5th Annual WILD Symposium Focuses on Shattering Stereotypes and Glass Ceilings

5th Annual WILD Symposium Focuses on Shattering Stereotypes and Glass Ceilings

Women In Listed Derivatives (WILD), a group dedicated to helping women advance in the listed and over-the-counter derivatives space, held their 5th Annual WILD Symposium this week at the UBS Building in Chicago. Sponsored by the Options Clearing Corporation (OCC), Integritas Financial Consulting and the Burling Bank, this year’s conference focused on diversity in the Boardroom, how women can get a seat at the table and how the highest glass ceiling, the one of Oval Office, might be broken next week.

Putting Words Into Action

Craig Donohue, Executive Chairman and CEO of the OCC, made a repeat appearance, kicking off the Symposium for the second year in a row. He talked about how he is surrounded by strong women in his family and how issues impacting the female attendees are also issues he cares about.

In prepared remarks passed out to the audience, Donohue points to a 2014 Catalyst Census highlighting that only 1.4 percent of the CEOs in the S&P 500 finance and industry sector are women, compared to 5% in the overall S&P 500.   Also, only 19.8% held board seats in the financial sector versus 20.7 percent of the overall S&P index of companies.

“It is critical to advance women in the financial industry and put our words into action when it comes to the state of gender equality,” said Donohue.

With help from OCC’s Chief Human Resources Officer, Tracy Raben, Donohue put his words into action by conducting a survey on gender pay equality practices at the clearing corporation.

“While our track record is good, Tracy reminded me that there are only about 20% of women on staff and in management roles,” said Donohue. “Our challenge is getting more women in the industry and in the workforce. This is an obstacle playing out in front of an interesting backdrop as we are a week away from potentially electing the first female president. If this happens, I hope to hear glass ceilings shattering everywhere.”

Don’t Take No For An Answer

After Donohue’s opening remarks, he introduced and interviewed Terry Savage, media pioneer, money expert and CME Group Board member.

Answering an ad in the newspaper, Savage got her start in finance as a secretary at a brokerage firm. While she made $100 a month, she noticed that they were training men to be brokers for $450 a month.

“They said they didn’t train girls to be brokers,” she said. “But they let me take the test and offered me a $5 a month raise if I passed.”

Needless to say, she passed and got a desk on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. She learned to trade Options from a client and when the Chicago Board Options Exchange opened in 1973, Savage took $10,000 of her own money to buy a seat on the floor.

“I remember my dad asking me if I can take no for an answer and I said no,” said Savage. “If you think you can do it, don’t take no for an answer.”

Savage said that the world’s greatest secret is that you become what you think you are.

“I know that for a fact. That is my advice. If you think you aren’t going to get it, you won’t get it. However, if you think of yourself of being on the Board, or being chosen, or being a head of a department, you will get it.”

Donohue agreed, “Truer words have never been spoken.”

Savage got candid during the Q&A section of the interview. First an audience member asked her about a spectacular career failure and how she handled it.

“Men have really taken me off course. Everything else has gotten me to where I need to be,” joked Savage.

Another women in the audience asked Savage how to handle a situation where male clients only wanted to speak with male brokers.

“This is what I would say to the male clients: Mr Smith, do you know how hard it is for a woman to be successful in this business? Do you know how hard I have had to work, how I have had to work twice as hard as my male counterparts? I am giving you this one chance because I don’t have the time if you don’t see the value in working with me.”

Transition to the Board Room

“I remember when I sat on the Board at Pennzoil and as a woman, they didn’t know if they should pull out my chair or send me for coffee,” Savage said.

She explained that from her perspective there are two ways to get a seat on a Board.

“The first is by working your way up through the company and making yourself so valuable that you get on the Board,” she said. “There are always internal people on every Board such as the Chief Risk Officer or Chief Financial Officer.”

The second way, Savage admitted, should be the open door for all of the audience members to get on a Board.

“Boards need competent women. They need diversity and financial expertise,” said Savage. “What you need is the contacts and someone on the Board that is looking outwards.”

The First Lady Will Pave the Way

The second half of the Symposium featured a panel discussion that focused on females in positions of power and how to get ahead. Lynne Marek, a senior reporter for Crain’s Chicago Business moderated the panel featuring Maureen Downs, the President of Rosenthal Collins Group; Cynthia Zelwanger, the Executive Director of the Paulson Institute; Dorri McWhorter, the CEO of the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago and Bridget Gainor, Cook County Commissioner of the 10th District.

Marek kicked off the discussion talking about her first day as a reporter 23 years ago on January 20th, 1993. This also happened to be the day former President Bill Clinton was inaugurated into office.

“I was tasked with following the first lady around from reception to reception,” said Marek. “I dug out that first article and the very first quote was from a woman that thought the first lady would pave the way for the first female president. I thought that was fitting to bring up with the election around the corner.”

The panelists also brought up Janet Yellen, the Chair of the Federal Reserve; Theresa May, Prime Minister in the United Kingdom and Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany.

“The more examples of women being perceived as leaders, the more we shatter stereotypes of leadership and power positions,” said Zeltanger.

Getting a Seat at the Table

Before talking about how women can get on Boards, the panelists talked about feeling stuck in your career and how to overcome obstacles.

Gainor said that it’s okay to admit that you are stuck in your career.

“You don’t always have to be on the upswing,” she said. “Part of the way to get unstuck is to be ready when opportunity presents itself. Wherever you work, you may need to present a skill set that isn’t needed in your daily responsibilities and operations. When the moment comes, present yourself as ready.”

Downs added that you shouldn’t let fear hold you back and not to be afraid of a lateral, or even backwards, move.

“Don’t be afraid to take a step back in title or salary to get ahead,” said Downs. “There are a lot of different obstacles you might have to face but I say do the hard thing. When I come into the office in the morning, the first thing I do is the thing I don’t want to do. Every day, every year, you should be asking yourself what the hardest thing in front of you is and then do that.”

McWhorter believes that obstacles force you to find a different path.

“Obstacles are catalysts for creative opportunities. Everything I have done, I have found another way to get the goal achieved,” she said. “I think we get caught up in the challenge of the obstacle and should rather be creative and look for other opportunities.”

When it came to helping increase the statistics of women on Boards, the women said it came down to things like perseverance, expressing interest and earning respect.

“Build your relationships, compete on money, raise your profile in the press,” said Gainor. “Don’t get passed over.”

The Glass Ceiling

As the United States gets ready to vote on it’s first Presidential female candidate, it seems that the glass is half full when it comes to women’s issues. With men like Craig Donohue aware of the plight, role models such as Hillary Clinton, Theresa May and Angela Merkel shattering stereotypes and women like Terry Savage, Cynthia Zeltwanger and Maureen Downs sharing their experiences; it hopefully won’t be long before we question if a glass ceiling even exists.