Last night, the Financial Women’s Association held its Annual Dinner and Women of the Year Awards at the Grand Hyatt New York. Each year the FWA honors an outstanding woman in the private and public sectors. This year’s private sector honoree was Karen Peetz, CEO, Financial Markets and Treasury Services, BNY Mellon. The public sector honoree was Gail J. McGovern, President and CEO, The American Red Cross.
Trish Regan, anchor and reporter for CNBC emceed the event. Having hosted for the past two years, she always saw the importance of honoring women. But now, recently having given birth to twin girls, she said the awards took on further significance, causing her to reflect on “the challenges they’ll face entering the workforce.”
Additionally, many of the speakers of the evening reflected on the importance of nurturing and encouraging the next generation of financial women. Mentorship was the prevailing them of the evening, as the FWA’s new Volunteer of the Year award honored the Co-Chairs of its Mentoring Program. The awards honored two of the organization’s outstanding young mentees as well.
Women of the Year
“I’m thrilled to be honored by the FWA,” said Karen Peetz, CEO, Financial Markets and Treasury Services, BNY Mellon. Peetz explained that she had sat on the dais for past awards, “so I knew this was a big deal!” She continued, “The award has been given to so many people I respect – I’m fired up that I was the private sector honoree.”
Peetz was enthusiastic about the importance of mentors in her life. She said, “I’m incredibly moved about this honor and grateful for those responsible for getting me to this point. I’m here tonight because people took an interest in me.” She continued, “Mentors make the difference in the outcome of your life and your career.”
Peetz recalled a mentor she met at her previous role at Chase. She explained, “He saw the need to move me from sales to P&L. He sent me to London so I got that international experience.” And when Peetz was ready to move on from Chase, “He encouraged me to leave when it was time, to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond.”
She explained that mentorship can make the difference for women in the financial industry. “The statistics about women breaking through to the top echelons of business can be disheartening. For that to change… we need to take an active interest in each other’s careers.” She continued, “I encourage every woman to be a mentor.”
Peetz said the best advice she ever got was from that mentor. “Have confidence,” she said. “People want to follow people who have confidence.” As for career advice, she said, “It’s very important that you – early on – that you don’t let any time go by with out setting formal goals.”
Peetz recalled a family tradition. Every New Year she and her family members would share a personal goal and a professional goal for the coming year. “I was always better at the professional goal,” she joked. She said the tradition allowed for “heavy self reflection.” She encouraged people to think hard about the skills they need to develop or improve.
The FWA’s public sector honoree, Gail McGovern of the American Red Cross was unable to attend the event. But accepting the award by video, she said, “I’m glad we’ve reached the point that instead of being the only woman in the room, there are many women in the room. And tonight, women own the room.”
She described the Red Cross’ work in Haiti, and explained that when she has asked Hatians how they were managing following this year’s earthquake, many would respond in Creole, “I’m striving.” She continued, “When people ask me how I’m doing, I answer ‘I’m striving.’”
Ann Kaplan, Chair of Circle Financial Group and adjunct professor of Finance at the Columbia University School of Business accepted the award on her behalf. She said, “There’s still so much work to be done to promote women in every endeavor.”
The Importance of Mentoring
In addition to the private and public sector awards, the FWA also gave a Volunteer of the Year award. FWA President Stephanie Hauge explained that volunteerism was at the intersection of private and public sectors. The award was given this year to the Co-Chairs of the FWA’s Mentoring Program: Francoise Jeanpierre, Columbia University Medical Center and Wendy Liebowitz, Liebowitz Marketing Services Inc.
Jeanpierre said, “Mentoring is the most powerful influence you can have in the professional future of anyone.” She explained that, “the mentoring program is as big as everyone who gets involved.”
Two FWA mentees were honored with cash scholarships: Ashlee Cerda, a Senior at Murry Bergtraum High School and Olga Barskaya, a Senior at Baruch College (CUNY). Cerda said, “The FWA has transformed me to the woman I am today.” Barskaya said, “I’m proud to say that the FWA has and will continue to be part of my journey.”
Hauge encouraged FWA members to join its mentoring program and make a difference in the lives of the next generation of the FWA.