Take a listen to the interesting and profound questions asked by the members of 85 Broads Phoenix. I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the fabulous Stacey Gualandi as a part of their Amazing Women series. This is an audio recording of just the Q and A section of the interview. Enjoy-and if you have comments on my answers or further questions, you know I want to hear from you.
Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Every year, we hear the same report, that women make 77 cents to men’s dollar. Sometimes 78, but basically, we get the same handwringing commentary and nothing changes. In fact, Catalyst just released its 2013 census reporting that there is still no progress for women as leaders.
That’s why I was so excited to learn about Boston’s new initiative, designed to do something different to close the wage gap.
According to WNPR’s All Things Considered, “Boston thinks it has a solution. The city is working to be the first in the country to completely erase the gender wage gap. But will it work? That’s our cover story today.”
In April of 2013, Boston Mayor Menino established the Women’s Workforce Council. The council is made up of hard workers across all employment sectors, and their mission is to make Greater Boston the premier place for working women in America by closing the wage gap and removing the visible and invisible barriers to women’s advancement. Their priority is to come up with new and creative ways of achieving this mission. The NPR story reported on progress to date.
The Women’s Workforce Council has created a compact to which businesses and companies of Boston are asked to pledge to pay their employees equal wages. It’s a simple enough request. But since the country seems to be having trouble moving the dial on pay equity, how is it that in Boston the council has already persuaded over 40 businesses to sign their pledge?
Companies that sign the pledge agree to take three concrete steps:
Step 1: Each company is asked to open their books and assess their own wage data. As Cathy Minehan, Chair of the council, said in her NPR interview, “Sometimes people reject the idea that we have an issue until they actually see their data.”
Seattle provides a great example for the importance of this first step. When Seattle mayor Mike McGinn read the April issued report from the National Partnership for Women and Families, he found that Seattle had the widest gender wage gap out of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the country. Seeing this information and being able to assess it in front of his own eyes lead him to assemble a task force. This task force has a four step plan that hopes to launch a Gender Justice Initiative by January 2014.
Step 2 of Boston’s plan: Pick three strategies to improve pay equality. The council provides suggestions which include increasing wage transparency, actively recruiting women to executive-level positions, and offering subsidized childcare.
Step 3: Sharing wage data anonymously every two years so the city can measure progress.
The catch, says Minehan, is that none of this is required – it’s all voluntary. Businesses need to find it in their own interest if this initiative is to succeed. So it’s still up to women to advocate for themselves by delivering that message along with the now-ample data to support it.
Mayor Richard Berry of Albuquerque, New Mexico signed a bill in late November that would give a break to contractors working with the city if they would implement equal pay regulations. A task force headed by women’s rights advocate Martha Burke is currently working to establish new guidelines for combating the wage gap within the city. While this bill only helps to effect firms bidding with the city in the public sector, the hope is that it will encourage employers in the private sector to pay equal wages as well.
By the end of the year, the Women’s Workforce Council in Boston expects to have 50 companies on board with their initiative. They have one month left to rack up those last 10 companies, and at the rate they’re running, why shouldn’t they succeed? Seattle will soon have an established initiative to move forward with, and hopefully Albuquerque’s first steps will influence positive next steps.
And hopefully these three cities, fronting active change for women’s rights, can influence cities, states, and the national government to not only support change for women, but positively act on making changes for women.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Arizona State University student Lauren Sandground at a meeting to plan the Take The Lead Challenge Launch event (happening February 19 at ASU—check it out here and plan to be there live or by livestream). Lauren, a senior, started an organization named Woman as Hero in 2009 after being surprised to encounter gender biases in her own life even today, when young women are told they can do or be anything.
The mission of Woman as Hero is to advocate, enlighten, and inspire both women and men globally and locally to empower girls and women through education and entrepreneurship. They believe it’s everyone’s responsibility to support women in their times of struggle and to help create an environment of unity, respect and dignity.
The hierarchical mindset of top-down, command-and-control single-person leadership has remained largely unchanged since the mid-nineteenth century when organization structures as we know them today were invented by men for men who had women at home doing the housework and minding the children.
This model places impossible pressures on the man—almost always a man–at the top to be THE hero, have all the answers, and take 100% of the responsibility for decisions made. Focus on a single heroic leader stems from the “power over” model of leadership that is no longer functional in our fast moving, complex, brains-not-brawn driven world today.
Indeed, as Gayle Peterson, an associate fellow of Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, and co-director of its Women Transforming Leadership program says, “We don’t need a hero, we just need more women at the top.”
Key words and phrases that resonate from Woman as Hero’s mission are “both women and men” and “everyone’s responsibility.” This is true whether we are talking about changing the gender and diversity ratios in leadership roles or aiming to improve the quality of organizational leadership overall.
Leadership parity is not easily achieved for many reasons—inertia, co-option, and the resistance of those in power to share it being just a few. Less obvious is the struggle within women ourselves to embrace our “power to” be the leaders of our own lives and in our careers. Changing that paradigm must be fostered by collaboration and deliberate intention.
Woman as Hero observes on its website: “Educating women allows them to help themselves, their families and their communities by giving them the tools to become leaders, otherwise known as the ‘girl effect.’ Their well-being is tied to the well-being of the whole society. It just makes sense!”
But education is only as meaningful as the actions it inspires.
Woman as Hero takes action to inspire broad involvement. Through the hosting of dialogues and film screenings, annual summits, fundraisers, awareness campaigns, and community service projects, Woman as Hero educates to improve the status of girls and women all over the world.
As we digest the remains of our Thanksgiving turkey, there is a lot that we can be thankful for; the progress that women have made since the mid-nineteenth century; the men that have partnered with our movement; and those women who have already made it to the Sweet-C positions of companies and businesses.
But let’s not forget how much more we have to achieve; how much more educating and collaborating must be done before we can sit back and relax with our cranberry sauce. I am thankful for young women like Lauren and all of you heroes and very grateful that they are taking the lead for the next wave of women.
The pay gap starts within a year out of college according to AAUW. That said, women in their early 20s earn almost as much as men, and the number of women and men in the top 10% of earners is roughly equal.
But as women approach their 30s the pay gap starts to widen, and by age 45 women earn on average 28% less than their male colleagues.
It is not clear where this “danger zone” became established, but studies find that when women are progressing through the middle ranks of their careers, it is the age bracket between 28 and 40 where they usually run into gendered barriers and are lost to the higher rankings in businesses and companies.
Twenty-eight to forty is a critical age for career development. This phenomenon where women too often fail to be promoted at the same rate as men poses a problem for not only women, but also for companies.
Opportunity Now is a campaign on gender diversity from Business in the Community, based in London. Opportunity Now aims to increase women’s success at work, because it’s not only good for business but good for society too. Its agenda aims to empower employers to accelerate change for women in the workplace.
To be sure, other factors are in play—women are less assertive in asking for pay increases and promotions, for example, and inadequate paid parental leave policies still place extra burdens on women since they are the ones who give birth. Still it is clear that systemic barriers exist and need to be addressed if organizations are to benefit from the full complement of human capital available.
So, it piqued my interest when I saw Opportunity Now is conducting an online survey on the gender gap. They are calling on women to share their work experiences and life goals in an attempt to unravel the problem of why women see their careers stall in their 30s.
The survey is live at www.project2840.com for one month. It is backed by a host of FTSE 100 chief executives, from Barclays, GSK and Rolls Royce, as well as the heads of government departments, the London Fire Brigade and the British Army.
Although seeking to understand the experience of women aged 28-40, the organizers also want to hear from younger and older women, including those who have left the workforce in the last five years.
I encourage anyone reading this to contribute their stories to this survey www.project2840.com . Make your voice heard. The more employers and employees understand about gender leadership imbalance, the easier it will be to solve the problems that are holding women back from leadership parity.
And please post your comments here too—let’s discuss not just the problems but the solutions, and find examples of companies and organizations that do the best job.
Feminists and economists alike have been buzzing about the latest data released from the U.S. Census Bureau that shows the gender-based wage gap has remained virtually the same for the past decade. Women earn, on average, just .77 cents for every dollar a man earns. And for women of color the gap is even greater.
But another gender-based gap is worth talking about too – the housework gap. This gap has a direct and negative correlation to the wage gap.
Sure, men are doing more housework than they’ve ever done before, but they were starting from a low percentage. According to the American Time Use Survey, women still do approximately 30 percent more housework and child care than their spouses. Even in homes where couples split chores like cooking, cleaning, and yard work, women tend to shoulder the burden of invisible tasks like scheduling doctor’s appointments, arranging carpools, and organizing play dates.
Another new study, this one from The Pew Research Center, reports there are approximately 550,000 stay-at-home fathers in the United States, and while these men do more housework and childcare than their partners do; it’s not that much more. A working woman with a spouse who stays home does approximately 14 hours of housework and 9 hours of childcare per week. Compare that to a working man with a spouse who stays home. They do approximately 8 and 6 hours respectively. Clearly, women are carrying a large share of the responsibilities at home, regardless of their work status.
These inequities inside the home contribute to inequities in the workplace. Women are stretched thin; 15 percent report feeling tired or exhausted almost every day. And employers are concerned. Research from Shelley J. Correll, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, supports the idea that many employers believe mothers are less committed to their jobs than other employees. As a result, employers are reluctant to hire them and offer them high salaries. And two other professors, Joni Hersch and Leslie S. Stratton, published research in The Journal of Human Resources, indicating housework indeed has a direct and negative correlation to women’s wages. And they suggested one theory for this could be employer’s negative reactions to women who appear dedicated to household activities.
Those who believe the wage gap is the result of choices women make are missing the bigger picture. They attribute the gap to women choosing jobs with lower salaries or choosing to work part time or take time off to care for family. Some women do. But many women, who may appear to choose to cut back at work, are actually just trying to manage the demands of home and career.
Women’s partners, including the more than half a million stay-at-home fathers, should push for legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would strengthen earlier fair pay legislation, and should play an active role in closing the gap at home. And companies should take a hard look at how they can embrace working parents, especially working mothers, as a vital part of the workforce. By instituting family-friendly policies like flex time and telecommuting, and encouraging not only women, but also men to use them, they can help create a more equitable dynamic in both the home and the office.
When you consider that more than half of American women who work are breadwinners contributing at least some part of the necessary income to maintain their households, you can see the wage gap is not a woman’s issue; it’s a family issue.
If we don’t mind the gap, families stand to lose out on income necessary to get by, women stand to lose out on lucrative career choices, and businesses stand to lose out on the valuable contributions of women at work.
Sometimes feedback on the tangible results of leadership training is hard to come by because they may be indirect or hard to attribute to the training itself. This true story, however, is different. There is a direct line between what I taught and what happened. Read my Q and A with Valerie Brown and cheer her with me.
Gloria Feldt: Valerie, I was thrilled when you called to tell me you got the promotion to Senior Vice President. You reminded me that you declared that as your goal when you took my 9 Leadership Power Tools Workshop last year. What was your career path leading up to this point?
Valerie Brown: I’ve been at Alliance Bernstein for more than seven years, but prior to that I worked for a number of companies in different departments. Early in my career I worked as a product manager in the pharmaceutical industry. But with all the money being made with the internet at the time, I had to wonder if I was in the right seat to maximize my earning power and the contribution that I thought I could make. So I proactively sought out an opportunity in finance. I was interested in understanding not just how you build a business but also how you finance it and how you invest capital. That led me to my first experience in investing, which was at a venture capital fund.
Later in my career, I worked in corporate development at Bristol Myers Squibb which allowed me to get to know one of the senior partners at Goldman Sachs. I asked him for career advice, and he suggested that I consider equity research. So, I started studying for my CFA and learning about the investment management industry. Out of the blue, I received a call from a head hunter representing Alliance Bernstein. I knew immediately it was what I wanted to do and I was prepared.
G: I’m interested in how intentional you were, especially with a career that many women don’t even think of.
V: In financial services you have a very clear and precise measure of your accomplishment and I wanted that. And generally it’s highly compensated.
But when I first entered the financial services sector I was shocked. I remember going in for my first line of interviews at Alliance Bernstein and they were walking me around the office to meet with different people and I was thinking “where on earth are the women?” Every office was occupied by a man.
G: What do you attribute that to?
V: I attribute that to a recruitment process that was not intentional when it came to diversity, and a tendency to attract and recruit people who were similar to the people who already worked there. And that wasn’t just based on gender, but also on personality type. And for a while that model works. It works until it doesn’t anymore, because there is homogeneity in the thinking and as a result they weren’t getting enough true debate around ideas and investment decisions.
G: How did the 9 Leadership Power Tools workshop influence you and your own career?
V: There was something in the title that made me think, “this is what I need.” I had been thinking about my career and wondering how I was going to get out of the mid level and into the executive level — how I could be more intentional about this.
So I came to your workshop. You asked us to articulate clearly what we wanted to do, and I said I would like to be promoted to senior vice president at my firm. I remember you announcing one of the power tools, #3 – “use what you’ve got.” So I thought about what I had: A) I can perform at a high level, and B) I was leading an employee affinity group at the time, the Black Employee Resource Group. I saw an opportunity to use that as a platform for greater visibility, to differentiate myself, to really demonstrate leadership, and to interact across business units. I worked with colleagues from different parts of the firm to organize programs of broad interest that also gave me visibility to senior executives and partners. Using what was already available to me helped me push through. No one said “no” to me, and I got a lot of positive reinforcement for my career. I was doing something additional to just doing my job, and that made me a candidate for the promotion.
G: You focused the group on revenue generation and bringing in business. How did you decide to take that tactic? What had the group been doing before that?
V: The group had been focused on employee engagement. But we were seeing falling attendance. It was at a time where the firm was doing massive restructuring. Investment performance wasn’t good, colleagues were being let go and people were fearing for their jobs. No one was showing up because they were demoralized or disengaged. It made sense for a lot of reasons to shift our focus to help the firm drive performance or attract and retain clients. We then started engaging with different groups within the firm. Working with a cross-functional group of people brought a lot of feedback and ultimately helped us come up with a topic of relevance. We decided to focus on revenue generation almost out of necessity. What we were doing before that wasn’t working.
G: You were also using the power tool “carpe the chaos.” You found opportunity in the chaos.
V: Absolutely, and I was very conscious of that as well. Grabbing the things that were being neglected helped because people would look and say “Wow! Look at all the things Valerie got done even with all this chaos!” It’s so important to manage your emotions. The emotional reaction is to be scared and tentative and keep your head down, and that’s not helpful at all!
G: How would you say these power tools helped you?
V: The power tools are helpful for getting you to take responsibility for what you want. It helped me to literally write down “I want to be promoted to Senior Vice President.” At the workshop I shared that agenda with the group. Being clear about what you want and then using the tools to figure out how to get there, where to start, what you can do to help yourself get there–it works.
And asking is really important. I went to my manager and said “I would really like to be promoted to senior vice president. What do I need to do to get there?” He gave me helpful feedback, and I was then able to focus my energy in the right places. The last thing you want to do is exert and direct effort toward something you don’t need to be doing.
G: And my last anecdote is to point out that you took the time to tell me about your promotion and to credit my workshop with helping you get the promotion. Attention to those details of communication says so much about your character. You allowed me to feel part of your success. I thank you for that, and for sharing your story.
Jamera Lee Massop was an administrative assistant in New York when she became pregnant. She didn’t think being pregnant would or should impact her job. However, with no reason other than “your contract says we can terminate you at any time for any reason,” Jamera’s company fired her when she was six months pregnant. Jamera felt sure that the company didn’t want the expense of hiring someone to fill in for her when she was on maternity leave. She knew that if she filed a lawsuit against her company she might win, but she felt she could not take the time or money to fight it at this time in her life. After all, she had no job and therefore no steady income. After her baby was born, with nowhere else to go, Jamera entered the New York City shelter system and had to rely on public welfare programs until she could get back on her feet.
Jamera’s story is just one example of how the lack of a viable maternity/parental leave policy harms both individuals and the economy by wasting human capital.
While Jamera was in an entry level position, the reality is that the percentage of women who were terminated shortly before or after their first pregnancy was at 4.7 percent between 2006 and 2008. That means that approximately 158,000 women were let go due to pregnancy during those years. 21.9 percent of these high potential women in leadership positions or on leadership tracks dropped out when they had children because they couldn’t see a way to fulfill their responsibilities as mothers as well as employees, given the dismal state of leave policies in the U.S.
Let’s face it: the structure of most organizations was designed by and for men who had women at home doing the domestic work.
Today women with paying jobs outside of the home make up half the work force. Many companies and organizations have happily welcomed women. However, our society as a whole has failed to adapt the workplace so that women’s unique needs and those of the changing family structure can be met.
Young children bring a particular dynamic to a family in which two parents work regular jobs. Children require attention and care, especially in their first few months and years. If this is a nation that cares about the wellbeing of its next generation, maternity or better yet parental leave policy must be a matter of public concern.
If you think such leave policies are unrealistic, check this out: According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), 169 countries out of the worlds rough 196 guarantee some amount of paid parental leave to employees. For example, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Albania, and Croatia are among the 31 countries whose government run insurance programs provide a year or more of 100% paid, job-guaranteed, maternity or parental leave.
Along with Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Liberia, the United States is one of the few countries in the world whose government does not mandate any amount of paid maternity leave.
In 1993 the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which guarantees 12 weeks of job-guaranteed unpaid leave only to employees at companies with more than 50 employees became U.S. law. Some states have passed their own more expansive requirements under the FMLA. Of course, leave policy can be expanded further within the private sector if the organizations so choose. But in 2011 only 21% of companies that are members of the Society for Human Resources Management offered family leave above the minimum required federal FMLA leave.
The United States makes much ado of defining itself as a forward thinking nation. Yet it is absurd the way our public policy and work places treat parents, and by association, their children. If the United States believes in family values and cares about its children, it must change how the work force supports new mothers and fathers too.
Providing job-guaranteed paid leave would be far more cost effective than losing employees that companies have already invested time and training into. Companies need women’s talents, and a company that enables families to take care of their children will find themselves with much more loyal employees. We need not choose between mothers and others.
Women and men who agree with the value of these policy changes can’t afford to wait until they need parental leave to influence their companies or organizations. We have the assets to create smarter, healthier policies that will shift the work place to be a more family friendly space for the good of all. We must take the lead, and we can do this together.
You can start by taking a look at the New York City Equal Pay Coalition’s petition to end pregnancy discrimination and secure stronger laws for women’s equality. And then send us your thoughts on other initiatives that you support or think we all should.
I recently had my Broadway debut. No, seriously, check out this video of Feminomics interviewing me and Susan Arnot Heaney at the Women Leadership Summit, just after we had both spoken on a panel smack in the middle of Times Square.
Here’s a longer version of my part of the interview, if you have time:
Enjoy and let me know what you would have said.
Somebody once gave me a greeting card that read, “Just when you think you are done, you are really just beginning.” That is certainly my story with Take The Lead which I co-founded with my wonderful partner-in-good Amy Litzenberger. So when the question came up about how I came to be teaching this online certificate course, “9 Practical Leadership Power Tools to Advance Your Career,” I took a little trip down memory lane to recall why I became an advocate for women’s leadership parity and how I learned what makes a successful movement to achieve that–or anything else you want to make happen.
When I was 15, I had my first lesson in the power of working together to make systemic change.
I attended high school in Stamford, a small Texas town with only two places teens could gather for hamburgers and hanging out. One, Son’s City Pig had indoor space where we went to chat and listen to music. The other, the Superdog, had no indoor seating.
The owner of Son’s started charging us two cents extra for those little white paper containers of mustard. We were outraged by this injustice, but it wasn’t till a boy named Ralph challenged us to action that we realized we could do something about it.
“Let’s go over to the Superdog and ask the owner, Mr. Jackson, to build a room where we could hang out. And if he won’t charge us extra for mustard, we’ll take all our business to him.”
About 20 kids piled into three battered cars and drove the two minutes across town. Ralph went to get Mr. Jackson, who looked a tad frightened at first but soon recognized a lucrative proposition.
He built that room, we took our business to him, and he thrived even without the extra mustard revenue.
That process, or some variation on it is the very one that created almost every sustainable social change I know of:
- A compelling vision with a well-defined goal;
- A worthy mission bigger than oneself, that rectifies an injustice or creates an innovation that meets people’s real needs;
- The courage to act upon convictions, to confront issues even if they are uncomfortable, and to assert your worth – even if it’s just a bunch of kids buying burgers;
- A constituency—people who share your concerns and will mobilize;
- A plan to achieve the goal and the will to stay with the plan till it’s accomplished.
There was just one thing wrong with the story of the mustard-liberation movement: its leaders were all male. Ralph, the two restaurant owners, even the drivers of the cars. The girls were present in the background. It was, after all, 1957.
Now, women are half the workplace and 57 percent of college graduates; they buy 85 percent of consumer goods and there is ample evidence that companies that have more women in their top leadership ranks earn more money.
Although movement building for systems change helped rework laws and open doors 40 years ago, women have been stalled at under 20 percent of the top positions across all sectors for almost two decades.
ASU is involved with an exciting new movement to ensure more women are able to take their places in the ranks of leadership positions worldwide, recently partnering withTake The Lead, an organization I co-founded, whose mission is to prepare, develop, inspire, and propel women to take their fair and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors by 2025.
One of the first visible manifestations of this partnership is the launch of ASU’s first online women’s leadership certificate course. It starts Oct. 2 and runs for six weeks. It’s asynchronous, so participants can view lectures and participate in conversations at times that fit the busy schedules of working women who are or aspire to be leaders. In the course, we’ll apply those five principles of changemaking, because it’s time for women to have an equal place at life’s table and this is the moment when we can do it.
I’m particularly grateful to ASU President Michael Crow for deeming Take The Lead’s work a university wide initiative and to W. P. Carey School of Business Dean Amy Hillman, who serves on our board. Those interested in women’s leadership issues will also want to mark their calendar for Feb. 19, 2014, and join us at ASU Gammage for the Take The Lead Challenge, a national launch event for our initiative. It will feature speakers such as Sheryl Sandberg, author of “Lean In,” and a surprise challenge that does not involve mustard.
Want to be part of this exciting vision? Contact me.
This article was originally posted in the ASU Magazine.
A few days ago, I went to the best funeral I’ve ever attended.
It’s unusual to say that about an occasion normally considered sad and somber. But the memorial service for Muriel “Mickie” Siebert, a well-known finance executive in the U.S. and the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, goes down in my book as a perfectly delightful send off.
Mickie founded her brokerage firm, Muriel Siebert & Co, Inc. which became part of Siebert Financial and went public in 1996. She also served as New York State’s Superintendent of Banking (referring to herself in her 2008 autobiography Changing the Rules as the S.O.B.). Mickie’s career has lessons for all women, no matter their occupation:
- Have a dream and go for it.
- Start your own game if those in power won’t let you into theirs — or even if they will but you prefer your vision of how things should be.
- No matter how high you climb, help other women rise and keep them close to support you.
Mickie’s was a life well and publicly lived. When Cantor Angela Buchdahl started belting out “My Way” to the mourners packing Manhattan’s cavernous Central Synagogue, a communal knowing smile spread as fast as spilled water. (This made me start planning what music I want at my funeral.)
And when Rabbi Peter Rubenstein observed that Mickie did not depend on God for anything, nor did she “suffer from undue humility,” laughter erupted.
There were many stories.
Her New York Times obituary headline initially said she was 80 at the time of her death. I told my husband she appeared to be somewhat older. Turns out my assessment was accurate. The Times later issued a correction.
For Mickie was actually 84. She gave her age as four years younger than she was. In fact, White House security once refused her entry because her birth certificate and driver’s license dates didn’t match.
Oh, there were plenty of tears amid the laughter. The Kleenex boxes thoughtfully placed at the ends of pews traveled back and forth. Hundreds of women and men from various parts of Mickie’s life dabbed their eyes when U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) talked about how Mickie “rewrote the rules to make them fairer.” And more tears as David Roosevelt recounted how his grandmother Eleanor had been a role model to the “pugnacious” Mickie, who had driven from Cleveland Ohio to New York in an old Studebaker with nothing but $500 and a dream back in 1954.
Speakers included people she had worked with, Friends in High Places (apparently her political friends were mostly Democrats though she remained a “bleeding heart” Republican), and women from “new girls’ networks” she’d started, and in which she remained active until her death from cancer.
That all her honorary pallbearers were women reveals why I frequently tell Mickie’s career story when I speak or teach about women and leadership. She realized it wasn’t enough to be a female “first.” So what if you’re accepted into a formerly all-male bastion, you still need your network of women who support you. And you in turn have a responsibility to bring other women through the door you have opened.
As her friend, public relations executive Muriel Fox said, “Muriel Siebert was one of the few prominent women in the business world who proudly said, ‘Yes, I am a feminist.’ Mickie proved that outspoken feminism is not a handicap, but is a powerful asset, in achieving business success.”
According to the Wall Street Journal , she was “…an outspoken advocate for financial literacy and for women’s advancement on Wall Street, she often did that both through encouraging others and bucking a system intent on keeping her at the margins.”
At the funeral, I sat with colleagues from the New York Women’s Forum in a section set aside for us. Though I had long admired her legendary shattering of that Wall Street glass ceiling in 1967, I knew Mickie primarily from the organization’s holiday parties. She hosted them every December, holding court with her beloved dog Monster Girl, in her elegant apartment on the East River.
Inevitably, Mickie, who famously loved to sing, would whip out song sheets. Everyone had to join in the anthem with lyrics by Forum founders including Siebert, Fox, and Elly Guggenheimer. Sung to the tune of “One” from A Chorus Line, it starts, “We. Are. Feminist achievers, everybody knows our names (kick, kick). We are positive believers (kick) in the power of dames (kick kick kick)…”
Having seen her in that social setting, I was moved to hear a business partner Suzanne Shank recount how they’d started Siebert Brandford Shank in 1996 and grew it to the largest women-and minority-owned finance firm. Others lauded Mickie’s commitment to transparency in finance.
These are not values normally associated with Wall Street. That her business associates chose to speak of them indicates that despite the kind of success that so often corrupts, and despite her vaunted toughness or perhaps because of it, Mickie retained her integrity and sense of social justice through a long and storied career.
What clearer evidence can there be that anything is possible if one has the vision to see the possibility, the courage to go for it, the will to persist, and the competence to carry on successfully? “The real risk,” she once said , “lies in continuing to do things the way they’ve always been done.”
The flags on Wall Street were flown at half-mast for Muriel Siebert on the day of her funeral.
“If you can’t play with the big boys,” she was fond of saying, “start your own game.”
Because she did it her way, women today routinely enjoy workplace choices she had to fight to attain.
Though Mickie’s voice is stilled, her impact — like the songs she loved — go on. We poured out of the synagogue, stepping into the bright August sunshine to the lively beat of “New York, New York.”
Be sure to watch this video on Mickie Siebert