Business professionals discuss shattering the glass ceiling
In an event on Thursday, a panel of business professionals and scholars took the opportunity to recognize the contributions Brandeis alumni and faculty members have made toward breaking the glass ceiling in the fields of business and economics.
Panel moderator Cathy Minehan, the former president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, began the event by sharing her personal career experience serving for 39 years with the Fed in Boston and New York. Minehan mentioned how job interviews have changed significantly since she entered the field, especially in terms of how candidates are interviewed. In several interviews with big Wall Street banks, Minehan said, she was told that “women were not allowed” in the management training programs.
The Fed interviewed Minehan for a computer programming position while she was still a student, she explained. After she passed the test, she asked for a management training program and was told that they had “never had a woman in it.” After another interview for the position, she was hired.
She described the progress of the Fed as an “interesting evolution.”
“The Fed tends to view itself as a meritocracy,” Minehan said.
In 2004, Minehan recruited Provost Lisa Lynch to the Federal Reserve Advisory Board in Boston. Lynch described the Boston Fed as “always at the top of the league tables in terms of the percentage of economists who were women [and] economists who had headed the research department at the Fed reserve bank.”
In her remarks, Prof. Anne Carter (ECON) shared, “Everything in my career has been a surprise.” Before coming to Brandeis, Carter taught at Harvard — “Being a woman [at Harvard] was something that was tolerated but not appreciated,” she noted.
Lan Xue ’90 M.A. ’91, a founding partner and head of research at Trivest Advisors in Hong Kong, also shared her progress as a woman in the stock market industry. “I was actually the first female head of research for any major international bank in China — probably in the Asian region, as well,” she explained.When she moved back to Hong Kong after graduating from Brandeis, there were only seven publicly listed mainland Chinese companies. “Today, as we speak, China is now in the second biggest stock market in the whole world, only after the U.S. That’s how far we’ve come,” she said.
Amy Kessler ’89 M.A. ’90, the senior vice president and head of longevity risk transfer at Prudential Financial, leads a 240-person team in her division. “The most important thing for me to do … is I check it at the door,” she said. “The idea that I might be the only woman in the room, the idea that I might be the only woman with a PNL, … the idea that I might be the only woman negotiating a deal or I might be the only woman with 240 people on my team. I forget all about that,” she said.
She praised women’s abilities to collaborate, bring people together around new ideas, and teach and cultivate teams and team ethics. Kessler also mentioned the challenge pension funds face of managing assets and longevity risks. “Diversity is not just about women,” she said. “Diversity is about everybody. It’s about diversity of thought; it’s about having people of all different ages on your team, people from all parts of the world, people from different educational backgrounds and professional experiences.”
Kessler argued that women are less likely to apply for jobs if they doubt their qualifications, even if they are actually overqualified for the position. “I call that the confidence gap,” she said.
Minehan added that she believes that a woman also needs to be resourceful and “take the bull by the horns.” For example, when the Fed’s Boston chief coordinating officer retired and the position was open, Minehan called Richard Syron, president of the bank, and asked to be considered.