Women Working Together

There are all type of cautionary tales about women working together.  For me these stories were so foreign to my experience.  As one of a handful of female  options traders I reported to men.  As a swaps salesperson I reported to and worked with  men.   It would take 25 years before I would have my own story of working with women.

In late 2005, a tall, striking blonde woman entered my class on derivatives. She was smart and quick as a whip.  We hit it off immediately and stayed in touch. Months later she’d become head of the interest rate and currency solutions desk at her bank.

I met her for lunch and after a lovely lunch, we decided to move forward and have me meet with others at her bank.  Shortly after joining the bank, our team of five was quickly reduced to two.  It was then that her true genius became apparent.  She understood institutional strategy better than most and knew what was necessary to keep her unit operating and generating revenue.  At the end of the day all that matters is for colleagues to find synergy and profits.  Any other points in common were superfluous.

Our unwritten deal was simple: I would teach her interest rate products and how to find solutions for corporations and she would guide me through the politics of the bank.   We came in every day with a game plan and worked every possible revenue angle.  We enjoyed each other’s company and found a kindred humor between us.

It was impressive to watch her work. I’m a floor rat, a trader. It’s either done or it’s not. But she taught me that right price; right time wasn’t the only way to get things done. Right tone, right presentation and right group of supporters were also an important part of getting things done, especially in a large institution.

I can only conjecture what she learned from me. But she learned a great deal about presenting price and about negotiation. She learned that it was ok to ask for the deal as well as move on to a deal which had a greater chance of closing.  She grew more confident and closed deals at a quicker rate.   She learned that fence sitting clients didn’t reflect on her skills and she found it easier to walk away from low probability closers.  In the end, she taught me other ways to win the deal and I taught her other ways to close.  The proof of our synergy was in our revenues.  Our revenues grew steadily and were well above target and remained so as the years passed

I rarely questioned her moves. She knew the institution in ways I did not.  Yet she listened to my thoughts knowing I was viewing hurdles with fresh eyes and zero personal agenda. She also gave me a voice when for all intents and purposes she didn’t need to.  She held me out as her equal when she didn’t have to.

She never hid my contribution from senior management. Just the opposite, she made sure senior management saw me as her equal. She rowed me in on situations a different kind of manager would never do. Once when I closed a particularly prestigious deal she stood back and allowed me to take the accolades. In turn I felt great knowing she was coming back from vacation with her annual budget well covered, freeing us up to explore other business opportunities.

The credit crisis came and I saw new business opportunities as banks readied for Dodd frank. I was better remunerated elsewhere. Sometimes when I’m in the lobby of the building in which we worked, I smile to myself knowing how lucky we were to work together.  I smile knowing that women of future generations will forge similar sisterhoods.  But mostly I smile knowing that work may be work, but it can be so much more.  As long as you know the field of play isn’t your college dining club and your colleagues are not personal friends.

Have you had an experience like this that you’d like to share?

McCabe

March 13, 2013

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4 Comments

  1. An Old Friend said:

    Thanks for sharing this. It is funny, yet sad, how it has taken us 20 years to learn many of these innate corporate communication and decorum skills.

    My storyish:
    When I was 21, I was sponsored by a female boss (whom you know), who established both a mentor and maternal (or perhaps big sister) relationship. This rapidly evolved to one where disagreements or learning on the job, were percieved as threats and defiences that set the tone for my next three bosses who were all female. Yet at the time my male mentors and bosses, were as much amazing teachers of the trade as quick to fly off the handle with road rage and testosterone – this set the tone for my own behavior throughout my career, and as I got more embedded in corporate life – a challenge in my senior roles that still emerges from time to time today.

    Along that way, I picked up lessons from both male and female peers, bosses, subordinates and clients. It wasnt as much gender, as finding a professional relationship with someone who had balance, empathy, listening skills and decorum engrained in their DNA over being smart, fast, smart and right – and most importantly focused on leveraging and capitilizing my strengths, rather than challenging weaknesses.

    I still face similar communication challenges, particularly as I try to divorce from my rusty tactics and move around the C-suites as a peer and trusted advisor.

    And all the while, I am amazed at the amount of calls that recieved from colleagues who never learned these lessons and are now torn with how to reach the next step or role in their career that has been consumed by e-commerce.

    I try to listen, advise and help the best I can. Often it is the messaging that is out of synch, not the capability or person.

  2. McCabe said:

    Sid:

    Thank you for sharing your story. Part of me wishes you didn’t have to experience that, but part of me knows that experience had something to do with who you are today.

    You’re very wise to separate the lesson from the person, the capabilities from the gender. Especially in this fast moving world where it often seems easiest to just make knee jerk reactions and pigeon hole people.

    One point you made I’m including again (attribution to Sid Jacboson) “… focused on leveraging and capitilizing my strengths, rather than challenging weaknesses….” I hope senior managers male and female read those words and take a moment to reflect.

    Your point about e-commerce is also timely and of interest, because it’s taken the human quality out of the decision process to some degree. It seems that people think e-commerce means we need a different paradigm. I’m not so sure. My mind is always open (some ting never change), but I think many of the same qualities: relationship to risk, 5 year plan, importance of a moral compass still head the list of human qualities I’d want for my team.

    But I see many changes as well in what will be the best paradigm for tomorrows e-commerce trader.

    I’m not sure you will remember this – but one year at our Annual Christmas party I took your name tag (I’m not sure who wore mine). But I still have it. That name tag stands as a totem to those years working for a special firm, with incredibly special people. Even more so, it reminds me of my band of brothers – one of the few sisters amongst men. If you ever want it back, I’m pleased to send it along.

    Thanks again for sharing,
    Mc

    • A very old friend. said:

      Haha –

      That is wonderful.

      Perhaps I came off a bit harsh. Those were good times, and, as I get sterizlied in the corporate world, that feeling of youthful optimism and shaping the world; is something I have been unable to match. My only regret is not taking away many important business skills and maintaining those relationships, along with mastering the trade.

      Good to be back in touch.

      _ Sid.

      • McCabe said:

        Sid: not at all harsh or brash. I think its the honesty of your words that will resonate with people, as they did with me. Yes, good to be back in touch. Speak Soon.

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