Karyl Innis: Building a Distinguished Career through Personal Branding

The CFA Society Chicago Women’s Network hosted the third event of its four-part Alan Meder Empowerment Series on March 15th at The University Club. The series is intended to support career development and the advancement of women in the investment management profession. This event also attracted a number of men who were interested in the universal topic of Personal Branding.

In today’s workplace how you articulate your value proposition to the organization can make or break your career possibilities. Advocating for yourself, articulating your value and utilizing your branding statement as a part of your personal development strategy are all crucial to long term career success.  Your future at work is tied to who you think you are, as well as who your customers, clients, partners and prospects think you are.

This interactive session was led by Karyl Innis who knows why successful people succeed and, when they don’t, how to help them. She is a career expert, CEO and founder of The Innis Company, a global career management firm, and one of the most successful woman-owned businesses in the country.

Innis took the podium and quickly asked the audience “What do you think of me?” Write down one word that answers that question.  She then asked us to contemplate “what does that word mean to you?” and “what about me made you think that?” She then noted that we’d return to this topic later.

Innis went on to share that how you talk about yourself and how you let others talk about you is a career accelerator or killer! She next asked “how many of you have a brand?” By show of hands, about half the room indicated they have a brand and the other half felt that they didn’t.

Lesson #1: Everyone has a personal brand!  You may or may not know what it is; you may think you know, or you may think it is one thing while others think it’s something else.  You may like the brand people bandy about when they speak of you, or you may want to change it.  Why does personal brand matter?  Because people make decisions based on what they think they know about you. The more you/others hear what your “brand” is, the more it becomes truth and reality. Your brand is other people’s perception of you – rightly or wrongly.  That’s why it’s so important for you to be in charge of your narrative!

Take Oprah for example, she has a personal brand.  She has a lot of other stuff too – television networks, property, copyrights, licenses, and that very valuable personal brand of hers.  Some say the value of that personal brand is worth a tidy 2.4 billion dollars. So what do you get for that $2.4 billion?  Nothing – her brand belongs to her and your brand belongs to you. Oprah’s brand solidifies her reputation, transmits what matters to her, and creates future opportunities for her. Her brand does that for her and your brand can do that for you!

Lesson #2: Brand messaging and brand are different. Brand messaging = Look, Act, Sound, Say. Your brand is how people think and feel about you – it’s a combination of a thought and a feeling. Brand is the place YOU occupy in the decision maker’s mind relative to all others. It’s similar to the place a product occupies in your mind. 

Consider three pairs of leopard shoes: one from Target; one from Nine West; one from Jimmy Choo.  You have a different perception of each shoe based on various factors such as durability, price, styling, etc. Based on these factors you position and differentiate the shoes in your mind and have reasoning for why you would choose one over the other. There is a premium brand, a middle of the road brand, and a low-end brand.   This same positioning and differentiating translates to human capital hiring – are you worth the money? You want to be the premium brand!

Lesson #3: We tend to position ourselves as average. We talk about ourselves with average words, yet we want more pay and more responsibility! We should be using premium words to describe ourselves and our capabilities.  There are A, B, and C levels of words to describe your brand. People frequently use “competent” to describe themselves, when in fact this is a C-level adjective with broad interpretation (having the necessary ability, knowledge, or skill to do something successfully – capable, able, adept, qualified). The elevated or “A” version of this adjective is expert or executive.  Use A-level words to describe yourself and your competencies. How valuable is your personal brand? The more premium you are, the more you can command!

Start creating your brand by selecting three premium words which convey what you want your leader, hiring manager, or others to think of you. 

“A” Words                                                           “C” Words

Expert                                                                   Competent

Authority                                                             Skilled

Strategist                                                             Doer

Master                                                                 Reliable

Visionary                                                             Action-Oriented

Talent Scout

Champion

Guru

Futurist

Leader

Brand makes a difference – you will be hired for what you know and how you’ve applied it:

  • Oil and gas banker – an executive that fixes broken businesses
  • Client service advocate (voice of the client) – leader for everyone
  • Hard worker – powerful leader of people and teams

Lesson #4: Have what it takes to create an initial impression. Brand also has to do with how you look and how you deliver your message.  Initial impressions are key and based on the following: 55% visual; 38% vocal; 7% verbal (this goes up to 22% if you’re talking on a continuum). Everything from the tilt of your head, shoulder positioning, hand and leg placement, clothing, and smile factor in to how you are perceived by others. 

This takes us back to the start of Innis’ presentation when she asked the audience to write down one word describing her, before she had even delved into her presentation. This word was our first impression of her. Since she had barely spoken people’s perceptions of her were largely visual, as findings show.

Creating Your Personal Brand

Like those of us in the audience, you may be wondering how get an accurate assessment of your current brand. Innis suggests gathering performance reviews, email compliments, bio’s, casual notes, etc.  Additionally, interview at least five people, asking them all the same questions, clarifying with them what you thought they were telling you and recording their answers. The takeaways from these various sources will help you gain insight into others’ perceptions of your brand.

In the world of work, you will be talked about. People will describe you as they introduce, evaluate and sponsor you by using a succinct description attached to your name. It’s important that you control the brand attached to you and that it be one that accelerates your career and not one that stalls it. It takes about 18 months for a rebrand to take root, so write yours today!  If you desire Karyl’s help in crafting your brand, she can be reached at info@inniscompany.com

To learn more about career development and advancement, read about the previous events of the series – “Taking Control of Your Career” and “Tips and Tricks for Negotiating for Yourself” on the CFA Society Chicago blog.

POWER Breakfast: Mellody Hobson, Ariel Investments

On February 6th Mellody Hobson was the featured guest at CFA Society Chicago’s Power Breakfast series held at The Standard Club hosted by the CFA Women’s Network. Hobson, president of Ariel Investments, is responsible for managing Ariel’s business operations, development, and strategic initiatives. 

This event was a conversational interview and moderated by Linda Ruegsegger, CFA. Ruegsegger started by asking Hobson what she sees as current risks and challenges in the investment industry. Hobson answered by stating that most risks should be considered as opportunities to be exploited whether they are new/emerging or persistent risks. The proper frame of reference is key to this here. Hobson used a hot topic as an example; the movement from active to passive management, or the growth of the ETF market. The growth of the ETF/passive market has come primarily at the expense of active management. With wide availability, it can be an easy choice to go the passive route. While ETFs are not inherently bad or wrong to own, they will only provide an average return – beta. Since the average market return is the best one can earn, eventually investors will realize that obtaining alpha is a valued outcome, and they will understand that it is worthwhile to pay for an active return. Since an ETF portfolio can only offer the market return, reversion to the mean should favor the active manager.

Hobson brought up a related topic – fee compression and how different ages of investors evaluate the cost of investing. The latest generation of investors have been able to invest their entire (short) life with investments that are effectively free. There are any number of Vanguard, Fidelity, and Schwab products that are no cost or near zero cost options. There is no turning back from these products – they are becoming the default option for the market investor. How then does an active manager compete against these companies/products? These companies have scale, which cannot be easily duplicated, thus midsized companies could be squeezed out of the market leaving a barbell-type investment manager landscape with large, mega cap providers on one side, and smaller niche-oriented managers on the other. However, it is the smaller provider that can use their size to be nimble and capitalize on customization and client service.

Hobson noted another result of the increased use of passive investments. It is getting more difficult for a 401K plan to provide a combined suite of active and passive investment options. Active portfolios are being squeezed out due to their perceived expensiveness. She told the audience of a conversation she had with a trustee of a 401K plan noting the trustee would no longer consider including active strategies because of the price difference from passive strategies.

Ruegsegger brought up the great recession and asked how Ariel Investments made it through 2008-2009. Ariel underperformed in a material way during this period. According to Hobson this was the first time this happened. AUM fell due to market declines and significant client defections. Hobson developed a mentality of ‘just getting through’ to the next week, next the month, next the quarter and urged her staff to do the same. There was no payoff at the end of these periods in terms of gift cards, cake, or parties. The payoff was the opportunity to come back to the job of managing money for clients and hope that the next period would be better than the last. With this mindset came more focus from the staff, brutal self-evaluation, and admitting mistakes that were made. Hobson also developed what she called a depression baby mentality – scrutinizing all expenses, making due with what you have, a needs-only mentality. This mentality served Ariel well during that period. It is important to be able to hold this mentality not just in stressful times, but also in better times as good times will ebb and flow.

During the downturn Hobson also met with all Ariel investors – these were hard discussions as many long-term clients withdrew their assets. For the clients that remained, positive performance was not promised, but she told her clients she would not bet against Ariel. Patience was the key – after 2008-09 the Ariel midcap blend was ranked number one in the Morningstar Mid-Cap Blend category out of 311 funds that were in existence over the 60-month period ended March 31, 2014.

Ruegsegger deftly segwayed by asking if patience is ok when bringing diversity to the investment industry. Hobson answered with a resounding “No!” Lack of diversity is corporate suicide, she opined. Hobson mentioned a book by Scott Page, The Diversity Bonus: How Great Teams Pay Off in the Knowledge Economy. The theme of the book is that diversity will always trump intellect. Hobson recommended the book and gave an example from it about how the small pox vaccine was discovered. Although there were teams of doctors researching for a cure, the idea that led to the vaccine was not found by a team of (like-minded) doctors, but buy a dairy farmer – from a person with a different (diverse) point of view than the teams of researchers.

Most companies do not formally address lack of diversity, and while it is great to aspire to having a diverse workplace, a process must be in place to build and maintain a diverse team. First, there needs to incentives in place to promote diversity. Incentivizing behavior will get the desired behavior. Second, have a process in place to source different pools of people. One must look for talent in a number of pools – the source of talent must be diverse.  Firms must realize and accept that one person of color, creed, ethnicity does not make a diverse workplace. More than one of X, Y or Z is needed. Third is having a mindset of diversity. Building a team is not a choice of taking the best person or the diverse person. This is the wrong perception. To find and build a diverse team move away from looking for a skill or credential. Instead look for intellect and be willing to train. Most people have biases, but they usually do not realize this fact. Teach yourself and your team to identify bias. Hobson believes diversity at Ariel is what makes the firm special, it is a competitive advantage.

At the conclusion of the discussion, Hobson took questions from the audience. Several of the audience members asked questions directly related to her comments on diversity –

Q – Should legislation be used to improve diversity of corporate boards?

Hobson made some observations; 25% of public companies domiciled in California do not have any women on their board, and white adult men constitute 30% of population, but 70% of corporate board seats. It is painfully obvious that corporate boards need to be more diversified. However, while mandates for diversity forces us to look at the facts, the U.S. as a country does not handle these mandates well.

Q – When looking to fill a position should one find the right intellect or the person that adds to a more diverse workplace?

Hobson stated that when given the question of ‘should I hire the best person or the diverse person’ the answer should be yes. One must understand that it is not a choice of hiring one or the other. Circumstances will dictate the best person for the job provided that diversity is valued at the workplace. That someone does not have the correct skill set is not an acceptable excuse for hiring in a diverse manner. Any person can be trained to on aspects of the job that they may not have previously encountered. It is worth the investment to train in order to obtain a well-rounded, diverse workplace.

Vault Series: Cambridge Associates

Gender equality in the investment profession has been a hot topic in the industry lately, and it was addressed in detail during a January 10, 2019 Vault Series talk from Dierdre Nectow. Her firm Cambridge Associates, a large institutional investment consultant, is an outlier in the profession with half of its executives being women. Nectow discussed why her firm has much higher female representation than average, and what the state of women in finance is today.

To start, some good news: the number of women in finance is growing, yet as a percent of the workforce, women are still underrepresented. The United States is also a laggard when it comes to gender equality in the workplace, coming in at a dismal 51st place globally. One of the worst places for gender equality in finance can be seen in venture capital, where just 9 of the top 100 VCs are female. In contrast, the hedge fund industry has the best female ownership numbers, with 2% of AUM managed by women-owned firms.

Cambridge has been a bit different than its peers in hiring and promoting far more women than average in large part due to the philosophy of its co-founder Jim Bailey. His mother was a strong woman that had inspired him, and he saw women as an untapped resource. Hiring them could lead to outperformance in the industry. The firm has also spent time training workers on unconscious bias and has sought to make it safe to have those kinds of conversations while fostering more thoughtful attitudes around encouraging women and minorities in the workplace. Additionally, Cambridge has a mentorship program, a CFA women’s group and a new initiative called Prevail, which is designed to bring women at asset management firms as well as Cambridge clients and prospects together to talk about investing and issues.

Gender equality is becoming increasingly important for financial firms because pensions are using women and minority representation as a means to hire managers (or not hire ones with inadequate representation). Many companies have been hiring diversity officers to address this trend.  Cambridge is also scouring the landscape to find female and minority-owned managers due to demand.

Following the introduction, David Baeckelandt, senior investment director at Cambridge Associates, took the stage to give us a brief history of women in financial markets, beginning with ancient firms. While by day Baeckelandt is a salesman at Cambridge, in his free time he is a history buff and has done extensive reading on the subject of women in finance.

Beginning in ancient Egypt, Baeckelandt said that Cleopatra was the first women to coin her own currency and put her image on it, which was an important step in modern finance. Another famous woman in finance milestone came with Queen Isabella funding Columbus’s voyage to the new world. Baeckelandt said that you could argue that Isabella led the most successful venture investment of all time, as the exploration of the Americas led to vast wealth for Spain. Another milestone took place in the coming years, with the Dutch East India Company being perhaps the world’s first IPO, and it had a number of women investors involved.

An interesting story of women in finance came from Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams. She made a small fortune trading bonds, which she turned into a small farm that she used to convince her husband to return to from Europe. Victoria Woodhull was another luminary who spotted an arbitrage opportunity between gold bullion and US dollars and used it to make a substantial profit. She then ran a financial firm with her sister, and her story is the subject of an upcoming TV series. Baeckelandt mentioned Hortense Friedman, a story familiar to many charterholders (there is an award given out annually in her name). A number of other women firsts took place in the late 1800’s, with the first women CPA’s and the first women investment bankers in the US.

There are a number of positive signs with respect to women in finance, yet there is much work to be done, particularly with respect to compensation. Public pensions and other large investors will continue to put pressure on firms to ensure adequate female and minority representation, and the march towards gender equality will likely continue to grow in the investment industry.

Tips and Tricks for Negotiating for Yourself

“So much of life is a negotiation – so even if you’re not in business, you have opportunities to practice all around you.” – Kevin O’Leary

When we think of negotiations, we tend to restrict our thinking to business situations like deals, compensation, office location etc. However, we negotiate in our daily lives starting as early as toddlers when children hold their parent’s hostage to have their way. To talk about some tips and tactics to help us amp up our negotiation game in every walk of life, the Society’s CFA Women’s Network hosted Laurel Bellows on November 27, 2018, at The Standard Club.

Laurel Bellows, founding principal of The Bellows Law Group, P.C. is past president of the nearly 400,000-member American Bar Association, past president of The Chicago Bar Association and past president of the International Women’s Forum Chicago and The Chicago Network. Bellows is currently serving on the Executive Committee of the InterAmerican Bar Association.

Bellows began the event with a short video clip of a comic which was aimed to explain how brains of men and women work. It was good humor that shed light on how men and women think differently and hence negotiate differently. Overall, it was a great event with simple yet important takeaways we all should focus on while negotiating. Some key themes to discussed during the event are briefly described below.

Know your opposition

Knowing how the opposition thinks and anticipating their goals and their best alternatives for the negotiation can help you strategize your efforts.

Determining the goal of negotiation

By determining what constitutes a successful negotiation to you can help you decide what works for you and how flexible you could be during the process. It is important to think about what kind of relationship you would like to have in the future with the counter party and how their non-performance could affect you. At the end of the day a successful negotiation is when you have a viable deal for both parties.

Preparation is Power

Key is to Prepare, Prepare and Prepare. Do not negotiate with your gut! Determine authority of the person you are dealing with and make sure they can sign off on the negotiated terms at the end of the conversation. You do not want to waste time negotiating with a person who would need approval from a higher authority which almost every time leads to a counter offer to your best negotiated terms. Gather knowledge, know your opposition and visualize your deal. This process will help you figure out motivation of the deal for yourself/client, define finite priorities and be able to articulate your position succinctly in 5-7 words. If you are dealing with a difficult person, be firm and don’t be afraid to walk out! If on the phone, respectfully let the other person know you are not comfortable with their behavior towards you (especially if they are shouting) and hang up. Deciding on where to hold the negotiations, your place or theirs? Your office will enable you to take control, their office would give you the ability to walk away. Whichever the case may be, own the room you walk-in!

Build a working relationship

Clarify your position, propose creative options and be consistent to establish trust/reputation with the opposition. Never lose sight of your reputation and listen closely to your opposition. Do not plan your response while listening to them, the brain can only focus on one!

Do not have more than one best alternative to what is on the table at any given time during a negotiation. The best alternative may change constantly as you may choose one over the other but avoid having more than one at any given time. If the BATNA is no deal you walk out! Make sure you are aware that walking out could be for good.

Control the Agenda

By controlling the agenda, you will be able to focus on objectives, control information exchange timing and who makes the first offer.

Persuade the Opposition

Be patient and listen to your opposition. Your tone of voice matters depending on who you are against. Mirror your opposition to engage with them and build trust and be prepared to have uncomfortable conversations. It is ok to be fearful, but you may be able reframe the situation with optimism and further the conversation with curiosity.

Conversational Techniques

Use accurate facts asserting informed certainty. Do not be afraid to interrupt to take control of the conversation but do so respectfully. It’s a good idea to have a default expression like a light smile to be unpredictable and be sure to practice a few default moods ahead of time. Power language is important. For example, using more ‘ands’ (positive) in place of ‘buts’ (negative) can make a difference. Try recording your ending sentence to see whether your statements have a hint of a question or uncertainty and address that. Use open questions to gather more information and use ‘blocking’ technique (answer with another question or refuse to exchange information at the time). Try to avoid impasses by talking past a ‘o’ by either stating facts or moving on to another subject.

Communication

Avoid negotiating on email unless you really must. It is easy for the opposition to say ‘no’ not leaving much room to negotiate. During team negotiations make sure you know ‘who is who’! A telephone negotiation can happen from time to time. Be prepared and have an agenda as small and simple as conveying a deadline or timeline or a mood. If you get a call suddenly, ask them call back in 5-10 minutes to make sure you are prepared and have an agenda. There is no excuse for not being prepared!

Reaching an agreement

Leaving a little bit something on the table sometimes during negotiations may help build long-term relationships. Attend carefully to the dates and time concessions. After the deal, the opposition party may come up with minor changes like a week or two early delivery dates or a minor design change in packaging. It is best to either refuse outright or ask something in return. It could be a small ask even if you don’t care much about the change but if not done at that time, expect many of such nuances down the road. Just be resilient!

Factor-Based Investing

The CFA Women’s Network hosted a lively and vibrant event featuring Patricia Halper, CFA, partner and co-chief investment officer at Chicago Equity Partners. Halper spoke to a room full of engaged members on the topic of factor-based investing which coincides with the popular topic “Smart Beta” investing. The subject is more relevant than ever as investors question the worth of fundamental active stock-pickers in search of both better performance and lower expenses. As a brief introduction, Halper has been working at Chicago Equity Partners for over twenty years as both a member of the quantitative research team and a portfolio manager.  Prior to CEP, she worked at Paine Webber on the institutional futures sales desk. Halper holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Loyola University Chicago, a master’s degree in financial mathematics from the University of Chicago, and is also a CFA charterholder. Currently at Chicago Equity Partners, Halper utilizes factor-based investing strategies to support the firm’s equity decision making processes.

Simply stated, a “factor” is a characteristic of a security that explains its investment return. Factor investing in its most simplistic form can be described by the traditional CAPM equation: E(r) = rf * B(Rp-rf) where beta represents the single factor. In examining how a factor can be used towards making investment decisions, the question an investor must then ask is twofold: “Is this factor a good predictor of future price movements?” and then secondly “Which side of the factor (high beta or low beta in this case) will outperform the index?” Expanding upon a tradition single-factor model, Fama and French introduced the three-factor model in the 1990s which included beta, size and value.  In the late 1990s, quality factors came into light such as balance sheet quality, earnings quality, and quality of the management team. Today, there are hundreds of factors that investment professionals analyze to explain investment returns. Bottom line: factor investing is a known proven strategy that has been around for many years.  If you get the direction of correlated factors correct, you will likely outperform your benchmark.

Some of the most common factors used today include:

  • Value:  Low price/earnings, low price/sales, low price/book value
  • Quality: Strong management team, high earnings quality with lack of one-time items, low balance sheet leverage
  • Momentum: Both price momentum and earnings momentum generally provide outsized returns.
  • Size:  Smaller companies have outperformed larger companies over a long period of time
  • Volatility: Less volatile stocks provide higher expected return over the long term.

There is a key asterisks to the factors noted above. High value, high quality, positive momentum, small market cap, and low volatility have all shown to be positive factors of price performance…  over a 20 YEAR period. Often times, clients don’t have the investment horizon (or patience) to stick with a strategy that doesn’t work over several years, or even more commonly over several quarters.  In fact, the opposite of what is true in the long term (20 years) can be true in the short term (several quarters to even years). The key to understanding which factor is the most relevant to excess return is to understand what cycle of the market we are in. Halper described three market cycles:

  • Expansion: Most often markets are in expansion mode as markets generally trend higher. Momentum factor outperforms the most in expansionary periods (5%+ excess returns) and tends to work because investors tend to chase winners.
  • Downturn: At the end of the expansion period, you see a shift to Low Volatility and High Quality names with strong balance sheets that provide the best excess returns. This period can be considered recessionary with negative GDP growth.
  • Rebound: Finally, the rebound period doesn’t last long between when the downturn ends and when the expansion cycle begins—typically 2-3 quarters.  During this short time period, Value outperforms best.

Taking our single-factor observations above one step further, there is empirical evidence that If you know how to combine multiple factors into a model, a multi-factor portfolio will outperform a single-factor portfolio with less risk. There is a cyclicality in any one factor  and the cyclicality of factors increased during the global financial crisis.  It is best as an investment manager to pick at least two factors to structure your portfolio. That being said, you have to use two factors that are moderately correlated, otherwise one factor will tell you to buy and another to sell and you will naturally be holding the indexed market.. or cash!  How you combine factors, how you weight them, and how you allocate each factor is the name of the game for outsized returns. It is also critical to highlight that another key to successful factor based investing is having high quality data. High quality data has both a wide breadth and a long time horizon and without high quality data, your model will give false signals into which assets to buy and sell.

The analysis of factor based investing begs the question how is it related to the popular term in the industry right now “Smart Beta” investing.  Smart Beta strategies have shown tremendous AUM growth largely due to a general dissatisfaction with traditional equity asset managers. Asset allocators ask of Smart Beta products, “Can you perform better than a traditional passive index at a rate that is cheaper than active equity managers?” To put figures around the growth, in 2008, there was $100mm invested in Smart Beta strategies. Today, there is over $1 Trillion, a ten-fold increase in the last 10 years.  The largest smart beta funds, largely run by Vanguard and Blackrock, trade based on growth and/or value, what is otherwise a very traditional style-based factor investing that has been around for 20 years. When you take a closer look under the hood, even though these products are called “Smart Beta”, it is really the same principles just repackaged with a sexier word for the times. It’s not quant analysis, and if the product is only focused on a single factor, it’s not multi-factor investing either. If the Smart Beta product is only using a single-factor approach, it is simply “Quant 101” that has been around for over 20 years. Multi-factor Smart Beta products are a very small portion of the market which undoubtedly will grow over time. Investors should note that if they plan on buying a smart beta product, be aware of the sector exposures, as some have very high sector exposures which can overwhelm your factor exposure if you are overinvested in an industry that has sector specific issues.

What does the next 10 years look like? What factors will outperform in this current market environment? The Fed is now raising interest rates and ending its 10-year quantitative easing program.  How will turmoil in foreign markets and currencies impact our domestic equity and bond markets here at home? Only time will tell, but what is clear is that factor-based investing should be in every investment manager’s tool chest as they evaluate market trends and the price movements of its underlying securities.

Taking Control of Your Career

The CFA Women’s Network at CFA Society Chicago kicked off their series Taking it to the Next Level: Empowering Tools for Women in Finance aimed at events that optimize career development and advancement for women in the financial services area.

The first event in the series, titled Taking Control of Your Career, focused on managing and shifting the course of careers by the speaker Gail Meneley. Meneley is the co-founder of Shields Meneley Partners, a confidential advisory service to C-Suite executives and board of directors during times of organizational and professional crisis and transition. She was one of eight founders of the Center for Executive Options and served as a CEO of the Institute of Financial Education. With extensive business experience, Meneley has been widely quoted and published in multiple reputable business publications and has been the keynote speaker at national conferences and conventions. She holds a B.A. from Mundelein College of Loyola University and has participated in executive programs at the University of Texas, the University of Washington, and the University of Southern California. Additionally, she is active in many civic, cultural and business organizations including the Economic Club of Chicago, The Chicago Network, the Chicago Finance Exchange, and the Lake Forest Caucus.

Meneley presented advise on how to navigate through career transitions and or progression to the mostly female audience at a well-attended event. She touched upon some of the important, yet less discussed issues faced by women during their careers. Key takeaways from the discussion are briefed below.

Better Navigation at work

Meneley could not stress enough to remain confident in periods of uncertainty and self- doubt that women are more likely to feel than their male counterparts in the workplace. Additionally, she advised women to stop selling their abilities short – both internally and externally, and ‘learn to toot their own horns’ shunning the uneasy feeling which is usually experienced by most women in the situation.

She advised women to make the expectations at work clear at the outset by carrying out discussions that may be uncomfortable like the authority to carry out assigned tasks, extent of involvement in terms of leading a project vs helping the team in a more supportive role. This should help manage responsibilities and receive deserved credit for the performed work.

Stagnation and Progression

If you feel you are feeling stagnating at work or disagree with any aspect of your role, she advised to discuss it with your manager before thinking of switching jobs. However, just complaining about your situation will not be fruitful and instead take up this discussion with your manager with a suggestion to resolve it.

In order to prepare yourself for the conversation, make sure you understand the root cause of your feelings. Is it the lack of opportunities or lack of responsibilities? What would it take for you to feel satisfied at your job?

Being explicit about your expectations will help your manager address them more effectively. Signing up for not so popular projects would be one way to communicate your commitment and enthusiasm at work and a way to standout from your peers. Despite your efforts and failure on your managers part to resolve your reasonable concerns may be a sign to think about alternatives to the current role.

Assessing your dissatisfaction in the current role

Many women feel dissatisfied in their current roles which might be signs of emotional and/or literal blockage at work or a result of reaction to a negative situation at work. To deal with such feelings, Meneley provided some guidance to assess your situation by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do you disagree with the overall business strategy?
  • Did you engage your manager without resolution?
  • Have you lost respect for the team?
  • Are you frustrated with the work?

If any of the above apply to you, it may be time to consider an exit. However, she cautioned to rule out any emotional reaction to a specific negative situation by giving it some time to see how you feel after a while. If after 6 months negative feelings haven’t improved or have gotten worse, it might be time for the necessary action.

Career Growth Strategy & Change in Jobs

Gail Meneley stressed on how one must ‘always’ continue to engage in networking and building professional and personal relationships whether they are looking for a job, looking to switch jobs or careers or content with their current employer. Constant networking should be an integral part of your overall career strategy.

Other important considerations should be self-reflection of whether you have achieved the satisfaction you expected in your current role or with your current employer? If not, what could be improved and how? What would be your favorite job and why? Do you feel like meeting your coworkers each morning? Do you see yourself managing other people?

If you feel you need to change jobs or transition into a different career path you must be thoughtful of your moves from one employer to the other and its emotional and practical implications. One very valid consideration would be the decision to relocate. If you do plan to relocate make sure it matters and is a long-term decision.

Skills Enhancement

In order to grow professionally, one should constantly learn new skills. Women who consider themselves as introverts can train themselves to become extroverts by doing the following:

  • Try to get to know other people
  • Draw out people by interacting with them and making them feel comfortable around you
  • Learn to read other people
  • Hire a coach. This should be particularly beneficial when transitioning for single person role a leadership role

Very effectively, Meneley explained how a manager’s role differs from that of a leader. Managers, she said, have a more engineering type process to tackle people and work whereas leadership roles are more about connection of hearts and minds. Effective leaders tend to focus on what interests other people and end up making them excited about the job. To ascertain a good leader from a bad leader, look at who everyone is following. To transition from being a manger to a leader, work on your people skills and do not hesitate to seek help from a career coaching expert.

Exit Strategy

Once you have made up your mind to leave your current employer, it is important to make your exit at a positive note. Meneley emphasized to maintain a relationship of mutual respect with the employer. This would include negotiating an exit package that both parties can agree on and using exit interview as a means of keeping your reputation intact. She strongly advised against suing the employer as this could have ramifications to your employability in the future.

Diversity Improves Your Bottom Line and How You Can Achieve More of It: Andie Kramer and Al Harris

Recognizing the benefits of a diverse workforce, and overcoming the challenges to it (which are often subtle and hidden below the surface) was the theme of the presentation Andie Kramer and Al Harris made to the CFA Society Chicago on January 18. Andie and Al are practicing attorneys, and also business partners working to build awareness of the benefits of expanded diversity–especially gender diversity–in the workplace. Their starting premise is that teams of diverse members will be more productive because the differences among the members requires that they be more careful in their deliberations, more thoughtful about what they say, more collaborative with each other, and in the end, more productive and innovative. So, increased diversity is not just morally and ethically right, it can also lead to improved results and profits.

If greater diversity is so good, why is it difficult to achieve? Mainly because it takes us out of our comfort zones. We naturally prefer to associate and work with people who are like us in many ways. Reaching consensus with people of differing perspectives can be difficult, so we tend to avoid diverse groups to reduce tension and conflicts. Improving diversity requires addressing several areas, first among them is the challenge of bias which Kramer and Harris define as an unconscious belief, preference, or inclination that inhibits impartiality. Bias in turn is shaped by stereotypes which ascribe behavioral characteristics to someone based on an easily observed characteristic (such as gender, age, race, etc.). These stereotypes form our perceptions and expectations about people even before we know them. Our challenge is to invalidate these misperceptions with real evidence.

Kramer and Harris pointed out two types of personality characteristics that stereotypes assign by gender. Stereotyping considers communal characteristics such as compassion, affection, modesty, sympathy, and warmth to be feminine. Conversely, agentic, or action-oriented characteristics such as aggressiveness, confidence, risk acceptance, and independence are masculine. We naturally consider successful leaders to be agentic, and if we consider those characteristics to be masculine, we create a bias toward men as leaders. Gender bias is often manifested through “micro-aggressions” such as subtle putdowns (verbal and nonverbal), sarcasm, and dismissive gestures.  In Kramer and Harris’s view these provide the scaffolding for workplace discrimination.

What can men and women do to improve this situation? Men must first learn to recognize gender bias, using the indicators of micro-aggressions, and object to it firmly. They should “think slow”, using their rational brains more than the emotional. They should advocate for women as mentors (whether formal or not), and embrace differences. Women need to perform a balancing act: recognize the importance of agentic characteristics, but temper them with the communal.

Organizations can improve diversity by recognizing that gender bias exists and that by holding back women, it leads to sub-optimal results. They should strive to make hiring and promoting practices fair and equitable. An important step toward this is removing subjectivity from the evaluation process as much as possible (for example, eliminating open-ended questions in interviews). Finally, managers should seek feedback on their efforts from employees or external experts.