The Number of Female Wall Street Executives is Rising Gradually But Are Still Far Outpaced by Their Male Counterparts

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The numbers inch up gradually, but women hold just 17 percent of positions at the top 50 banks in the nation, and only eight women hold C-level positions, according to the Financial Women's Association. What will it take for women to hold equal positions in Wall Street's C-Suites?

This was the question posed at Deutsche Bank's 17th annual Women on Wall Street Conference this week, attended by 2,000 people. The event featured a keynote by Sharon Allen, former chairman of Deloitte, and a panel discussion moderated by Carolyn Buck-Luce, leader of Ernst & Young's global life sciences sector. The industry leaders shared their professional experiences and wisdom that helped them break through to Wall Street's top ranks.

"You must perform and look out for your own career," Allen said. She shared an anecdote from early in her career when she was passed up for a promotion she felt entitled to. Her boss was surprised to learn of all the accomplishments that lead to her assumption - she had never told him.

Women need to toot their own horns

Illene Lang, CEO of Catalyst, the research firm focused on women in business leadership, said that her research supports this notion - women who tooted their own horns earn more money and are more satisfied in their careers than those who do not - even as men consistently earn more than their female counterparts. When Lang said, "Women are paid on performance, and men are paid their potential," there was an audible murmur from the audience.

Katherine Garrett-Cox, CEO of Alliance Trust and the youngest chief executive named to an FTSE 100 firm, urged women to be true to themselves. Her first move as CEO? She changed her office décor from the previous occupant's choice of black and white to her favorite color of purple. "It was one of the most important decisions I made," she said, explaining that the move helped her get in touch with her emotions, which is key to her ability to lead.

You can have it all but maybe not simultaneously

Anne Marie Petach, senior managing director and CFO of BlackRock, offered this advice: "You can have it all in your career, but maybe not simultaneously," she said. "Sometimes to really break through, you have to take a break from some objective."

Donna Milrod, deputy CEO of Deutsche Bank Americas, pointed out that women have a great knack for blending personal and professional relationships - but she urged them to capitalize on those friendships. "It is OK when a professional relationship turns personal, but then commit to one another to ask for things," Milrod said.

After the panel discussion, female attendees shared with eFinancialCareers lessons they've learned about getting ahead. "Develop your own voice - and don't take things sitting down," said one bank vice president. "Look at me - I'm a 58-year-old immigrant. People have tried to bully me into doing things, but you have to develop your own skills and know what you're worth."

Kamini Bishoo, a revenue analyst for Case University's endowment, said she has realized the importance of mentoring and developing junior staff. "Making a difference in someone else's life builds connections" with people who will one day be in a position to help you, she said.

An assistant vice president for a Wall Street bank said that she has learned not to be intimidated by her male colleagues, who make up the vast majority of the quant field in which she works. "I do the best job I can and expect to be recognized for it," she said. "I don't listen to comments about the fact I am a woman."

One Wall Street law firm associate said she was worried that having a child would derail her career. Instead, she found that by hiring full-time and part-time nannies for her 2-year-old son, she has stayed on course. Her advice for women whose managers overlook them because they have kids at home? "If your boss is doing that, run away immediately," she said.

Seek out people's impressions, then act on it

A director of investor relations for a hedge fund said she has learned the importance of her "hallway reputation." "You might be doing a great job, but you don't know what people think of you," she said. The answer? "Seek out people's impressions - then act on it."

Yulia Kosiw, 25, who works in investor relations for a fund of funds, has realized the importance of seeking out responsibility, as it shows initiative and creates opportunities. "You might be setting yourself up for failure, but it is also rewarding and a good way to learn," she said.