This week I attended a conference called the Wall Street Forum: Reinventing Your Career for the ‘New’ Wall Street. It was organized by Jane Newton, a partner at RegentAtlantic Capital, and it attracted a group of about 100 senior women, either on Wall Street, or transitioning to or from.
The keynote speaker was Heidi Miller, widely considered one of the most powerful women in business and currently CEO, Treasury & Securities Services, at JP Morgan Chase.
Much of the discussion was around how women can gain greater visibility in the workplace and avoid throwing in the towel when they get into middle management and find themselves torn between an all-consuming job and responsibilities at home.
Miller acknowledged some of the key differences in the way men and women behave when it comes to competing at work, and I think they bear repeating. She noted that women tend to keep their heads down and work hard, convinced that their bosses will notice their hard work and promote them accordingly. Another point was that women have been “taught” to believe that they need to be team players instead of tooting their own horns—that these two concepts collide with one another.
I appreciated the point she made that when a woman goes into an interview, and she’s done 90% of what the job requires, she will tend to focus on the 10% that she hasn’t done. I have seen this time and again, and I believe it’s a confidence issue. Whether the confidence is real or manufactured, men seem to have an easier time promoting themselves than women do.
Miller suggested that women seek opportunities to be more visible, like lunching in the executive dining room instead of eating at your desk (because you have so much work to do). She said women should raise their hands more: volunteer for more work that puts you front and center, such as teaching key training classes or working on an experimental project.
She said that women need to cultivate key relationships at their firms, finding “sponsors”, who can provide access to new opportunities. She contended that a lot of women would put up with the hours and the difficulties of their middle management jobs if they were better prepared and knew what steps to take to rise to the top of their organization.
Her advice on finding a sponsor was to look for someone you can trust, someone with integrity, who likes you and feels comfortable with you. It seems that we tend to focus on finding mentors, when many of us could really use sponsors to advance our careers.