(WOMENSENEWS)--Carly Drum was all of 23 when she walked up to Alexandra Lebenthal, president of a New York financial service company, at a New York business event in 2002 and asked her to go to lunch.
"My dad laughed at me. I didn't even get why it was a big deal to ask one of the busiest women in the world to lunch," says Drum. She is now a director with executive recruiting firm Drum Associates, in New York City, which places candidates at Wall Street firms.
Lebenthal, president of Lebenthal and Co., a New York-based financial services company specializing in municipal bonds, indeed took her to lunch. It was the beginning of a business relationship that started with Lebenthal providing Drum with confidence and inspiration.
"I saw how successful she was at a young age with her family company and knew that it could be achieved with hard work and determination."
Now, Drum and Lebenthal, who heads a firm started by her family in the 1920s, continue to work together and Drum has placed a couple of people in Lebenthal's company.
For Drum, understanding the power of relationships came naturally. A basketball and softball player as a child, she knew all about teamwork and the strength of unity.
But for many women, learning to network does not come easily, says Brigid Moynahan, president of The Next Level Inc., a Montclair, N.J., executive coaching company. "Women are good at connecting, but not on a professional level," she says.
But increasingly, Wall Street women are seeking each other out for help in getting ahead. "We are creating an old girls' network," says Moynahan.
Women Building Networks
Women in finance are coming together to build their own networks. Conferences, workshops and seminars targeted to leadership development and networking are emphasizing the value of relationships. Executive coaches are urging women to reach out to one another in formal and informal groups.
Wall Street women and groups like the Financial Women's Association are also participating in "success circles," in which a group of peers and mentors meet in sessions where they explore a leadership theme, such as how to pitch yourself for the next level, achieve work-life balance or deal with interpersonal relationships in the workplace. In success circles, mentors extend attention and support to peers, engage in dialogue and answer questions.
While Moynahan hasn't tracked results from her programs, she estimates at least 10 percent of the women in such groups have found new jobs or leads for senior-level positions.
"Women are saying let's make this work, together. If you are not well networked, your work is for naught. As you move up in leadership, it's about influence, getting exposure, not just doing the job."
If there's a place where women need to form pockets of power, it's Wall Street, says Mary Trigg, director of leadership programs and research at the Center for Women and Work's Institute for Women's Leadership at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. "It's still a tough world. Some men still aren't receptive or comfortable with women seeking or being in top positions. Women can be excluded from important junkets and trips, or if they are included, they aren't really welcome. Women still have to listen to male jokes."
Women Lag in Senior-Level Ranks
In a 2005 report the Securities Industry Association found that among 48 of its member companies, women held 29 percent of senior-level positions, 57 percent of mid-level positions, and 88 percent of assistant positions.
The New York trade group found that women have been steadily gaining managerial ground. In 2001, 14 percent of women were managing directors and by 2003 that number was 19 percent.
For some women, that's not enough progress.
Women working in the top financial and investment firms "are frustrated at not being able to get promotions to the top ranks; especially to managing director and higher," says Wanda Wallace, author of a 2004 study on factors that can impede senior businesswomen and president and CEO of The Leadership Forum Inc., a Durham, N.C., consulting and coaching firm.
"Finance is, unfortunately, a lonely and unwelcoming culture and in it we're challenged to find ways, often very much alone, to overcome our own insecurities," agrees Penny Perfect, CEO of AlphaTrade.com in Vancouver, British Columbia, which provides financial information for investors.
Seizing New Opportunities
Perfect says that women are now busily responding to their minority status. "For a long time women were intimidated from even choosing careers in finance because the framework of success in the capital markets is based on networking and they weren't part of the inside circle. But, the walls are coming down. Women are stepping up and seizing opportunities previously reserved for men."
At the same time, corporations have begun to reach out in greater numbers with a battery of mentoring and training programs, diversity initiatives and affinity groups for women and minorities. The Securities Industry Association's survey, for instance, showed that 47 percent of companies ran mentoring programs to improve diversity, a figure that rose by 2 percentage points since 2004.
Such programs have gained ground amid a string of costly high-profile lawsuits. Last year Morgan Stanley settled a $54 million sex-bias lawsuit. This year Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein Securities, and the investment bank's German parent, the Frankfurt-based Dresdner Bank AG, have been sued for $1.4 billion by six women who say that men receive better treatment.
Maggie Craddock, an executive coach and author of "The Authentic Career: Following the Path of Self-Discovery to Professional Fulfillment," expresses impatience with corporate efforts to boost and retain financial women.
"There are a lot of well-intentioned initiatives out there," says Craddock, who worked for a decade as a portfolio manager. "But are they helping, are they advancing women? If so, why aren't we moving the needle more? The numbers should be better."
Sheryl Nance-Nash is a freelance writer based in Long Beach, N.Y., specializing in personal finance, business and small business.
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