Dec 16, 2016

Beth Chartoff on the Power of Support and Mentorship for Women in Finance

How does mentorship and support positively impact women’s careers in finance? Beth Chartoff, Head of IRBD for GSO and Chair of the Blackstone Women’s Initiative, was invited to attend and speak at TED Women 2016, a three day conference sponsored by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, where she reflected on her career experience and what she sees next for women in finance.

In my years in finance, I’ve received plenty of advice.  The most memorable?  Wear fewer pantsuits.

It seems unbelievable today that one of the most senior investment bankers at my first firm offered those “words of wisdom” to my nervous, inexperienced 22-year old self.  Twenty five years later, reflecting on my time at TED Women, I’m so relieved by how much progress has been made. The conference was filled with empowering advice and inspirational stories of leadership and success.

I was also honored to share my perspectives on how women can successfully navigate a career in a male-dominated industry like finance.  I specifically focused on the importance of having mentors to help guide us, but more importantly, the idea that mentors alone aren’t sufficient.  We need sponsors: managers and leaders in our organizations that recognize our potential and who advocate for our advancement.  Unfortunately, I believe that women have a more difficult time than their male counterparts finding true sponsors. 

Mentors alone aren’t sufficient.  We need sponsors: managers and leaders in our organizations
that recognize our potential and who advocate for our advancement.

I’ve been lucky to have strong mentors and sponsors over the course of my career who thankfully refrained from offering outdated fashion advice.  But I know that some women have not been as fortunate to gain that kind of support.  Worse yet, many young women avoid careers in finance altogether, finding the industry daunting with few female role models to prove it can be done.

At Blackstone, we’re working to change this.  We’ve prioritized building the pipeline of talented female candidates and mentoring young women to grow in their roles. Our Future Women Leaders Program runs events that connect and train talented undergraduate women from universities in the US and UK. Our objective has been to highlight for women why asset management and finance are tremendous places to start a career, and educate them on the opportunities that exist at Blackstone. Over four years, approximately 150 undergraduate women have participated, with 33 of them ultimately joining the firm.  We have also sought partnerships with organizations like Girls Who Invest, which focuses on educating and inspiring young women to become tomorrow’s leading investors.  This past year, Blackstone was proud to be one of the first Alternative Asset Managers to offer summer internships to young women who are part of the Girls Who Invest program. 

These initiatives have been enormously successful.  Over the past 3 years, we have
doubled the number of incoming female analysts and associates.

We have also focused on ensuring that this talented crop of young women gain support and opportunities to hit the ground running early in their careers at Blackstone.  A few years ago, we established a program called Blackstone Women’s Interactive Network, or “BX WIN,” which connects entry-level female analysts and associates to female and male leaders at the firm and creates a culture of mentorship early in their careers.  By offering these opportunities, we’re able to foster a greater sense of community and help recent hires have successful experiences early in their careers at the firm.  The program has grown steadily over the past four years, and we’re now beginning to see the impact of the program as women who participated as analysts are now becoming leaders within the program and the firm.

While we are proud of our accomplishments thus far, we recognize that there is still a lot of work to be done.  If we are to be more successful at improving diversity in our senior ranks, we must combat the biggest problem endemic to our industry:  a mid-career drop off on the part of some of our most talented women.  We are trying to make it easier for women to balance families with their demanding careers.  Two years ago, we were the first in our industry to implement a 16-week maternity leave policy, as well as a maternity phase-back program, enabling new moms to work from home for a period of time following maternity leave.  We are also implementing a host of career development programs for mid-level women and evaluating more formal sponsorship programs.

Lastly, and most importantly, we know that we need to continue building a culture of supporters who think creatively about bolder solutions and recognize the importance of promoting diversity.  Women alone can’t solve the problem.  We need our male leaders to actively and visibly support our initiatives.  For instance, if more men would take advantage of family leave offered by Blackstone, it would help set an example and eliminate any stigma of taking parental leave.  These ideas transcend any single personal dynamic, but rather reflect a more profound cultural transformation.

There needs to be a culture of supporters, both male and female, who think creatively
about bolder solutions and commit themselves to promoting diversity. 

Blackstone, like many companies represented at TED, is on the right path. The conference helped me see that creating change for women cannot be done alone.  We at Blackstone are excited to be part of that change and are extraordinarily optimistic about the future.