Career Advice Oct 20 2011

"Lehman Sisters" Wouldn't Have Folded

By julie steinberg

If women want to break through the glass ceiling, they're going to have to promote themselves and cultivate deep relationships with sponsors.

That was the conclusion of senior women who spoke at the Women on Wall Street Conference last evening in New York. The conference, which is hosted annually by Deutsche Bank, drew over 2,000 attendees (mostly women in dark suits) at the Marriott Marquis in New York. Female executives in asset management, accounting and investment banking described how they had built their careers.

Sharon Allen, the keynote speaker and recently-retired chairman of the board of Deloitte, said she was passed over for a promotion early in her career. When she went to her boss to find out why and listed all of her accomplishments, he told her, "I didn't know you had done all those things."

Women are paid and rewarded for their performance, while men are paid and rewarded for their potential, said Ilene Lang, a panelist and president and chief executive officer of Catalyst, a nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding opportunities for women in business. In order to buck that trend, women need to make their accomplishments known to give them more access to opportunities and senior executives, Lang said.

They also need to find a sponsor to advocate for them, a critical component of their career, Allen said. Finding a sponsor or mentor doesn't have to be too difficult. She advised the audience not to "work too hard" to identify one; there are probably people whom you're already soliciting for advice or ideas.

When Anne Marie Petach, chief financial officer at BlackRock, was working at Ford Motor Company, she worked closely with Larry Fink, BlackRock's CEO, for 10 years. When a job opportunity arose, she asked his advice. He told her not to take it and that discussion about her career lasted several months, Petach said. Eventually, he asked her to join BlackRock as CFO.

Lang recommended that women utilize their networks to get what they want. Women do a great job of building out their networks, she said, but then "never ask for something." Tapping into those contacts will help women move up the chain.

Echoing a sentiment put forth by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Carolyn Buck-Luce, the moderator of the panel and the global life sciences sector leader at Ernst &Young, said women shouldn't "leave before they leave." That is, women shouldn't take themselves out of the running for top assignments or opportunities even if they plan to leave to have kids or take time off to raise them.

Stressing the need for women to penetrate the top layers of management, Katherine Garrett-Cox, a panelist and CEO of U.K.-based investment trust Alliance Trust, said: "There's chatter that if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters, perhaps it wouldn't have unfolded."

Write to Julie Steinberg at Julie.Steinberg@dowjones.com




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