“Game Changers” was the theme of the night. The chicly decorated ballroom, which held approximately 2,000 women and a small handful of men, had a distinct theme of blue. This invitation-only is one of the largest and longest run women events on Wall Street. Deutsche Bank has held the Women on Wall Street (WOWS) conference since 1995. Over the years, the attendance has grown from 200 to more than 2,000 women of all ages representing all the major international Wall Street firms as well as female executives in asset management, accounting, investment banking, media, politics and academia.
While acknowledging the long history of challenging times for women on Wall Street and also preaching the continuous need to promote woman within the corporate world, Jacques Brand, CEO of Deutsche Bank North America, kicked off the evening.
A Conversation with former Senator, Olympia Snowe
Frank Kelly, Global Coordinator, Public Affairs and Head of Government Relations in the Americas as Deutsche Bank, led a one-on-one discussion between former Senator Olympia Snowe. He started by turning everyone’s attention to a newspaper article that referenced the chaos in Washington and its title read “Senate women lead an effort to find an accord.”
Snowe advised the audience about her “game changing” decision not to pursue re-election. She expressed her beliefs that she can make a more significant impact without actually being on the “inside.” It wasn’t an immediate decision she described; in fact it was one that evolved over time as she traveled around the country. She came to realize what the Senate was evolving into, which seemed dysfunctional on top of their willingness not to work together. “I would be best served to work on the outside, contribute my knowledge, my experience and to help people understand that it doesn’t have to be this way. It wasn’t that way in the past and it doesn’t have to be that way currently,” said Snowe. “I could give voice to that.”
Snowe’s message was more than just her desire to start a new journey; it was a powerful message about how she envisions change in our Government. Through her travels, she realized how unhappy and frustrated American people are with certain legislations that pass or don’t pass, but Snowe’s belief is that the American public needs to communicate their opinions, thoughts and questions to the Government. “Dysfunction is the number one concern among American people,” said Snowe. “There’s no doubt that people are frustrated and angry, the questions now is how do they weigh in; they have to communicate through emails, through social media, through phone calls,” said Snowe.
When asked whether it matters to have women in public office, Snowe replied, “Absolutely, there’s no doubt.” We worked night and day on the issues that were so important to women and we drove it. Set aside all of our other differences; didn’t speak as Republicans or Democrats, but as women, so it had a major impact.”
“I am a can-do person and this is a can-do country and I know this is a can-do audience and the fact of the matter is we can change it and that’s the message that I want to convey to all of you here tonight. It’s the message I am conveying all across this country, you can do something about it,” said Snowe.
What it Means to be a Game Changer
Kelly continued on with the panel, collectively a dynamic group of female influencers, who discussed their experiences that made them each a game changer across the sectors of finance, government and technology.
Kicking off the topic of living and working through the recent financial market crisis, Sallie Krawcheck, Owner of 85 Broads, said during a crisis she thinks women tend to look at an issue more long-term. She made a tough decision that included sharing the pain with clients and to her, it felt like the right thing to do. “It was a big battle and I won the battle, and I lost my job,” said Krawcheck.
On the other hand, Mary Schapiro, Managing Director and Chairman of the Governance and Markets Practice, Promontory Financial Group, LLC, had her own approach in dealing with a crisis. Her philosophy isn’t being the smartest person in the room, but being the hardest working. “I don’t need to be the smartest person in the room, in fact if I am the smartest person in the room, were in serious trouble. So I want lots and lots of smart people around me; but I wanted to be the hardest working person in the room, so we set at an incredibly intense pace at the senior team level and it really excited employees and got them engaged again,” said Schapiro.
Post crisis, Vicki Fuller, Chief Investment Officer, New York State Common Retirement Fund, is dealing with a changing environment in terms of investment decisions and the way they are made. In the world we live in now, Fuller explained there has to be an understanding of the risks within investment strategies. “We are implementing as fast as we can, tools that help us evaluate the risk, the risk of a highly correlated event and what we would do about it,” said Fuller.
As a member of Starbucks Board of Directors by the age of 29, Clara Shih, CEO and Founder of Hearsay Social, unexpectedly followed a path becoming a very successful pioneer in the technology while studying at Stanford University. Shih described herself as catching the “entrepreneur bug,” while at school. Game changing was a large part of her path, as it was not something she planned for. “I think the four years out there really changed my life and I decided on graduation day that I would start a company at that point,” said Shih.
In terms of coming up against barriers while studying out in Silicon Valley, Shih described it as typical challenges we all experience, but she also learned more about herself and how she dealt with them. “I think the barriers there are not explicit ones,” said Shih. “The entire time I was there, I was constantly worried about not belonging. The only way I would cope was to work harder than everyone else,” she added.
When speaking about diversity among boards of companies, Mary described her thoughts that diverse boards are associated with higher return companies when compared to their peer companies with fewer women. She made an interesting point that women bring a level of diversity to a board because typically they are not in the “inner-circle,” so they bring fresh and new ideas. “Women push for answers, they are not afraid to ask the question that maybe a man might be afraid to ask because it would show he didn’t know or didn’t understand a particular issue,” said Schapiro.
“Companies with diverse leadership teams move more slowly because they are not all finishing each other’s sentence,” said Krawcheck. She advised when companies take a step back and focus on “group think,” it provides a chance for innovative ideas and strategies because everyone is not sharing the same ones. “Women bring an independent voice,” added Schapiro.
Social Media Influencing Women’s Career Advancement
Next, Kelly highlighted the topic of social media and how it’s truly changing the way companies think and how it’s helping women get ahead. All panelists agreed there are many positives, but like anything there is also a negative. Shih advised social media is power, trust and influence. Over the last decade, social media has evolved out to the people and is accelerating, adding to the shift whether it’s in corporations and how they deal with employees or it’s the Arab Spring. “There is so much change that is sweeping across every industry, public, private sectors. Those trends are really important to think about regardless of what industry or role you’re in,” said Shih.
In discussing whether social media helps women get ahead, Shih thinks it absolutely does. It allows women to grow their network, even if they can’t be out at specific events, such as golf, that they can still stay networked and be in “the know.” Being connected in social media, women can leverage that advantage in their career network.
Regulators are also starting to adapt to the social media wave. SEC recently announced you can use Twitter to make filings, as long as investors know the social media outlet is where corporate announcements and news will be made. “I think social media has an enormous power to speed disclosure of information that will really be useful to investors in making capital allocation decisions,” said Schapiro.
The one caveat, according to Schapiro, is with so much information available she believes there is potential for more fraudulent activities. “It’s going to require that investors and users of social media be extremely vigilant and skeptical, skeptical, skeptical about what they are reading. It’s going to require regulators to be vigilant and quick to enforce the laws,” she said.
The Power of Networking
Ending the panel discussion was the famous and especially important to women topic: the power of networking. Krawcheck described how unimportant networking was early in her career and now it really matters whether it’s social media, attending events or simply meeting in person. “All connections add up,” said Krawcheck. According to Krawcheck, once women enter their thirties; they realize how powerful networking really is. “Networking is the #1 unwritten rule of success,” she added.
In thinking about how she could get more involved in networking, Krawcheck discovered 85 Broads. For her, 85 Broads is a way of getting diversity through these companies and to the top of these companies. “It’s hard work and it matters,” said Krawcheck. “It matters to the prosperity of our economy, it matters to our industry, it matters to our regulators, it matters.”
Fuller also learned the hard way when she was in her early career. She knew she had to work hard, but she didn’t make enough use of networking. According to Fuller, networking would have offered her a way to get out of the office, learn more about her peers and would have allowed her to ask questions about her peer’s experiences. “I really enjoy networking,” she said.
More Opportunities for Women in Financial Services
In discussing whether the financial crisis has shaped more opportunities for women, all panelists did provide a positive outlook across all industries. In technology and Government, both Shih and Schapiro envision more change ahead, which brings opportunity. Both agreed that the crisis helped open up a lot of holes, so women might now have opportunities they didn’t have in the past.
Within financial services, although the numbers of women in senior roles went backwards, Krawcheck is still optimistic that women have access to opportunities that didn’t exist 5 and 10 years ago. Post crisis, it’s not unusual and is expected that the minority loses out and majority to gains. “On the big picture, I don’t think we have ever been better positioned as we are today for a tipping point to really begin to make a difference,” said Krawcheck.
In Washington, Fuller sees high profile women becoming more thought leaders. Whether it’s being creative or even problem solving, she thinks women have more to say and people are finally listening. “I think increasingly women will be called upon to take the challenge of leadership,” said Fuller.
Closing the event was a very strong, yet touching speech by Roberta Kaplan, Partner with Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, who successfully argued before the United States Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor earlier this year. Kaplan proudly spoke about the history of our Government and the challenges of equality among the LGBT community. In touching on a topical headline such as gay marriage, Roberta closed with the point that matters most in today’s world: Regardless of sexuality, everyone should be treated with the same rights both socially and professionally.
“In our fast paced world of Twitter, Facebook and Politico, it is too easy to become cynical to assume that’s its all one big Washington DC inside game and that cases do not get decided on the merits but for other less principle reasons,” said Kaplan. “For me, the Windsor decision proves that the United States Constitution matters.”