This post is a personal one. Whilst it is not always a painful one, it is certainly a post that I wrote and rewrote a number of times in fear of not giving it the due attention it deserved. It is also worth bearing in mind that I have only found the courage to publish this now – eleven years into my career – and at a time when the worst is perhaps behind me. The names are irrelevant (other than a few specifically alluded to); the ruthlessness of the industry prevails.
The urge to share my story came from the blog post “Economics is a disgrace” by Claudia Sahm, a senior US female economist and former Section Chief at the Federal Reserve Board. I chanced upon her blog through Barry Ritholtz’s “Masters in Business“, a popular business podcast recommended to me by my boss (and a great mentor). Claudia’s call-out of sexism, racism and elitism in American economist circles is not a lone tale and unfortunately mirrors what I have come to recognise amongst my own corporate circles in Australia. Diversity without inclusion is cruel. Diversity where the only yardstick is the degree of one’s hair loss is laughable.
There is systemic bias in how we bring talent through the system and how we nurture it in the workplace. Talent that looks and feels the part is “talent”. And talent that doesn’t? Well, wouldn’t it be convenient if they don’t know how good they are, and what a formidable force they can be.
To this end, to understand my reasons for championing and fighting for change, one must first understand my journey. I am not your typical crusader. You would not notice me in a crowded room. I have no public profile, other than the small platform which I have established here and those that know me in person.
As a refugee’s daughter, my journey growing up was fraught with existential battles. Years of burning the midnight candle to learn English as a second language (not for fun, but for survival) have given me a decent foundation to layer with life’s thorny demands. Barely a year after picking up an English dictionary, I was thrust into the cutthroat battles for a spot in an academically gifted junior high school, where I earned a pitiful Reserve C. For the record, Reserve Cs are so far down the list of reserves that it would have taken a train-wreck of a school to dissuade the Reserve As and Bs from accepting their offers.
It turned out I was lucky. My parents were overjoyed. But being the last entrant to scrape through meant I was constantly climbing the proverbial uphill, pitted against smarter and tougher kids.
Working twice as hard to get half as far in life was a well-known sentiment to me, even back then.
None of this is to say that mine was a singular journey. The Australian migrant diaspora is littered with well-educated parents forced to hold down multiple menial jobs for the sake of their children. The expectation on those very same children to persevere against all odds makes for some interesting reciprocity.
My experiences growing up have taught me the value of tenacity and fighting for what you believe in. Now as a manager and mentor in the “pale male” dominated world of corporate finance, this is what I believe in.
1. The Shade Effect
First and foremost, I believe in making the journey easier for future generations and others like me. As the Chinese author Lu Xun famously quoted: “Hope cannot be said to exist, nor can it be said not to exist. It is just like roads across the earth. For actually the earth had no roads to begin with, but when many men pass one way, a road is made.” By virtue of power comes the responsibility to grant others the benefit of your shade as you take the heat.
2. The “Biggest Loser” Effect
At the time of my promotion a number of years ago, my former skip level manager thought it necessary to impart his disappointment in me. In campaigning for the promotion, I had overturned his view of my quiet persona. He made it abundantly clear that I ought to be smart enough to know that there is always a glass ceiling. I thanked him politely for the promotion, and inflicted a sizeable hole on the glass ceiling. To this day, I am grateful to others whom have shown me the way to triumph above such crises of confidence. The feeling of “if she can, then I can too” is hugely profound and a powerful personal motivator for me.
3. The Solidarity Effect
I wish to stand in solidarity with those who have felt varying degrees of shame, guilt, derision or rejection in a world where they often don’t belong. Because that is a world in which I now find myself. I have mentored others whose first words to me were “I don’t think I’m good enough for the role”. I might have made the exact proclamation at one point in my career. I now stand corrected and I couldn’t have done it without the support of others in my journey. I hear you, and rest assured that you don’t travel alone.
4. The Reciprocity Effect
Thoughtful leaders of today have the responsibility to make people better than they found them. And if you are fortunate enough to be led by one of those leaders, you have the responsibility not only to achieve your potential, but to acknowledge and reciprocate their kindness. It gives me deep joy to know that some have credited me with their success. By the same token, it is important for my supporters to know that their faith in me has made a world of difference and that it will always be remembered.
No doubt our industry is unkind to the misfits and quiet achievers. No doubt there is much to do to ingrain progress and inclusion in the psyches of those at the helm. We all have a role to play. Together, let us never give up the good fight.