tap into the experience and assistance of your mentors. Achieving success is a collaborative effort and having the support of those above and around you is key.”

But while taking time to think about your career future is important, it’s important to focus on learning the ropes as well. “When it comes to career building, focus on the job at hand rather than the climb. Rushing through anything only leads to mistakes. Though the networking aspect is key, is should be secondary to overall excellence in job performance. Especially for junior women and those with the benefit of training programs, take full advantage of the opportunity to learn. We are all highly competitive and want to succeed on our own. Take the time to be thoughtful and patient before going out on your own.”

She added, “Confidence is key. Your name and your brand are highly important. At all points in ones career, we should aspire to use good judgment and act as a leader.”

In Her Personal Time

Ruhle said she tries to spend as much of her spare time with her two sons as possible. “One of the great things about being a working mother is that it forces you to have a laser beam focus. Because I have so little free time, I don’t get bogged down with politics or noise at work. I want to be the very best at my job and then spend every spare minute with my sons. Time is one thing I never take for granted and I’m focused on making the most of it both personally and professionally.”

She is also on the board of Girls Inc. of New York City. A non-profit organization focused on helping the cognitive, emotional, intellectual and physical development of girls. With Girls Inc., Ruhle is working on a program called Financial Fitness 4 Life.

She said, “The goal is to educate New York City girls and their mothers in finance – from how to start a savings account to how the stock market works. When I was introduced to Girls Inc., I pulled up their website. The first thing I read was – Girls Inc. Inspiring All Girls to be Strong, Smart & Bold. At that moment, I knew I was in and in a big way.”

“I have a passion for this business and a passion about helping young women. I sit on the corporate council of iMentor, a New York City mentorship program. We’re trying to recruit people at Deutsche and other banks to get involved as well. Being a mentor is a great way to develop personal and professional skills no matter who you are. If you look at truly successful people, philanthropy is a major part of their lives. It often seems like there are people who devote their lives to civic duty and people who are massively successful and in turn have decided to give back in a major way. We need more people in the middle to get involved.”

She believes joining a non-profit board is a great way to exhibit leadership, problem solve and work with people from different industries and backgrounds. It’s also a tool to broaden career development goals. “When we devote decades of our lives to Bloomberg screens 24/7, we may be limiting ourselves. You’d be surprised how much you can learn about your own skills and opportunities from sitting on a non-profit board. Robin Hood has an incredible program designed to match individuals with great board seats.” Ruhle has worked with a number of women and men, who have joined Robin Hood boards. She also helped convince her husband to become the board chair of a Robin Hood sponsored charter school.

Finally, she said, she is passionate about educational reform – especially for girls. “We need more girls in New York City to graduate high school and graduate college. We need to give women and girls every tool possible to succeed. If we start from the bottom and give girls the educational foundation and early career support, we are getting them in the game.”

“No one wants to see a woman get a job because of a diversity initiative. We want her to get the job because she is the best candidate. I want to help increase the number of women we bring into the business and those who are eligible for prized senior jobs.”

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