ON BEING BULLIED: I grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, back before it was a tourist destination. I was the second of four kids, and the oldest girl. You had to have a voice to be heard in our family. I went to an all-girls school and was bullied right out of there—I had to switch schools. When you’re bullied as a kid, the courage to find a way to be alone and persevere by yourself is a formative experience. There were years on Wall Street that felt lonely, too. When you’re one of the few—or the only—women in the room, you don’t have a natural group of peers or a support network built in. But I never thought of myself as a girl’s girl, given that I had been bullied by them; my interest in feminism came pretty late.
ON FINDING HER WAY ON WALL STREET: In my twenties, Wall Street was like the Wild West. The head of my department was having an affair with three different women, including his assistant and one of the vice presidents. It was crazy. I would come in to find Xeroxed copies of genitalia on my desk every day. I turned around one time and there was a colleague pretending to perform a sex act on me. I hated everything about it, but it never occurred to me to say anything. If you’re 24 and your boss’s boss’s boss’s boss is having affairs with multiple women, how in the world would you think to go to an HR department—which I didn’t even know existed—and complain about sexist behavior? Instead, it was just, “Keep your head down, do your work, collect your paycheck, and figure out how to get out of there.” I finished my twenties as a stay-at-home mom, and when I quit investment banking, I thought my career was over.
At the age of 29, at home with my kids, I had this epiphany that I should be an equity research analyst. It was a more cerebral, individual job. It’s also a job that’s less defined by gender issues, because regardless of who you are, if you write a research report recommending a stock and that stock goes up, you help your clients make money. I got hired at Sanford Bernstein, a company that I lovingly call “the land of misfit toys.” It was an underdog, and because it was scrappy and sort of third tier, they hired people you wouldn’t normally see on Wall Street. Within a year, I was ranked the number-one research analyst, because the personality and skill fit was so strong. You can’t be successful as a research analyst if you don’t speak up. If you do all the work and don’t tell anybody, you shouldn’t bother to do the work at all. That’s how I found my voice.