BlackRock women: Be bold, take career risks

Being a little bit daring in your career decisions could pay off big in the long run.

The notion that women are more likely than men to play it safe and take fewer risks has been passionately debated in recent years. Are women born more risk averse, or just brought up that way, i.e. a social construct? And, is it really true that women don’t take chances? What do you call Mikaela Shiffrin, Sonia Sotomayor or Malala Yousafzai then?

In building a career, while risk-taking is not always rewarded, not taking risks can be penalizing in the long run. Since this year’s International Women’s Day is opportunely centered on a call for changes and progress toward gender equality, my colleagues are sharing their career stories to encourage women to take more risks along the way.

Jean Miller, Marketer, U.S. & Canada Defined Contribution Marketing

One of my most memorable career lessons was the risk I did not take.

After graduating college, I took the very first job that was offered to me at a student loan startup as a marketing associate. I didn’t have a lot of interest in the field but was happy to be working. It was during my first few weeks when I got the call. It was a prestigious public affairs internship I applied for months before, and I had just been selected. I mulled over the idea of leaving my new role, but ultimately decided that I had made a commitment—I owed it to them to follow through.

The very next week, pink slips went out across the entire company, and I was out of a job. I immediately reached out to inquire about the internship, but the role had been filled. From that experience, I learned that you have to be forward-thinking and understand your long-term goals, and most importantly, find the courage to make the decision that is best for your career. I have tried to adhere to that ever since.

Karen Schenone, iShares Fixed Income Product Strategist

The biggest career risk that I have taken is to move to a new city for a job. Twice. After studying finance in college, I wanted to work in a corporate headquarters of a financial institution. In Texas where I grew up, most of the banks had gone out of business in the 80s, so I knew I had to move. I ended up in Seattle taking a position in Washington Mutual Bank’s (WaMu’s) analyst rotation program, which offered rotations through different parts of the business over two years and a chance to see what the right job was for me.

Moving across the country meant leaving family behind, starting over and having to make new friends. After WaMu failed in 2008, I relocated again, this time to San Francisco to take a job at BlackRock. While moving is hard, I would not have the same career opportunities if I didn’t take those risks or stay focused on my career goals. Along the way, all the things I’ve learned have made me into a more well-rounded finance professional that I am today.

icon-pointer.svg#PressforProgress on International Women’s Day.

Isabelle Mateos y Lago, Chief Multi-Asset Strategist, BlackRock Investment Institute

Investors learn early in their career that not making changes can be riskier than making them. Much the same can be said about one’s career, yet it often feels good enough to let the system move you forward, especially if you are a woman and the system is treating you well.

But twice in my career the opportunity to try something radically different came up and I took it. Once when I left the French civil service to join the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C.; and 15 years later when I left the IMF to join BlackRock in London. Both times I left behind a well-oiled life and a familiar work setup, supportive friends and trusted colleagues, as well as well-recognized credentials, for the great unknown of a new country, a new work tribe—with its mystifying new rules and characters—and of course a new job entirely. It was challenging and not without its fair share of “what have I done” moments, but the experiences ultimately were highly rewarding. When I look back, I am 100% certain these moves were the best career decisions I made.

Sara Shores, CFA, Head of Strategy for Factor-Based Investments

Several times in my career, I’ve been asked to take on a stretch assignment. Presenting advanced material to a very senior and quantitative audience was not easy, neither was the first time I was asked to run a global team. Stretch assignments can feel uncomfortable: it’s not really a stretch if you are 100% certain you are 100% qualified! Those types of opportunities may have a wider range of outcomes than more comfortable choices: you might fail, but you might also succeed in ways you never imagined. Those journeys have often been hard, but they have always been the most rewarding.

I spend a lot of time at work talking to investors about the tradeoff between risk and reward, but it took me a while to see that it applied to me, too. In life, as in investing, you have to take risk to earn greater rewards. 

Anne Ackerley, Head of U.S. & Canada Defined Contribution Group

It’s hard to imagine today, but there was a time before companies realized the value of employee networks. In the early days, though we were much smaller, our One BlackRock principle was still a guiding force. It was all about one firm, one team, working together. That made us different, and it was incredibly important to our success.

Still, there was a group of us who recognized women’s unique development needs. We wanted to build a community to engage and foster the full potential of BlackRock women. But our boldness was not without risk. How would people react? Would we be seen as trailblazers or complainers? We couldn’t be sure. But we pressed on.

Today, our Women’s Initiative Network (WIN) is over a decade old. We’ve built world-class leadership development programs, fostering an increase in senior female leaders across the firm. And we’ve paved the way for other employee networks to follow in WIN’s footsteps, truly supporting the firm’s vision of a One BlackRock culture.

Through the efforts of our members, we’ve made incredible strides for women in the workplace. But our days of risk-taking are far from over. We need to continue to be bold. We must #PressforProgress.

Alesia Hsiao is the Global Editor for The Blog.

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