by Janine Wertheim
As a woman in a male-dominated field, the early days of my career in the industry were interesting, to say the least. While I certainly received my share of patronizing and sexist comments, some of my best advocates were men. When I was interacting with financial professionals and executives in our firm or our strategic partners, I always felt comfortable and valued. Early on, the biggest challenge was the competitiveness of other women, who felt they had fought for their position in the business world, and that younger women needed to earn their stripes. Thankfully, that attitude has given way to one of supporting other women to achieve their full potential and dreams.
In that spirit, here are nine lessons I’ve learned in my 30 years in the financial services industry.
- Lesson No. 1 – Take advantage of opportunities. Don’t be afraid to take chances, but have a fallback plan. Thoroughly understand your options and risks. Although my first job title with Securities America was marketing coordinator, I rolled up my sleeves, dug in and learned everything I could about running a broker-dealer.
- Lesson No. 2 – Understand and love the people you serve. Some of the most important lessons we learn are from our customers. I learned early on nothing happens unless our financial professionals get new clients and retain existing ones. That inspired me – and still does – to learn everything I can to serve them better.
- Lesson No. 3 – Go deep and wide on the technical aspects of your job and the business. Being a “go-to” person puts you in a great position to get to know a wide array of people. Your name gets mentioned often. Ask “why?” Take every opportunity to understand what’s going on around the company.
- Lesson No. 4 – Be passionate and tell your story often. Be known for something inherently important to your firm. For me, it was looking for opportunities to improve at serving our financial professionals. When I’m at the decision-making table, I want to represent our financial professionals in the spirit of helping them serve their clients well.
- Lesson No. 5 – Not everyone is like you. I have a strong personality, and I sometimes felt others didn’t work as hard as I did. I have to remind myself I am not the general manager of the universe. I have a tendency to want to control the situation and, quite frankly, I still haven’t mastered that vice. But half the battle is recognizing I have a problem, right?
- Lesson No. 6 – Over-communicate. People are bombarded by information, and we all have only so much mental real estate. If you want your message to sink in, say it often. If it is a core message that never expires, keep talking about it. If it has a shelf life, communicate it at least seven times. Share stories and use different communication vehicles to keep people interested. When it comes to communication – more is almost always more.
- Lesson No. 7 – Learn to determine what is noise and what is a signal. Set up a “circle of trust” within the organization to get feedback. You can’t sound the fire alarm all the time, but sometimes when there is smoke, there really is a fire. Figuring out your methods of feedback both internally and externally may be time-consuming, but it is an important trait for leaders.
- Lesson No. 8 – Play to people’s strengths. You need to have the right people on the bus and tell them where you’re going. Give them excellent directions, prepare them for potential rough terrain, point out the scenic views, and help them have fun. If they endanger the trip, you may need to take them off the bus. When things go wrong – and they will at some point – review the process and outcome with your team to discover lessons for improving skills or processes. And thank your team often (see Lesson No. 7).
- Lesson No. 9 – Stay positive. Our job as leaders is to be rational optimists. It takes vision and courage to help people see beyond the distractions and bad news to a brighter future. The toughest times require lots of teamwork and resiliency. Sure, you may have your own doubts and fears. By sharing those upward to your own leader, rather than downward to your followers, you can be a calming influence in the most chaotic storm.
I’ve learned a lot of lessons since I joined the industry more than 30 years ago. While I’m pleased with how far we’ve come, there is much more we can do to empower women to excel in this industry. I’ve made it my personal mission to advocate for women in financial services, and I’m proud of the steps that Securities America has taken to support women financial professionals, employees, and investors.