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Wall Street Women Forum 2014: Success on Your Own Terms

iStock_000007716967XSmallBy Jarod Cerf

During the Fifth Annual RegentAtlantic Wall Street Women Forum, host and event founder Jane Newton of RegentAtlantic polled the attendees via text on whether they thought women in finance had more opportunities today as compared to six years ago.

Of the over 100 managing directors, c-level executives, and thought leaders who were present, 57.7% stated wholeheartedly that significant progress had been made, with 26.8% suggesting that additional efforts were required to ensure gender parity in advancement to senior positions.

Both were touched upon by keynote speaker Lisa Carnoy, Head of Global Capital Markets at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, who described her leadership style and expectations for the future as “full of optimism, with faith in the long-term potential of the industry.”

“To build on that momentum, though,” Carnoy asserted, “we need to think about how we recruit talent, develop our teams, and provide effective feedback. We also need to tout our accomplishments, because we can’t assume that our superiors know what we’ve done. We have to define what success means, for us, and how we’re going to meet our goals.”

Defining Success on Your Own Terms
“There’s an old Haitian proverb,” Newton remarked, as she and Carnoy discussed career trajectories, “one you’re quite fond of quoting, that goes ‘dye mon, gen mon,’ or ‘beyond the mountain, there are mountains again.’ Can you tell us how that’s shaped your achievements and the way you work?”

Carnoy, in response, recalled quite vividly the challenges facing Merrill Lynch in the days leading up to its merger with Bank of America: “It was an incredible privilege, to be on the team responsible for raising a significant amount of equity in such a short time. As long as we can resolve a single issue by the end of the day, though, we’re always capable of ascending the ones that follow.”

It’s that resiliency and passion for inspiring others to take initiative that Carnoy hoped to impart to the attendees. “I have a list of things I’m thankful for and of people who’ve supported me,” she noted. “Among them, my husband, my children, and my ‘Gang of Four’—the women who’ve grown with me and become like family, who pushed me to be honest and direct with my peers about what I want from my career and how I’ll prove my worth each year.”

“And that’s the best way to win people over to your cause,” she added, “by being open and candid with them.”

Having an Honest Conversation
As Maggie Craddock, President of Workplace Relationships Inc., acknowledged during a panel discussion, one of the greatest challenges is in how we approach that conversation. “I have two acronyms that I share with everyone I train,” she said, “the first is W.A.I.T., which stands for ‘Why Am I Still Talking?’ and the second is H.A.I.L., or ‘How Am I Listening’?”

For the panel, which included Natalie Horton, Global Chief Operating Officer for the Synthetic Equities, Deutsche Bank, Russ Allison, a Leadership Consultant and Coach, and Mary Ellen Hennessy-Jones, President of Solera Capital, the emphasis on feedback, both given and received, was a core element of effective communications.

“I had the good fortune,” Horton stated, “of having a senior partner offer me some critical advice early on in my career. Though I didn’t want to hear it at the time, I still had the presence of mind to ask myself ‘how lucky am I to have this person take an active interest in my career?’ Oftentimes, people can see what you do better than you can see yourself, so advice can be invaluable.”

Allison, likewise, touched upon the power of being open and receptive to those who can influence your advancement. “There’s usually a gut or intuitive element to hiring and promotion decisions,” he explained, “particularly at the senior level. And it often boils down to who’s advocating for whom, and who’s unsure of what you’ve done or what you’re capable of doing. And the way you earn those supporters is by taking interest in what they say and openly considering the advice they give.”

As Hennessy-Jones summarized, “People talk about what they see and what they hear, and that perception will remain their reality until you provide them with the evidence they need to form a new one.”