It’s no secret that finance is historically a male-populated industry. Despite firms’ efforts to recruit female advisors, Cerulli found that only 15.7 percent of advisors across all industries are women. Because women are so under-represented in financial services, it’s no surprise that the industry can still feel like one built for and catering to men. While many firms are putting concerted efforts behind removing the gender bias, there is still a lot of work that can be done.
I spoke with Sandy Clarke, Capability Director, CRM Ecosystem at Invesco, about her experiences being a leader in investment management and what it took to get there. Sandy shared some of the challenges she’s faced and how she’s processed and overcome them, as well as some advice she has to help empower other women in finance.
Tell me a bit about your background and how you found yourself in finance.
Sandy: My career has spanned high tech, consulting, manufacturing and now investment management. I have a background in sales operations, supply chain, strategic planning, and technology implementation. One thing that’s been consistent across these industries is the need for effective implementation and adoption of technology, which is how I became familiar with Seismic. One thing that has notbeen consistent across these industries is the workplace culture surrounding the treatment of women. It was shocking at first to find that the way I was treated—as an individual contributor, not as a female contributor—in high tech manufacturing 25 years ago was drastically different from my first forays into investment management.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as you’ve moved up in your career?
Sandy: I’ve unfortunately found that women are treated with both subconscious and deliberate sexism in the financial services industry. Besides the few outwardly prejudice-bordering-harassment cases, the more prevalent issues come from “mansplaining” and “hepeating,” which is something I’m trying to draw more awareness to in my day-to-day.
I’ve heard of “mansplaining” (when a man explains something to a woman in a manner that can be regarded a condescending). But “hepeating” is new to me!
Sandy: Hepeating is when a woman suggests an idea and it’s ignored or discounted, but then a man steps in to essentially repeat the same idea and it is praised and accepted. I did a talk at Dreamforce this past year on this topic and how men don’t even recognize they do this, but most women were nodding their heads in agreement of this experience.
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced, and one that men don’t seem to encounter as much as women, is inherently being underestimated in terms of my intellect and achievement. And this isn’t only in the workplace; I was in Park City with my family on vacation and a souvenir shop cashier remarked to my husband that I was “just like the rest of the wives,” spending my husband’s hard-earned cash. As the family breadwinner, this was not only insulting to me, but to my daughter who was also present. If you were to flip the roles, and my husband was the one handing over the credit card for souvenirs, this comment wouldn’t have even been a fleeting thought.
How have you overcome these challenges, both professionally and personally?
Sandy: I’ve found that these aren’t challenges that you can overcome overnight. These are challenges you must internalize and process over time, because they are still going to be there tomorrow. But through processing these challenges I’ve learned that everyone in the room deserves space: space to speak, space to offer their opinions and beliefs, space to feel heard. Women are innately better at providing space for others, for both men and women—how many times have you been on a call or in a meeting when women have apologized to others for accidentally interrupting or letting someone else speak first? It’s important for us all to be conscious of the space we’re taking up and making sure that everyone has a voice. The goal is equality, regardless of gender, seniority, or role.
Another practice I’ve internalized in response to hepeating and mansplaining is “yes, and.” Instead of just echoing what someone else has just said, I make a point of agreeing with their statement and then adding a point on top that. When you don’t celebrate what’s been said you depower what was said previously.
Finally, and likely one of the more uncomfortable yet important ways to overcome these challenges is by actively calling out sexist behavior. Whenever a man hepeats what I’ve said, I thank him for echoing or repeating what I’ve just said. This calls attention to the behavior, which is almost always unintentional or subconscious, without coming off as abrasive or aggressive (which women can often be accused of being in these situations). Being able to address the behavior and help male colleagues recognize it as unfair can be awkward but also gets easier over time.
What advice do you have for women who are on a similar career path as you, or women in general who find themselves in male-dominated fields?
Sandy: Where do I start? The most important thing is to listen to yourself. If you feel uncomfortable, or slighted, or talked over in any workplace situation, don’t mitigate it. Don’t internalize it as the way things have to be. Also, who you work for matters. This goes for your boss or manager but also the firm itself; find a workplace that doesn’t just talk about celebrating diversity but actually does it. It’s one thing to hire women and another to hire or promote women into leadership roles, but workplaces (especially in financial services) can do more by creating a space for women to define success on their own terms and find space to be their most successful selves.
2019’s International Women’s Day theme is Balance for Better. How can working women, especially in financial services, balance their lives – from work to personal obligations to just making time for themselves? How can men lean in to help build a more balanced workplace and world?
Sandy: I don’t like the word balance – indicates that things need to be equal or fair. We know that “fair” isn’t real. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, so it’s more about recognizing and capitalizing on individual strengths and allowing that person to showcase their strengths in a way that that everyone benefits. Also, recognizing that “balance” can mean something different from one day to the next is important; many women are running organizations while also running households, and sometimes one of those things can take a backseat to other priorities depending on the week, and that’s okay. Instead of focusing on balance, women (and men!) should focus on what’s the most important thing to get done or excel at that day, so they can feel accomplished and successful when they turn out the light.