Marisa Drew, an investment banker at Credit Suisse, is a leader in the world of finance. Yesterday, she challenged each of 340 attending the Women in Banking and Finance Awards to help two women at work, saying that if only 25% of those made it to the top, it would completely change the financial sector.
Marisa Drew is one of the most important women in the financial world. She is a regular fixture on those “most powerful women” lists of which the media are so fond. When I saw her speak yesterday at the Women in Banking and Finance Awards luncheon in London, though, I was struck–as was everyone in the crowd, I am sure–by how down-to-earth and human she was.
The challenge with which Drew ended her speech, however, was the spirit that carried the day. After telling the story of her career journey, emphasizing the unexpected turns and puzzling moments along the way, Marisa explained that she had reached a stage in her career where she wanted to focus on leaving a legacy. She had decided her contribution to the larger society would be to help young women in their careers, especially in finance. Then, Marisa delivered a call to action for the whole room. She asked each of the 340 people present to help two women along in their career, arguing that if only a quarter of the 680 made it to the top of the finance industry, it would change the sector dramatically.
The lounge at the Dorchester, where I held a meeting before the luncheon, was pure luxury. See all those flowers? The lilies in those arrangements sent a fragrance through every corner of the room. Fabulous.
Marisa’s call was echoed in several of the speeches that followed. Women in Banking and Finance is a 35 year old, not-for-profit membership organization which, along with its impressive corporate partners, helps organizations in finance recognize and develop its female talent. The annual awards luncheon is a festive event, held at the spectacular Dorchester Hotel across from Hyde Park. The affair seemed to be attended by people from every segment and level of the industry.
Awardees are recognized for their work in the industry, but also for their leadership efforts on behalf of women. This year’s winners included: Marion Leslie, a managing director at Thomson Reuters, winner of the WIBF Award for Achievement; Helen Cooper, a senior manager at KPMG was chosen WIBF Young Professional; Safiye Ozuygun, of Citi, was named WIBF Champion for Women; Barclays Internal Audit was named the inaugural winner of the WIBF Team Diversity Award.
I was at the luncheon by invitation from Sylvana Caloni, the outgoing president of WIBF, who attended Power Shift last month. She invited me to have a table from which to gather signatures for the financial inclusion petition begun at Oxford. I set up before guests began arriving, putting follow-up cards on the lunch tables and then settling in to hope for potential signatories to come past the table.
People picked up their champagne and milled around, gathering in little impromptu groups to talk. Several stopped past my table. Marisa Drew was one of the first to sign.
After a few minutes, however, Safiye Ozuygun (who I learned later is the 2014 WIBF Champion for Women) could see that it was going too slow. She scooped me up, along with my book, and began approaching each little conversation knot. Every group opened up to us. Safiye held the book and I handed over the pen–and offered to hold full flutes– while each person signed. The crowd was about half women and half men. Everybody was enthusiastic about the petition.
Here is Safiye (right), helping me get signatures. In fact, every single person she and I approached yesterday–male or female–responded enthusiastically to the request. Several speakers also called attention to the petition and asked people to stop and sign. I ended up with more than 200 names!
As Safiye and I moved through the crowd, several people told me stories about the need for financial inclusion in the UK. One young woman told me about her parents, now in their mid-50s, who married when they were 18. From the beginning, her parents opened shared accounts in her father’s name. On a recent trip home, she listened to her mother’s worries. Despite having an excellent credit record as part of a couple, her mother had never developed any credit of her own. If her husband were to leave or die, she would be unable even to get her own mobile phone! Mother and daughter agreed that the situation was akin to having no individual identity. And, actually, in historical terms, this was exactly the intention of financial exclusion: the old femme couverte principle in English common law subordinated a wife’s financial rights to her husband, making it impossible for any married woman to exercise ordinary property rights or even enter some professions. This principle prevailed in some parts of the English-speaking world (including some states in the US) until the 1960s.
The Barclay’s Internal Audit group, a global team of 620 people in 20 countries, has increased the female managing director and director population at Barclay’s, increased the share of promotions that are female and supports initiatives including a rotations program.