DB's Women on Wall Street conference: Waiting for eggs to walk

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With Wall Street's sharper focus on diversity turning critical for retention in a tough talent market, Deutsche Bank's power-networking event for women was still much more a pep rally than a victory celebration. Read on for a reporter's notebook on the collective wisdom of some powerful women on the Street on how to turn that around.

More than 2,000 women in the financial services industry flocked to Deutsche's 10th annual Women on Wall Street (WOWS) conference this week, a record crowd. Many attendees voiced their frustration that the color and gender of money is still largely white and male-and likely to remain that way for a while.

They came largely to celebrate six women who have managed to break through the glass ceiling of the big Wall Street firms and the corporate world:

  • Kay Booth, global head of equity research at Bear Stearns
  • Amy Butte, CFO and EVP of the New York Stock Exchange
  • Dina Dublon, former EVP and CFO of JPMorgan Chase
  • Alexandra Lebenthal, president and CEO of Lebenthal & Co.
  • Leslie Pfrang, head of technology sector sales for Deutsche Bank
  • Miriam Vializ-Briggs, vice president of marketing for IBM

Once again this year, however, WOWS was more about small steps taken and less about giant leaps forward. 'I would not call any of the change over the past 20, 10 or even 5 years dramatic,' said JPMorgan's Dublon. 'I think what we are going through is an evolution. The evolution has accelerated for women but there is a long way to go for African-Americans, there's a long way to go for others who are different.'

The event, which came just three months after Morgan Stanley's record $54m sex discrimination settlement-the largest-ever gender bias payout on Wall Street to date-had attendees wondering aloud how far women had come in the 10 years since the first WOWS conference.

Sheila Wellington, a management professor at NYU's Stern School of Business and this year's conference moderator, reminded the attendees that there is still not a single female president, chairman or chief executive of a big Wall Street firm, and that at all levels, progress has been slower for women in Wall Street's sales jobs.

She also noted that in survey after survey, the perception gap between men and women about bias on Wall Street is still huge. Citing a 2001 survey of Wall Street employees by Catalyst, a Wall street gender research nonprofit, Wellington said 38% of women said many stereotypes about women still exist within the financial industry, while only 9% of men agreed.

Sure, steps have been made, attendees said: increasingly, diversity is starting to be seen as a lucrative retention tool at the top, a way to keep star female hires from bolting to rival banks in an increasingly cutthroat, global talent pool. Even so, many attendees agreed, women and minorities still have a long road to hoe.

Referring obliquely to the sex bias cases of recent months at Morgan and Merrill Lynch, Seth Waugh, Deutsche's CEO of the Americas, acknowledged that while 'we've begun to reap the rewards of diversity, the attraction and promotion of women has, unfortunately, never come naturally to our industry. We've come a long way but we still face huge challenges of promotion and retention of women.'

What to do? Advice, quips and calls for action by speakers and attendees were as plentiful as the pate. Here's a brief notebook of some of the highlights:

  • Johnnetta Cole, the conference keynoter and president of Bennett College for Women and a well-known advocate for the advancement of women and minorities in business and society, quipped: 'There are some who say, when it comes to the glass ceiling on Wall Street, that there has been some progress over the past 10 years. There are also some who say that it's just a matter of time. Things will get better, they say, over time. But whenever I hear that, I am reminded of an Ethiopian proverb that says, if you wait long enough, even an egg will walk.'
  • 'Take a line job. That's where the power and money is,' said Mona Lau, global head of diversity for UBS.
  • Kay Booth, global head of equity research for Bear Stearns, who began her career on Wall Street as an administrative assistant, acknowledged the culture is especially tough for women, but credited her rise to the top despite the odds to her ability to 'simply ignore' some of the stereotyping and focus, instead, on turning in stellar work. For example, she said, she has almost never used the executive dining room-a must-do hangout of male executives. 'We have a partners dining room to which I'm entitled to attend but I've probably been there twice in my 15-year career as partner.' Booth said it wasn't, ultimately, important to her career to always fit in with the boys. 'Sometimes you don't want to belong,' she said.
  • Dina Dublon has said she will leave her job as EVP and CFO of JPMorgan Chase to take a board seat at the Global Fund for Women, a global nonprofit for advancement of women around the world. When asked if her move was a form of opting out of Wall Street in frustration over the glass ceiling, she said work at the top isn't always all it's cracked up to be. Besides, she said, 'I think being in a CFO role in a firm like JPMorgan Chase is a particularly grinding role and I'm looking forward to a new challenge. So it's not about opting out. It's about opting different.'
  • Some attendees expressed dismay that taking clients to strip clubs was still part of the male sales culture on Wall Street. Said Alexandra Lebenthal: 'Strip clubs? What's up with that? You know, I can't imagine Amy (Butte, CFO and EVP of the New York Stock Exchange) and I saying let's talk about this at Chippendales. It's just not going to happen. And I'm amazed to hear that sales people come to my firm's branches and try to take guys out to these places. We're not selling mutual funds if that's where they're going.' Lebenthal continued: ' I'm also still amazed at the number of men who are threatened by women. Last week, a man at our company said to me, 'Hello, young lady.' And I thought, wow, that was just an attempt to take away many of my accomplishments. Unfortunately, she said, I thought of the perfect comeback 20 seconds too late.' What was that? Lebenthal said later, 'I should have responded with a 'Hello, old far-!'
  • In the advice column, the NYSE's Amy Butte urged women to look ahead in their careers and avoid the temptations of guiding their careers 'on what's hot today. Try to suss out what's going to happen in the future. How can you make yourself an expert in something 3-5 years out?'
  • Can women have it all, a successful career, a successful family and a bit of a personal life?' Stern's Wellington asked the panel of six. Lebenthal said yes: 'I think you can have it all but you just can't have it all at the same time.' To illustrate the point, Lebenthal told the story of being asked by her three-year-old daughter recently, 'Mommy, why do some people have hair where the part starts here and some where part starts there?' What could I say,' Lebenthal laughed, and then told attendees. 'I told the truth, that some of us are so busy in our careers that we don't have time to get our hair colored often enough!'
  • Are more and more women opting out of their jobs on Wall Street because of the glass ceiling? Bear's Booth said that across the industry, the total headcount has gone down about 9% while the number of women has gone down roughly 6%, 'so I think women are hanging on,' she said. But she was quick to add that at the senior levels on Wall Street, 'there are many women who don't see a strong path continuing up the ladder and feel forced to leave.'
  • How to keep fighting? Miriam Vializ-Briggs, vice president of marketing at IBM, said that if she had to name one thing that helped her to succeed the most, it was learning how to brand herself along the principles that create a strong market presence for a product. 'I think of my career in the context of a brand and what it would take to have a growing brand over time. I think about relevancy, in my case, am I improving my skills and capabilities to keep my brand relevant in the marketplace? Second, I look at my relationships. When you walk down the aisle of a supermarket, you gravitate towards one brand or another based on the emotional connection. In my career, it's critical in today's work environment to build trust and a bond between you and the people you're working with. Third, you must market yourself. Everyone should know what you do. Tell your story. Companies spend millions of dollars every year advertising themselves. People need to advertise themselves, too, frequently and in compelling ways. Fourth? Measure your success as a brand, constantly. Look at revenues, market share, and customer satisfaction. I make sure I always know how people perceive me so I can fix something that might be negative.'
  • Develop what Leslie Pfrang, head of technology sector sales for Deutsche Bank, calls a 'network of champions' - what she defines as 'a series of mutually beneficial relationships, where anytime you have the opportunity to interact with somebody and have the chance to add value to that person or that person's business, whether making an introduction or sending them a clip from a newspaper, add value to that person and they will do the same for you.'
  • 'What do you do in global cultures where men seem uncomfortable with you being a woman?' someone from the audience asked. Dublon responded: 'You be gender blind in your interactions and keep a sense of humor. You can't control the perception any other way.'
  • 'Is it wise to hop from one company to the next in order to climb the ladder quickly?' an audience member asked. Butte, whose career has been marked by job-hopping, said that it could sometimes be a good idea. But she cautioned that every time you jump, 'you lose leverage-the people who know you, your knowledge of where to go in an organization and your partnerships. Every time you go to a new firm, you start from scratch and you have to rebuild credibility.' Dublon added, 'If you feel stuck at your company, first look for something better inside the firm before you move out of it.'
  • Yet for all of the advice and "you go, girl" enthusiasm in the conference hall, there was an elephant in the room: the topic of women's pay compared with men's. At the first WOWS conference, pay was on everybody's mind- namely, that men made more of it than women in comparable jobs. But this year? the topic was conspicuously absent from speeches, the keynote panel discussion and audience questions of speakers.

    Is the pay gap on Wall Street no longer an issue? Only when eggs walk, and Deutsche Bank might consider making equal pay a top agenda item for next year's WOWS.

    For more information on the event and speakers, visit https://wows.db.com/.

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