In her latest exclusive piece for Fortune, banking heavyweight-turned entrepreneur Sallie Krawcheck tackles one of the most important issues of the day: the aftermath of the U.S. election.
Krawcheck addresses her thoughts to her daughter, Kitty, focusing on the younger woman’s concerns about what Donald Trump’s election many mean for her future—and the future of other women, here and abroad.
The Ellevest founder acknowledges those fears and allows that, yes, in some ways things have gotten more difficult for women in business, and may become harder still. Yet Krawcheck also finds reasons to be hopeful—and perhaps even more important, lays out tactics that she believes will help us improve the lot of the rising generation of women.
Her piece is timely in more ways than one. On Tuesday afternoon, Fortune kicks off our 2016 Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit, where a who’s who of women leaders will gather to talk business, politics, the arts—and of course, building a better future for us all.
You cried the morning after the election. You got angry later that afternoon. And the next day, you told me that maybe the outcome was a good thing, because it made you want to accomplish something important with your life. And to be successful despite the obstacles that remain for women in politics and in business and in…you know, life.
In some ways, it feels like it’s getting harder, doesn’t it? In good part, that may simply be an illusion. We haven’t always been aware of it, but the “locker-room bro talk” has long been going on not just in locker rooms, but in some corporate conference rooms. Of course, not by all men. But by some—including some who hold positions of power. And that matters in holding women back.
Yet in some ways, I think things really are getting harder. A few years ago, when I wrote on sites like LinkedIn about topics such as the gender pay gap or the gender investing gap, the comments were along the lines of, “Good point, Sallie. I believe the solution to these intractable gaps are….” Today, it’s not quite as bad as the old, “Jane, you ignorant slut,” but the tone has certainly changed—significantly. On social media, I see an uptick in angry comments directed at those of us pushing for the advancement of women in business—and not just from anonymous trolls. (You know your boss can see it’s you, right?) Newsflash, angry dude: The solutions to these gaps do not diminish you in any way; they help women, certainly, but they can also aid families, the economy, and society as a whole.
The degree of difficulty is increasing in other areas, as well. As you embark on your career, the business world is changing faster than ever. The tectonic shifts in industries like media or financial services are well-documented, and you can see them at the functional level, as well. Ask any chief marketing officer how his or her job has changed over the past five years and you’ll likely hear about a massive shift from creativity and “brand building” to a laser-like focus on data analytics.
So you’ll have to push yourself to keep learning. And the changes will mean more chances for failure. You’ll likely have more bosses than you might have in the past, so prepare yourself for some great bosses—and some poor ones. (Believe me, I’ve had both.)
It can be easy to get pretty down these days, I know. As venture capitalist Sonja Perkins shares with women she speaks to, “If you’re going to look for discrimination in business, you’ll find it.” Her (paraphrased) advice? Just don’t. Don’t look for it or you’ll get pulled down by it. I’ll take it one step further and urge you to practice what I call MRI: “most respectful interpretation” of anyone’s actions. Assume the best intent in others around you. You will often be right and even when you’re not, people can rise to your view of them. Not always, but enough that I believe it’s worth it.
Remember “trust but verify”? So MRI—but do some things differently than my generation did.
The first is to make sure that you’re in good financial shape. And while it may be more comfortable to accept society’s cues that a woman asking for the raise is pushy and that investing is a manly pursuit (the symbol of investing is a bull, after all), there is no surer way to cede power over your life than to cede power over your money. Ask any woman who has gone through a divorce and had her standard of living decline substantially. Ask any woman who’s been fired or “reorg’ed out” and had to scramble to take a job she didn’t want. Ask any woman who wanted to quit a job but couldn’t afford to. Investing is possibly the best career advice women aren’t getting. That’s because money is power. And my generation didn’t have as much of it as the men did. And that cost us, in countless ways.
The second is to more actively help other women succeed than my generation did. I believe that involves consciously promoting, buying from, cheerleading for, voting for, hiring, investing in, advocating for other women. Even ones you might not particularly like all the time or who you think get too much attention (research has found that we tend to punish women who appear to be looking for attention, but don’t do the same for guys) or who fall to one side or the other of that perilously thin line of acceptable behavior for professional women.
We should do this because it helps others, but we should also do this because normalizing the professional success of women helps us all. And this is particularly the case for women who don’t flawlessly navigate the obstacle course of acceptable looks (yes, it pays to be a blonde if you want to be a female CEO) and behavior historically required for business success. So we should be particularly vigilant about supporting women of color or with disabilities, who begin even further behind the starting line.
And while we do this, we should recognize there’s good news here too—which may even outweigh the headwinds: These business changes also mean more chances for success. And more chances for a vibrant, interesting career—one previous generations could have only dreamed about. I’m a prime example: I built a career in big companies and am now building one as an entrepreneur. And while I’m often asked which one is “better” (with the implication that being an entrepreneur is sexier, more interesting, more fulfilling), each has been great and frustrating and energizing and soul-sucking and thrilling in their own ways.
So choose MRI. Choose expansiveness. Recognize that the issues we face as women advancing in business are issues my grandmother would have loved to have had. And fight the good fight nonetheless. For yourself and your peers—but also for your daughter, when it’s her turn.
Sallie Krawcheck is the CEO and co-founder of Ellevest, the recently launched digital investment platform for women. She is Chair of Ellevate Network, the global professional women’s network. She is author of Own It: The Power of Women at Work, to be released in January, 2017.