After years of conducting interviews for our WE Women Executives series, I find that looking back over my conversations in aggregate often provides new insights and reflection. 2017 has been a very busy year for WE Interviews and also for our new interview series, C-Suite Insights. I wanted to share some of the highlights of past interviews as 2017 winds down and we begin to look ahead to 2018.
Mitchem has focused on culture and mission in her role. “I spend a lot of my time acting as a personal ambassador for that vision and mission. I think people need a higher calling. I think you have to connect to something bigger than yourself, something that truly motivates you, to be excellent. A lot of my time is spent creating that vision and motivation inside our organization.”
“In any situation, whether it is personal or professional, the first thing you have to do is give yourself time to think,” Finucane says. “Thinking is underrated. Take in all the information you can — even in chaos — stay focused, incorporate the input in a non-linear way, and recognize that things will change constantly. Nothing ever stands still.”
Anne Ackerley, Head of BlackRock’s US and Canada Defined Distribution Group Ackerley addresses common challenges among women whose careers have stalled or who feel the need to increase their skills and visibility. She advocates consistently challenging yourself and finding a sponsor. And certainly not least, we should never overlook the importance of a sense of humor: “If I got upset about every one of the things that people have said to me over the years, I probably wouldn’t have had the fortitude to get through 32 years in finance.”
Blake believes that one way to approach gender equality is through shareholder activism. However, the vast majority of SSgA’s assets under management are invested in index funds and they cannot sell shares of the underlying securities to express displeasure at gender imbalances. Blake acknowledges this challenge: “As permanent holders of capital, the only way that we can reflect our views is via active engagement with the boards, the directors and the CEO – and ultimately our vote.” She emphasizes all types of diversity as integral to an independent board, but notes that gender diversity in particular is critical, because so much research ties positive performance to more women in leadership positions.
In order to move the gender diversity dial, executives—female and male— must be the example. Grove tries to be a personal ambassador to younger women in her organization. She started a group within SSgA with the purpose of nurturing and growing the pipeline of female talent. She acknowledges that there are more women at entry- and mid-level positions, but says that those numbers shrink as you climb the ladder. Her solution was to take action. “We all got together and said, ‘We’ve succeeded. We’ve blazed a trail. Now how do we make sure that we’ve got a pipeline of women behind us?’ I believe it’s incumbent upon us to play that role.”
Hurtsellers believes that instinct is not given enough credit in the corporate world. “There have been numerous studies that show how different perspectives within corporate leadership make the company stronger and better. Women are wired in a way that can make them great investors, and wonderful leaders. Women need to embrace the strengths they bring to the table.”
For Seitz, the most dangerous trap for a working woman is not understanding her priorities. “You must be vicious about your prioritization. You can have it all. You just can’t have it all, all of the time.” Those priorities, however, can shift. “Sometimes you’ll be consumed by work. Other times it is you, your child, or, your spouse. Life happens,” Seitz said. “You figure out what requires your complete focus, and then you have to choose what to sacrifice. Sometimes your career has to slow down, or you have to outsource more, but it’s important to remember that you can’t outsource the relationship you have with your kids.”
Urie asserts that for her, financial services have been a welcome intellectual challenge. “Our work is not just about doing spreadsheets, it’s really broad and deep in terms of the multiple layers of knowledge you need to have. If you’re a lifelong learner – and most of us are – the investment world is phenomenal. It’s constantly pushing your intellectual curiosity—what does this mean? How do you interpret this? How do you apply this? Is this relevant to the decision I have to make? That’s what keeps me at Cambridge: clients, content (the content of what we do every day), and colleagues. That is a great recipe for me—it’s always worked really well.”
Nathalie Molina Niño, Founder & CEO, BRAVA Investments believes that investing is a way to rectify gender imbalance and she takes a large-scale approach: “BRAVA is more concerned with whether a company’s business model facilitates direct economic impact for as many women as possible rather than if the company is women-led or has women at the executive level or on the board.” Molina Niño believes that change can come from the bottom up and argues that it’s not about hiring a female CEO. “It’s important to put women in the C-suite, but it’s unfair to think that they’re going to magically solve all the problems…We get hung up on symbols and forget that the majority of women can’t pay the rent with symbols. They can’t feed their children with symbols. The only thing that helps them do that is cash, so my goal is to get the whole gender parity conversation away from tokenism and symbols and down to brass tacks – we’ve been too focused on things that don’t really move the dial.”
Openshaw has had a wide-ranging and fascinating career. One of her most recent ventures is Girls with Impact, an organization that aims to help companies engage in diversity and develop the next generation of female talent. Her advice for women in the industry: “Know your worth. Be really clear about your strengths and value and speak from a place of credibility and authority. When you do that, people will want you.”