One of Lori Heinel’s key pieces of advice to those just starting out is to make sure to focus energy early on to build close relationships with both mentors and peers.
While her work was always impressive, she believes that it’s important to remember not to focus solely on doing good work, but to also embrace the value of strategic relationship building.
One best practice she readily shares comes from a colleague who derived untold benefits from creating her own “board of directors,” comprised of men and women with different skill sets at different places in their careers. “I always encourage women to network with people who will advocate on their behalf,” she says.
Tying Together the Threads of A Diverse Financial Services Background
And that’s because she knows that a career is very rarely a straight path, and the more people you know, the more doors that can be opened.
Although Heinel characterizes her career as “eclectic,” it has involved aspects of financial services for the past three decades, as she has held roles in fixed income sales and trading departments, as well as investment research and product development. The common thread has been a focus on the client: Whether she was selling to retail or institutional clients, her work prioritized using financial solutions to satisfy client needs. She has always welcomed the challenge and the opportunity to constantly learn new things and apply her skills in different ways to knit together these seemingly-disconnected pieces into a coherent thesis.
Heinel has been with State Street for more than three-and-a-half years and appreciates that her current position as deputy global CIO allows her to indulge her passion for markets and broad involvement in the firm’s investment capabilities. “Not only does my role entail understanding the current market environment and translating that into strategies and ideas, but I also get involved in strategic projects,” she says, noting that her broad background has lent itself well to providing value in areas from tech projects to product development.
Right now, she is particularly interested in how rapidly the environmental, social, governance (ESG) space is evolving. While social investing used to be primarily values-based, now it’s also about impact because investors are increasingly wanting both – they need solid returns but also want to know they are making an impact globally. “The industry is just at the beginning of understanding what that means in terms of meeting client expectations and how we can be a catalyst for change for the better,” Heinel says.
She also appreciates that SSGA has been vocal on diversity, including sponsoring the “She” statue, and she notes that research is increasingly proving that diversity is crucial for success. “There is a budding industry that is capturing data to provide a snapshot of how a company’s footprint is related to income equality or gender diversity. Investors can now pick something they care about and figure out exactly where a company sits in relation.”
The Concept of “Lean In” Has Merit
Looking at the role of women in the industry, Heinel sees both practical and impressionist challenges. “No matter how we slice it, women retain the bulk of child-bearing responsibilities,” she says, adding that it’s largely because women typically want to be intimately involved.
While there are legitimate times in a career that women have to make choices, she believes that companies could do more to provide women with options to offer value in different ways, so they can re-accelerate when the time is right.
“We do a good job of moving women into functional roles when they need it, but I am not sure that companies then provide the corollary, where women can re-engage for that C-level role when they are ready,” she says.
And yet she accurately notes that the skill sets women garner during those detours can actually make them more effective and bring different perspectives than those who stuck to the traditional vertical path.
On that note, she recommends that women take care not to self limit too early. She sees women in their early 20s who tell her they want to have a family so they shy away from roles that don’t immediately seem to offer the appropriate work-life balance. But she recommends that they see what happens before making those decisions; when the time comes that they do have the other responsibilities, there are ways to make things work. As she notes, if you’ve proven yourself as a quality performer, managers are willing to consider work-from-home arrangements and other flexible options, as increasingly companies realize they need to retain these contributors by making appropriate accommodations.
“If you see something interesting, go for it,” she advises. And even if the position doesn’t materialize, the visibility that professionals receive from putting their name up and striving for it can pay dividends in other potential opportunities down the road.
Heinel has been active in gender diversity programs for decades at her various companies, and currently chairs SSGA’s Diversity and Inclusion Council. She also acts as a mentor for the firm’s mentoring circles program as well as on an ad hoc basis for midcareer women.
Personally she helped start an informal group years ago called “Connected Women,” a loose affiliation of career-minded women who formed the group after realizing that they were lacking in social connections since they’d devoted the past years to raising their families and building their careers.
She started the group in Philadelphia as a way to have fun together, compared to most affinity groups that have professional goals. She has since formed similar chapters as she’s moved to New York and Boston, finding of course, that new business and professional connections have been an important byproduct, if not the sole intent.
Her other key outlet is travel and for Heinel, the ideal vacation involves something very physical — where all she can think about is the challenge in front of her, so she gravitates toward adventure trips, like skiing and ice climbing. “It’s the best way to get out of the day-to-day and really relax and come back refreshed.”