How one woman succeeded thanks to advice from a mentor

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Subha Barry was all of 29 years of age and a financial advisor with Merrill Lynch when she found herself hitting a wall in terms of getting certain things she needed in the workplace—including an office of her own and an assistant.

Producers were highly coveted by the competition at the time, and she figured she might make a move to a place like Smith Barney or Paine Webber, but it seemed to her that Merrill was the best place for her clients.

Barry, who earned her undergraduate degree at Bombay University and her MBA from Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Management, wondered if she was having trouble because she was a woman and because she was “not white,” she told eFinancialCareers.

So she turned to a senior female executive at Merrill who’d earned a reputation for helping the women in its ranks—and found she’d been mistaken about a few things—including the suspicion that Barry was privy to fewer perks because of her ethnic background and gender.

Former Merrill senior vice president Madeline Weinstein set her straight and “adjusted my lens,” says Barry. Her gender did come into play in one regard: The Merrill producer realized it was important to master certain skills admired by the male-dominated management hierarchy at the firm.

Weinstein, who has since retired, was then senior vice president and director of the Private Client Business Innovation Group at Merrill. She explained that the trouble was mostly Barry’s approach to her manager.

The senior executive explained that if Barry wanted to get certain things she wanted, she would have to master the art of negotiation.

“Men like to make deals,” Weinstein instructed. She recommended that Barry go to see her branch manager and ask him to give her the office and assistant, and if she didn’t hit the production targets she’d need to make that pay off, she’d pay for everything herself at the end of the day. Of course, if she hit the mark, the office would pick up the tab.

The strategy worked. Not only did she get the office and the “three-on-one producer to assistant coverage” she’d hoped for, she stayed at Merrill another 18 years and had a rich and successful career there.

Moreover, Barry remained great friends with the branch manager she’d once considered unfair. Their families currently even vacation together.

“It could have been a miserable relationship, and now he is one of my strongest allies,” says Barry, adding that her decision to approach Weinstein via a call to her assistant was one of the best she has ever made and one that led to her becoming “an agent for change” in the business world.

Most recently, Barry was senior vice president and chief diversity officer at Freddie Mac. While in transition, she serves on a number of boards, including Rice University and the National Council for Research on Women. Barry also chairs the board of the Cancer Institute of New Jersey.

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