When the going gets tough does gender equality fly out the window?
In the recent Deal Book article Lessons on Being a Success on Wall St., and Being a Casualty by Susanne Craig, the writer shares the insights she gained from her interview with one-time power executive Sallie Krawcheck. I use the term one-time in that after rising to the top of major financial institutions Citigroup and Bank of America, Krawcheck found herself in the unemployment line.
Now for those familiar with the financial markets, and in particular the colossal collapse of venerable Wall Street firms such as Lehman Brothers and its impact on the economy as a whole, Kawcheck’s demise would not seem out of the ordinary. In fact, given the attitude of the general populace towards the blatant greed of these institutions, one might be hard pressed to find anyone who would feel sympathy for a senior executive in the financial industry losing their job. After all, how many people lost their life savings?
This of course is a fair consideration. However, if one looks beyond the justified feelings of indignation and frustration with Wall Street, you will find that during a crisis situation, financial institutions tend to throw female executives to the wolves. Disagree? I’d like you to consider the following; in the above article, Craig highlighted the fact that beside Krawcheck, there were many female casualties of the financial meltdown including the former co-president of Morgan Stanley – Zoe Cruz, Lehman Brothers – Erin Callan and JP Morgan Chase senior executive – Ina Drew.
Once again, one may reasonably point to the fact that the reason these women lost their jobs is due to the market crash. To a certain extent this may be true. However it is the manner in which their careers imploded that stands out.
According to Krawcheck, when faced with a crisis, male CEO’s will invariably turn to those people with whom they are familiar and feel most comfortable. In the case of Wall Street, this means that men will turn to other men instead of women during a period of upheaval and uncertainty. There is nothing inherently wrong with this because it is natural during times of trouble that we all turn to those with whom we feel most comfortable and most confident. The problem is that women have only recently begun to scale the heights of corporate leadership and as a result are not strategically placed to play the role of trusted CEO confidante or go to person – at least not as much as we thought or would like.
Now we can rail at the moon and bemoan the fact that this is an unjust situation, or we can learn from these setbacks and take positive action.
For example, women need to become better at networking. We need to identify those individuals with whom we can connect who can serve as sponsors and mentors. And yes I disagree with Krawcheck in this regard and her position that we need sponsors as opposed to mentors. We need both. In fact, Harvey McKay’s book on networking reminds me of the best advice I can give to clients: Dig Your Well Before You Are Thirsty.
Women also have to learn to brand themselves better, which includes not waiting until all of our proverbial ducks are lined-up before having the confidence to step-up and stand out. A recent purchasing industry poll found that women believe that they need to have all of the prerequisite skill sets before going for a position, while their male counterparts feel that having some of the required skill sets are enough to get the position now, and that they can learn the rest on the job. I call this the perfect star alignment syndrome that undermines our value and therefore our confidence to properly brand and promote ourselves.
While my new book The Future of You! Creating Your Enduring Brand takes an overall genderless view of branding, there are many references to successful female executives and business owners who have adeptly weathered similar storms to that of Krawcheck and have come out on top.
The key is to avoid dwelling on the apparent unfairness of situations such as what is happening on Wall Street and focus on those things that empower women to not only rise in the corporate ranks, but to also establish their creditability as go to people that can deliver when the chips are down!