Bloomberg TV screencap
The post originally appeared on LinkedIn. Follow Sallie on LinkedIn
I have often said that working on Wall Street was never as tough as attending an all-girls middle school in the south. I had Coke-bottle glasses, braces, unfortunate hair and committed the sin of getting good grades and being clumsy. If I wasn’t the last girl in the class chosen for sides on a sports team, I was pretty close to it. I ate lunch most days on my own.
One day, after some petty humiliation, I came home in tears. My mother sat me down and told me, in a voice that I thought of as her “telephone voice” (meaning, reserved for grown-ups), that I should ignore the girls; the only reason they were treating me poorly was because they were jealous of me. Therefore I should ignore the chattering crowds and set my own course.
In hindsight, of course, she wasn’t being fully truthful with me (ok, or at all truthful); looking back at my cringe-worthy school pictures, it’s hard to imagine that anyone was remotely jealous. But that message – along with the family mantra that “you can do anything you put your mind to” – made all the difference. And coming from my mother, who had chosen the then-traditional path in life of southern homemaker, her implicit permission for me to stand away from the crowd packed a punch.
I drew on this advice when I was a new research analyst and published less-than-rosy recommendations, when most of Wall Street was bullish and left me feeling exposed. I drew on it when senior executives of a couple of the companies I covered tried to have my boss fire me because they didn’t like that research. I drew on it when I was named Director of Research and we decided to take ourselves out of the investment banking business because we believed the client conflicts were too meaningful. And I drew on it in the recent market downturn, when my then-company and I disagreed on how to treat individual investors who had suffered investment losses from our products.
Those were important. But its greatest impact may have been in less-public ways. Early on, this advice enabled me to “find my voice.” There is plenty of research that shows women are less likely than men to speak up in business meetings or state their opinions; many report that it is because their upbringing conditioned them to not stand out and to wait their turn. But sometimes the meeting is over before their turn comes. Having the confidence that standing out need not be a point of shame – but indeed can be a point of pride, particularly for the right reasons – can make the world of difference….perhaps especially for us southern females.