Honoring Role Models and Sponsors at the 2011 FWA Women of the Year Awards

FWABy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

Last Thursday, the Financial Women’s Association of New York honored two outstanding women for the impact they have had on our perception of mentoring, sponsoring, and role models: Irene Dorner, President & CEO, HSBC Bank USA and Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Founding President of the Center for Work-Life Policy.

Both women emphasized the importance of changing the game so that more women can reach levels of success in the financial services. The evening was dedicated to the fact that no one gets to the top without other people helping them along the way.

Susan Ganz, President of the Financial Women’s Association said, “Irene Dorner has really embraced and exemplified the concept of women helping women.” And Sylvia Ann Hewlett, she said, was honored for her years of advocacy on changing the structure of workplaces so that they are can be more inclusive of diverse leaders, as well as for spearheading the CWLP’s recent study on sponsorship.

The event, which took place at the Grand Hyatt in New York City, also celebrated the organization’s 35 years of educational programming and mentoring. Dorner said, “We must pay it forward. We must mentor and coach other women the way we have been coached.”

Changing the Game

Irene Dorner was recognized by the FWA as its Private Sector Woman of the Year. In her acceptance speech, she discussed the importance of changing the game so that the next generation of women can succeed in greater numbers. As President and CEO of HSBC USA, she explained, “It is now my turn to address whatever shortcomings and successes there are [because] I can’t blame anyone more senior than myself.”

Dorner remembered how when she was coming out of school, she and many of her female classmates felt there would be a tsunami of women entering the workforce and the gender mix at all levels of organizations would soon reach 50/50. “But it hasn’t happened. We have to ask ourselves why it hasn’t happened,” she said.

Dorner pointed to “unwritten rules, unwritten bias, and unspoken expectations.”

Then she turned the spotlight on herself and other senior women in the financial services industry. She said, “Our own consciences are pricked. Why are we successful? Either we were made special, or we learned to play the game.” She continued, “So we have accidentally supported the status quo. We have learned to play by the rules of the game, rather than change them.”

“I believe it is a sin not to reach our full potential. And I also believe it is a sin not to help others reach their own potential.” She continued, “I also believe fervently and passionately that the better the mix of diversity, the better results.”

Dorner said that female leaders must be advocates for culture change and to take ownership of the industry. “We must embrace the contributions of those who, on the face of it, don’t fit in.” Finally, she said, “You must never pull up the ladder behind you.”

The Importance of Role Models

During the evening, CNBC anchor Sue Herera, who emceed the event, noted that she had spent almost 30 years covering Wall Street.

“But I didn’t get there by myself,” she said. “I had the help and friendship of a lot of people.”

In particular, she mentioned Muriel Siebert, who, as the first woman to buy her own seat on the NYSE, was recently honored by the National Council for Research on Women for her trailblazing career on Wall Street.

“If people like Muriel Siebert had not been there for me, I wouldn’t be here now,” she said.

The FWA also recognized two students taking part in the organization’s mentoring program: Nancy Mui, a senior at Baruch College and Sequenza Williams, a senior at Murry Bergtraum High School.

Mui said, “The FWA has helped my confidence as I embark on the next chapter of my life – starting a full time job.”

Sponsorship for Success

The final honoree of the night was Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the FWA’s honoree for Public Sector Woman of the Year. Hewlett said, “You can not pull yourself up solely by your own bootstraps. Grit and determination are not enough.”

She continued, “Our research demonstrates that it has nothing to do with your qualifications, your commitment, or your track record.” Sponsorship, she said, is the main reason individuals are successful.

“Men and women with sponsors are much more likely to get that raise, that promotion if they have that person in their lives,” she explained. The other important thing to remember, she continued, is that sponsorship is reciprocal. “It’s a two way street.”

A sponsor can count on his or her protegee for support just as much as the protege can count on the sponsor to represent him or her at the table of power.