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How a “Good Old Girls” Network at Merrill Advanced the Careers of Four Women

Eight years ago, four women got together regularly for lunch to figure out how to broadcast their accomplishments at Merrill Lynch. Today—partly because of their ability to showcase what they were doing—these women now represent some of the greatest success stories in finance.

In 2004, former Merrill Lynch executive Subha Barry was diagnosed for the fourth time with a recurrence of Hodgkin’s disease, and she decided to offer a year’s worth of her speaking engagements to half a dozen other senior women at Merrill. These colleagues were all at the level of managing director and above at the time, but none were on the executive committee.

“It was a good opportunity to broaden the visibility of peers who were known for their mentorship and support of other women as well as their business success,” Barry tells eFinancialCareers.

Barry spent 20 years at Merrill—most recently as global head of Diversity & Inclusion before moving on to Freddie Mac where she was chief diversity officer. She says she wanted most of all to address the predicament of woman at the firm who were “doing great things quietly in the night” without the means to speak about those accomplishments and be recognized for them.

Remarkably, Barry—who earned her undergraduate degree at Bombay University and had learned the hard way how to wheel and deal like her white male cohorts at Merrill—saw her lymphoma go into remission after undergoing an experimental protocol pioneered by Dr. Catherine Bollard of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. She was the first person to undergo a new T-cell therapy treatment with Bollard beginning in 2004. As it turned out, she needed to take almost no time away from the office. “The treatment had no side effects other than destroying the cancer by 2006,” says Barry.

A bond with a "phenomenal" group of women

Nevertheless, she had developed a real bond with a “phenomenal” group of women, and they ended up getting together regularly to talk about things other than work. “It was somewhat of a posse,” she recalls, grinning.

Ultimately, four members of the group began to meet once every month to have lunch and talk about their accomplishments on the job—and how they might showcase those accomplishments more broadly and with each other's supervisors.

Besides Barry, they included:

  • Lisa Carnoy, now co-head of Bank of America-Merrill’s Global Capital Markets business.
  • Terri Ludwig, formerly president of the Merrill Lynch Community Development Company and now president and chief executive of Enterprise Community Partners, a non-profit housing finance organization.
  • Amy Ellis-Simon, currently managing director of Convertible Bond Sales at Bank of America-Merrill.

Feeling very affirmed

“We each celebrated each other and felt very affirmed by women we liked and admired,” says Barry. Also significant: “I would go back and speak to my boss about the others,” and they did likewise.

Because they came from different divisions within the firm, including investment banking, trading and equity sales, commercial banking and private wealth, where Barry worked at the time, they would bring back information to make “each of those businesses less of a mystery for the others”—broadcasting the accomplishments of each member of the group along the way.

Ultimately, Barry, Carnoy, Ludwig and Ellis-Simon helped their managers see how those functions might work together to bring more business to the firm.

This offered everyone involved the ability to connect with those in other departments and be an observer in a way they’d never have the time to do otherwise.

It must have worked, says Barry. “Look where we all are now.”

AUTHORJanet Aschkenasy Insider Comment

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