Kathleen Powers Dunlap, Managing Director and Head of the Institutional Investor Team at Barclays Capital, has had a rich, interesting and highly successful career spanning over 30 years of Institutional Investment Management experience, but her ascent to the top has not been without struggles – especially when she was started out in the industry in 1978. “The stories I could tell you would absolutely curl your hair,” she said, laughing, when she and I sat down to talk in April.
You’re Hired. Now Go Empty the Dishwasher.
In 1983, Dunlap was excited to be recruited as a stockbroker into a top firm, yet on her first day she and the company’s only other female broker discovered a piece of paper taped to the fridge that had their names on it. It wasn’t a welcome note. It was a schedule of who was to clean the kitchen and empty the dishwasher. Dunlap says, “All the women (who worked in administration) were required to clean the kitchen, and it was assumed we were to do so as well. The men in the office (the brokers) were exempt from cleaning duty. I did not comply. Not surprisingly, neither the men nor the women supported my stand. It was not a popular decision, with my peers, the men, or with the other women who thought that I considered myself better than them.”
The gender-based discrimination did not abate. When Dunlap was pregnant with her first child she became persona non grata at the firm. “The minute it was discovered I was pregnant, I wasn’t included in anything because it was assumed I wasn’t going to come back. My daughter was born on a Sunday and I was back in the office on Wednesday and they had already given my desk away. It was a lonely time, but I – like other women of that time – made it through. Happily, things have changed for women quite a bit for the better.”
Women’s Initiative Network
Three decades later, Dunlap feels lucky and proud to work for Barclays, a company she says is “very, very supportive of women in the workplace.” Barclays developed the Women’s Initiative Network, or WiN, to promote and encourage women within the organization. WiN offers educational forums for women and men; monitors workplace fairness issues; measures the progress of women at various management levels; and evaluates the promotion process to make sure that qualified women are not passed over for less qualified men.
Never Let Them See You Sweat
When Dunlap was climbing the ranks, corporate initiatives such as WiN did not exist. “Back in my day ‘mentor’ wasn’t part of my business vocabulary. I worked or fought my way up. It wasn’t a collaborative environment. I felt completely on my own.”
The toughness and determination that propelled Dunlap up the corporate ladder have sometimes made it difficult to connect with the young women she now mentors. “I am a mentor, but I’m not as good at it as I’d like to be. I am sometimes impatient with young women today. They seem almost too eager to ask for help and advice. I would like to see young woman take more initiative and to be confident enough to think for themselves. When I was starting out, the notion of asking for help implied weakness, which is the other extreme. One had to appear strong. Don’t let them see you sweat.” She continued, “Women of my generation tended to feel isolated. Other women weren’t your friends and allies. We were all competing with one another for a handful of slots. Thankfully, it is very different today.”
Dunlap encourages the women she mentors to “never stop learning. The most successful people I know have embraced change and work constantly to keep their skills and outlook fresh. That’s really, really important. Don’t get too stuck in your ways. Always stay flexible. Don’t get pigeonholed. ”
Now that Dunlap’s three children are grown, she finally has the know-how, the time, and the energy to devote to giving back to the industry. Along with her mentorship of emerging women executives, Dunlap is on the board of AIMSE (Association of Investment Management Sales Executives). She is involved with various non-profits that support women in financial services, such as 100 Women in Hedge Funds, The High Water Women Foundation, and WIP, Women Investment Professionals. “Women Investment Professionals is a delightful organization in Chicago that I’ve watched grow up from a small group of women to many hundreds of talented members. It is a wonderful group of women who are extremely smart. They focus on education, mentoring, and philanthropy. The women really support and empower one another.”