Women are still underrepresented on boards an on executive teams at many companies, the result of a persistent gender gap supported by an inadequate promotion system, according to consulting firm McKinsey & Company. Nonetheless, some women have reached the top -- and others can learn from their experiences.
We asked high-level women -- and men -- in finance, technology and marketing how women can surmount barriers to leadership positions and what should be done next.
FINS: What advice would you give to young women about their careers?
Luanne Tierney: I have a lot of interns and I coach younger women. I'm frank with them about their attire. I tell them, "We're not in Hollywood, this isn't the movies. If you dress provocatively, that's going to distract from what you're saying."
I have a presentation that I give to young women called "Eight Ways to Have a Rockstar Career." The first and most important thing on the list is to give up the guilt [about balancing work and family]. You can't keep saying to yourself, "if only I didn't have these personal relationships distracting me." You can't be everything to everyone all the time. You have to be in the moment, to live in it and do your best. Letting go of the guilt allows you to start thinking big.
I asked [the late] Ann Richards [former Texas governor] at an event one time for some advice on balancing work and family. She said the best thing you can do is integrate your kids into your work life. On the other side, I heard Anna Quindlen [former New York Times columnist] say one time, "Don't come home and complain about your job." Nobody wants to hear that.
-- Luanne Tierney, 47, vice president of global partner marketing at Juniper Networks
FINS: Why are there relatively so few women at the top?
Rosemarie Ryan: I suspect that women tend to get on with the job and tend to be less self promotional. They don't take credit for what they do. They're also not very good at asking for what they need. They need to get better at that. Guys are better at that than we are.
-- Rosemarie Ryan, 48, former co-president of JWT and founder of Co:
FINS: How did you climb the ladder at Goldman? How important is self-promotion?
Jacki Zehner: I believe success is a function of three things: opportunity, talent and luck. I was blessed with all three, which is why I made partner so early in my career. I had the opportunity to trade; those are positions that are very valued and performance is easy to measure. I was good at my job, which meant making money, managing well, and being a culture carrier. Lastly I was lucky that I worked for some great people who cared about my success. My experience was much more the exception than the rule. It is much harder for women to succeed as they are given fewer opportunities and they don't have the support that men do.
[With regard to self-promotion:] It's such a delicate balance. If a man is aggressive, it's valued. If a woman's aggressive, she's often seen as a bitch. There is still very much a double standard where the same trait is viewed positively in a man and negatively in a woman. Our culture generally sees success in masculine terms, when in fact the more feminine leadership characteristics of team-building, engaging and positive framing are proving more successful.
-- Jacki Zehner, 46, youngest woman and first female trader to be named a partner at Goldman Sachs
FINS: You are very involved in advocating for women to have a stronger presence in senior positions. What do you think the problem is and what needs to be done?
Catherine Coughlin: I think it starts with the focus at the very top of the organization. One of our beliefs is that our board, our senior team needs to reflect the marketplace, whether in gender or color. It should be about building leadership for the next generation.
My advice to anyone is to expose yourself to as many different experience sets as you can because they all feed into each other.
-- Catherine Coughlin, 53, global CMO of AT&T
FINS: What's the best approach for women in technology to move ahead?
Lauren States: I've had a wonderful career in technology and I've always thought of technology as gender neutral. When I started in technology in the '70s it was such an exciting thing. There were no preconceived notions about who should and should not be in technology.
I feel it's always about understanding what you need to do to perform and do your job successfully. I've always run my career with that in mind.
-- Lauren States, 54, VP cloud technology and client innovation, IBM
FINS: There aren't many women at the top in the finance industry. How can more women reach the upper echelons of power?
Karen Peetz: Profit and loss is a big part of the experience that women should be focused on. It is unlikely you'll get to the top if you don't have that. If you want to have scope, you need that P&L [experience]. We're trying to introduce that at a more junior level. I'm very fortunate that I got my experience in my early 40s. Scope is something you have to adjust to. Having the experience of running something and it getting progressively bigger is the best way to work up the ladder.
-- Karen Peetz, 55, vice chairman at BNY Mellon
FINS: What has worked for you as a woman working at IBM?
Bridget van Kralingen: As a woman, that low-key consultative approach is also to your advantage. I've never found it to be an issue here or anywhere else I've worked.
-- Bridget van Kralingen, 47, general manager of North America, IBM
FINS: There's statistical evidence that women are leaving the finance industry. Do you think firms are doing enough to recruit and retain female employees?
David de Weese: I think both finance and the private equity industry, specifically, are particularly bad at this. Of the seven partners who run our secondary business, one is a woman …We're trying, but I haven't met any firm that does a particularly good job of it, unfortunately. Partly, it's the pool you're recruiting from and partly it's just a mindset that needs to change.
-- David de Weese, 69, partner, Paul Capital
FINS: What can Wall Street do to cultivate greater gender equality?
Jim Millstein: As the father of two daughters, I'm concerned about it for sure, because it's glaring. Law firms have done a better job than the investment banks generally -- designing programs and policies that allow a woman to better manage the demands of motherhood and the demands of a career. But all of these jobs put tremendous strains on parenting. ...I think it's going to be an ongoing struggle. It may be peculiar to a certain strata of the industry. For example, I think in many places there's better balance out there between personal and professional life than there is in New York and Washington.
-- Jim Millstein, 55, former chief restructuring officer at the Treasury Department
FINS: What can women do to rise to the top in a male-dominated industry such as finance?
Maura Markus: You need to build a track record of success and be a team player. And not just worry about your own business. You need to be a contributor to the overall health of the company.
Also raise your hand and take on more than just your job, whether it's helping start some kind of special project or leading a task force. It's good to have a healthy sense of competition.
-- Maura Markus, 53, president and chief operating officer of Bank of the West
FINS: Is it easier for women succeed at companies such as IBM and Cisco through sales roles rather than technology roles?
Stephanie Carullo: Generally speaking, yes. Because tech companies are really viewed as great companies to work for, they attract a lot of people. And they're attracting engineers, but also business talent. I have a number of strong women on our team who are business people, not tech. You can teach a smart person anything.
-- Stephanie Carullo, 42, vice president of sales at Cisco.
FINS: You hear tales of female marginalization in the finance industry all the time. How do women get more spots at the top?
Mary Tuuk: There's no one silver bullet. Part of it is women have to be really proactive and disciplined to be open to new opportunities. As part of that, you develop business acumen for how the company makes money. Women should take on profit and loss responsibility in the early stages of their career. Beyond that, I really believe that it comes back to not only having that track record and competency, but having appropriate emotional intelligence.
We have a women's network that provides a lot of opportunity for women in the earlier stages of their career. It allows them to meet a lot of people in the company they wouldn't meet.
-- Mary Tuuk, chief risk officer for Fifth Third Bancorp
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