Women on Wall Street: Beware Pink Ghettoes

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Making almost 3,000 delegates sit up and take note at the recent Deutsche Bank 2005 Women on Wall Street (WOWS) conference, Goldman Sachs vice chairman Suzanne Nora Johnson was outspoken with tough criticism for some banks' diversity programs:

"I've seen it time and time again in different firms: To achieve their diversity goals, they will literally stuff senior women into different support functions, into pink ghettoes," said Johnson. "But if you aspire to leadership, you're going to have to push yourself to get out of those silos."

That's telling it like it really is - and Johnson speaks with authority, being near the top of the banking career tree at Goldman. She and other senior women speakers at the event shot from the hip with advice about avoiding pink ghettoes, those career dead-ends for female professionals. According to them, seeking career guidance, establishing strong relationships and being courageous are all crucial if you want to reach the top as a woman on Wall Street.

Carla Harris, managing director at Morgan Stanley, emphasized the importance of good advice: "There are two things you need to be successful in your career - a mentor and a sponsor. A mentor is someone in whom you can confide and who will give you the good, the bad and the ugly - honest feedback - no matter what."

"A sponsor is the person who will fight for you when you're not in the room," Harris said. "Big decisions are made about your career, about your compensation, about your promotion when you're not in the room and you need somebody in there who is going to pound the table for you."

Janet Campagna, managing director at Deutsche Asset Management, spoke of overcoming personal dislikes and learning to cooperate: "You really cannot afford to dislike your boss. You have to get past that and work with who that person is, what they have to offer and what their goals are," she said. "It's not about personality. It's great if you can click with someone, but you cannot just decide that you don't like your boss."

Merrill Lynch managing director Amy Ellis-Simon believes that strong relationships and being courageous can help you climb the ladder: "I find that people who are successful around me help to solve problems for the firm that are difficult. This business is a whole lot more difficult than when I started 10 years ago, on every level - from a competitive standpoint, a relationships standpoint, and a personal standpoint."

"That said, you've got to build those relationships and you've got to believe that courage gets rewarded," she says. "If you're courageous and do something outside your comfort zone, more than likely you'll get rewarded for that."

Getting to the top in banking is notoriously difficult. Hearing from women who've achieved it gave delegates plenty to think about - and plenty to aim for.