Women Leaders Share Wisdom at Second Annual Toigo Groundbreakers Summit

By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

Last week, the Toigo Foundation held its Groundbreakers Summit for female leaders. While this was just the second annual summit, the Foundation has worked for over two decades to bring diversity to the financial sector.

That’s why Toigo Alumna Nicole Pullen Ross, Managing Director and Mid-Atlantic Region Head at Goldman Sachs, said with a laugh during her welcome remarks, “Stand back and be prepared for what is in many ways a homecoming. You may get in the way of a hug.”

Ross, the first African American to become a managing director at Goldman’s Private Wealth Management business, said she wasn’t sure where she would be without the Toigo Foundation’s guidance. “Outside this room, we’re very accustomed to being the first or the only. But today, we are collectively one of the many,” she said.

The goal of the summit was to share insight into how and why women break through to leadership in the financial industry and in the broader business community. Speakers shared their advice and experience with guests at the sold-out conference.

Here are a few key insights by leadership speakers Lisa Garcia Quiroz, Chief Diversity Officer at Time Warner; Gwen Ifill, Moderator and Managing Editor at Washington Week and Senior Correspondent and Co-anchor at PBS Newshour; Janet Hill, Principal at Hill Family Advisors; Abigail Disney, Filmmaker and Philanthropist; and Debbie McCoy, Director of the SEED Institute at Stanford University.

Key Advice from Women Leaders

In her opening speech, Quiroz discussed her vision of the next phase of female leadership. She said she believes there is a growing dissatisfaction with the state of male leadership, and it’s time for women to reimagine how the world is organized. “Let’s not talk about the glass ceiling or the C-suite. Let’s talk about how we can reinvent institutions,” she suggested. “If we thought about it that way, I don’t think we’d be having conversations about work life balance.”

It’s time to change what it means to be a leader, she added.

Similarly, in her talk, Disney discussed the importance of visibility in leadership. Women’s leadership is nothing new, she explained, but until recently it wasn’t made visible. “There is a power in recognizing ourselves,” she said. “I have an obligation to be visible and an obligation to everyone behind me. You have an obligation to lift yourself up and be visible, and to lift up those around you.”

“The power of what we can do when we know what is possible is almost unlimited,” she said.

Ifill discussed the importance of recognizing the forces that shaped her career path. “My ambitions in my career were shaped by people who led.”

And when it comes to corporate leadership, said Hill, diversifying the top ranks could improve the way organizations are run. “Inclusion is a hallmark of great executive leadership,” she explained.

A veteran board director herself, she provided the following advice for women directors: maintain your integrity. “Corporate board service is different today than it was in 1987 when I was on the board of the New York Cotton Exchange. Today more is expected of board members.”

For example, Hill said, industry expertise and an understanding of one’s duty to the company. She continued, “But when I’m looking for a board member, I look for integrity, integrity, integrity. All of us are judged by the friends we keep, but boards are judged as a collective.”

McCoy, who has focused her career on ways that the private sector and investing capital improve economic opportunities in developing nations, told the audience to be sure to remain true to themselves as leaders. She said “Being authentic in how I talk about what I want to do…will get me to a place where I can deliver value to whatever entity I’m working for.”

Finally, Ifill discussed the importance of seeking out opportunities to show your leadership to others. “Being in a position to ask questions is of value to me. But there were periods in m life when I have had to raise my hand.”