Sallie Krawcheck has held some of the most prominent roles on Wall Street, including chief financial officer at Citigroup and head of wealth management for Bank of America. Corporate shakeups got her bumped from leadership positions at those banks, yet she has a knack for bouncing back, and a mission: to promote the economic advancement of women. Since May of last year, Krawcheck has owned professional women’s organization 85 Broads, which offers networking opportunities and events. She says that women should ask for more raises and take advantage of professional connections, even as she acknowledges that women are losing ground in financial services and other fields.
But that advice could seem abstract for new graduates and younger professionals, who may not yet have a network—or even much of a resumé—to leverage. Bloomberg Businessweek asked Krawcheck how a fresh crop of entrants to the corporate world should apply her message. In a frank conversation, she described the environment that led to her ouster from Bank of America, recommended a mental trick for women entering salary discussions, and explained the link between prime-time TV and the underrepresentation of female MBAs. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.
Bloomberg Businessweek: What should young women graduates be thinking about as they head into the workforce?
Sallie Krawcheck: It’s about being assertive. I’ve talked a lot about the fact that men negotiate and women don’t. The world needs to change, and it will change over time, such that women don’t have to act like men to be successful. In the meantime, you can sit around thinking about how it’s not right, or you can ask for the money.
I saw it in action for 20 years. I was never asked by a woman for a specific bonus amount. And I had diverse teams. I used to say you could seat my team like a dinner party: boy, girl, boy, girl.
What do women tend to say, if they don’t name a specific number?
Nothing! You offer them a job, with a set amount of money, and they say yes or no. You should always come back [with a counterproposal]. And there is a double bind of being perceived as too aggressive when one does that. But there are ways to do it so one can be heard.
So how can women assert themselves without being perceived negatively?
Fact-based phrasing is huge. Ask so that your request benefits the company, and it’s not just me, me, me. Say, “I would like this set of responsibilities, I can do this for the company.”
Another tip is to negotiate as if you’re negotiating for someone else. There is research showing women are as effective or more effective than men when negotiating for someone else rather than themselves, so play that mental trick and pretend you’re talking about someone else. And she’s great! She deserves the money.
Women just starting out are in a different position than experienced execs. How should you handle it if you don’t have a long salary history or track record to negotiate on?
When someone makes you an offer, they like you a lot. That’s your key point of negotiation. They’ve seen something in you that they like.
It’s not only about money. It’s potentially getting a commitment for an overseas assignment. Getting a commitment for a project involving marketing experience, if you’re in finance. Getting a commitment to have an internal sponsor. If flexibility is important, getting flexible work options.
That’s something people might not think about—that you can ask not just for money or perks, but for experiences that will contribute to your professional development.
By the way, those things will lead to more money. And [negotiating the details of one's role] can be something women are more comfortable doing than talking about a dollar amount.
It’s a fairly well-known statistic that women make 77 cents for every dollar a man does. But what are some of the other issues that can hinder a woman’s success besides the pay gap?
I don’t know that 77 cents on the dollar hinders success, as much as it’s an outcome. And there has been research done as to why that is. But there’s another thing to focus on, which is working to have sponsors in the office. Sylvia Ann Hewlett has done great research on this and it shows that mentors are good, but sponsors are better. When I was running Merrill Lynch for Bank of America, the business was growing, the [financial adviser] attrition rate that I was brought in to fix was down, and they sent me home.
When I think about the reason for this, I can see that at other points in my career I had a sponsor who was in the boardroom where the decisions were made. I remember [at a past job] this research analyst went to the mat for me. It’s clear that didn’t happen at Bank of America, and that’s partly the difference: Do you have somebody at that company that believes in you and will fight for you?
How does a person get that sponsor?
How do you get a fiancé? Look, there are no rules that say, “Do these six things and you will get a sponsor.” But there are requirements. You have to be excellent at your job; you can’t be lazy and not care. [To get someone to sponsor you] they have to believe you will do well, and that your success will accrue positive returns for them. But you can’t wait until you’re great at your job to start cultivating relationships.
They say you have to secure your big career gains early.
That’s exactly right. If you wait until you’ve built up confidence five and 10 years on, it’s too late. You lose the compounding effect of those first few years. And if you switch jobs but you’re still behind your peers, that raises questions.
Are there other factors that can knock a woman’s pay besides a disinclination to ask for more money? How much of it is really within an individual’s control?
If you work in a biased culture, sometimes you have to leave to get above that 77 cents. Sometimes a company won’t let you grow up. I’ve worked with people in their 20s who before you know it they’re 38, but you’re still thinking of them as junior. That’s not specific to one gender or another, but it’s something to think about: Are you getting the experience you want, the respect that you deserve? And sometimes you have to leave, or at least it’s a conversation you need to have.
Business school is where future corporate leaders are groomed, yet women attend business school in lower numbers than men. Why do you think this is?
Part of it definitely has to do with the media portrayal of women in business. I used to watch Susan Dey on L.A. Law. I thought she was so cool; I wanted to be her. You watched ER and wanted to be a doctor. But there are no positive portrayals of businesswomen in the broader media. We had a panel discussion at 85 Broads recently and asked the women on the panel about how they’d been portrayed in the media, and every one of them had a negative story.
You can’t be what you can’t see. With Wall Street in particular, young women look at the women that came before them, and say “no, thank you.”
You went to Columbia Business School. What about the environment there prepared you, or didn’t, to succeed at business?
A significant part of my grades was defending my ideas and presenting and arguing them, and even just public speaking. Being around people smarter than me and learning to keep my cool while defending myself was worth the price of admission. And all of the subtle biases come out right there, so you better start working through it then, when the stakes are high, but not as high as they’re going to get.
Any last tips for new graduates, prospective or recent MBAs?
While you’re at B-school, take a negotiating class!