“Work hard, seek advice from mentors, and the advancement opportunities will come,” says Melissa Barrett, Managing Director at Goldman Sachs, who has experienced that firsthand in her journey with the firm.
Barrett has spent 19 out of her 20 year career at Goldman Sachs, beginning in the Investment Management Division and then moving through several locations and departments to her current role in Compliance. “What is unique about Goldman Sachs is that there are so many opportunities to take on diverse roles while staying with the same firm,” she says. “I’ve loved having the opportunity to do different things at the firm and that I haven’t had to look outside of the company to be able to take on new challenges.”
Much of her current focus in Compliance is helping employees achieve a similarly diversified career, as she spends time on people initiatives for the division. Her goal is to determine what motivates employees and help them identify rewarding career paths at the firm. To address research showing that millennials are apt to job hop, Barrett spent time last year reaching out to other managing directors on ways to engage specifically with millennials. This year, she is doing the opposite and ensuring that millennials are best prepared to engage with people of different generations. “I want to figure out how to retain this generation and ensure they carry on the firm’s culture of employing high performers over the long-term,” she noted.
Mentors Can Make the Difference
Barrett attributes much of her success to trusting her mentors and managers, who encouraged her to take risks that she says she otherwise might not have considered. That’s why she believes it is important for professionals at all levels to find people who will be their sponsors or mentors. “Some of the moves I’ve made in my career were a result of someone I trusted advising me that taking a risk was the best move for me. Use your mentors’ guidance to help you navigate your career. No matter what their level, or whether they’re inside or outside the firm, find people who can answer questions and provide solid advice,” she says. “Have a diverse group of people you can turn to – at various points in your life and career you will need to seek advice from different people.”
Based on her positive experiences with mentors, she encourages her peers to sponsor women and act as a role model. “Think about what the younger generation is searching for and realize that you are what they aspire to be. Make an effort to support them and be open and honest about what attributes will lead to success. Being transparent about your personal struggles allows people to connect with you.”
Barrett advises younger women to be confident and trust in their abilities. “Have a voice and know that you have a place at the table and your opinion is valued,” she said. She also recommends that women get involved in activities at the company beyond day-to-day work, such as an affinity network. “I think one of the things that has kept me so tied to Goldman Sachs is that I’ve worked with and met so many people, and coming to work each day becomes more than just a job,” she noted.
She herself participated in the year-long Vice President Leadership Acceleration Initiative (VPLAI). One of the most unique facets was a feedback component that was directly targeted to specific areas of development. “I really appreciated that direct feedback so I could understand what skills and areas I needed to improve to get to the next level,” she said.
Balancing Work and Home
Barrett was already established in her career when she had her child, now three years old, so she has been adjusting to the challenge of being a working mother in the finance industry. “Every day is a juggling act to find time to be a good mom, a good spouse and take time for myself. Each person has to figure out how to make it work.”
Barrett also notes that flexibility and a work-life balance aren’t solely for working parents. “Ultimately, I think it’s up to you as an individual to determine what’s important to you and ensure you prioritize things outside of work. I try to lead by example in this regard.”