After an impressive decades-long career on Wall Street, Sallie Krawcheck found herself jobless after "exiting" as president of Bank of America in 2011. That was the second time Krawcheck had unceremoniously left an employer in financial services. But this time, she wasn't going back.
A year and a half later she purchased 85 Broads, the women's networking organization. Founded as a platform for Goldman Sachs employees and alumnae—the name comes from Goldman's former Broad St. location in Manhattan—Broads now helps women in a variety of professional fields, with paid membership hovering around 35,000 women.
As the owner, Krawcheck has shifted from running enormous financial institutions to reinventing how women operate in the business world. Fast Company talked to Krawcheck, one of 2014's Most Creative People in business, about how she plans on using her experience as a female leader to reshape Broads and, hopefully, the careers of thousands of aspiring leaders.
Fast Company: Why did you decide to purchase 85 Broads?
Sallie Krawcheck: I often call myself a recovering research analyst. I think a lot of people tend to think "analyst" and "creative" don't go together, but I actually think they can. You can use some analysis in order to see solutions that other people don't see, or see opportunities other people don't see. I think of analysis as being pieces of a mosaic that you can put together in any sort of picture.
For me, the purchase of 85 Broads and the work with the women’s network really came from trying to think about where to use all the experiences I've had in my career—to dive into the research and analysis out there, and truly think about where I and my team can make a difference.
How do you think you could make a difference?
Particularly when I look at some of the causes of the financial crisis, and some of the things that could have prevented it, there's no one answer. But one unexplored answer is that there is decreasing diversity in financial services. Diversity has been shown to lead to any number of terrific results. When women are economically and financially engaged, companies perform better, economies perform better, political systems perform better. When 85 Broads came along, I thought: boy, this thing has barely started.
Can you get more specific about how Broads is helping women get engaged?
We're really trying to provide the women with the tools that they need, which are different for every woman of course, to help them pursue the career they want to pursue.
Networking has been called the No. 1 unwritten rule of success in business. It's a thing that they didn't tell you and me at school.
Networking is not just schmoozing, networking is having tentacles out into lots of different things in lots of different places, which can increase the information that you get. It's not close connections, it's loose connections. For example, you and I will know each other after this call. I might think of you: "Oh gosh, she is looking for creative people, let me introduce her to Joe." If you didn't have me in your network, that connection wouldn't happen.
We provide lots of events for women to get together to get to know each other and network. We provide a lot of informal education, be it listening to women who have climbed Mount Everest, or top financial mistakes women make, or what women are doing to help women in Afghanistan. We provide a smorgasbord of means for women to move ahead into their career.
Is it working?
We're seeing it work. The attrition rate for the women who are in our network is lower or significantly lower than the typical professional woman. So, they are staying in their jobs longer.
Our revenue was up by more than 100% last year. We are seeing an increasing demand for companies to join their women [to 85 Broads] because they're seeing the benefits. Then we're seeing women who are upgrading their memberships. We're also doing different levels of events. We're trying to get women together in smaller groups. Networking 300 people is great, if you can find the folks who you want. The women are also looking to get together in smaller groups, which we are testing in a variety of cities. We're testing mentoring programs, we're testing these small circles. We have a few different things we're doing.
You mentioned that companies are interested in getting involved, why do you think that is?
Women are a great investment; this isn’t a "nice to do." It can be an important social cause because getting more women to senior leadership positions leads to lesser gender pay disparity within companies. There is much good that comes out of it. But in fact, the business results are there from the economic engagement of women. We're really looking at this as an action-oriented network, certainly not a hand-wringing group. This is business and so the women who join get a return on their investment in themselves.
A number of companies have reached out to me and said: "Look, we've been working on diversity for a long time and we stalled out five years ago, eight years ago, 10 years ago—we've gone backwards. We've got our diversity committee, or diversity cocktail party, what else can we be doing? What are you hearing from your women?'" Companies are seeing, at least in theory, the positive financial impact of it.
How would you say Sheryl Sandberg and Lean In has affected your work at 85 Broads?
I have not seen this level of discussion of women in business in my career. Really, Sheryl did a service to women in business and to companies by raising the issue and by doing it in a very positive fashion. I think the level of discussion is high and very productive.
What Sheryl says in her book, which I think we would all agree to, is she is hitting the part that she is highly attuned to, which is women in leadership. And she has written a book that is chock full of statistics and advice, and personal recollections on how women can get ahead. That isn't the whole story, as she rightly says in the beginning pages of the book.
If the answer to the problem were easy, it would be easy. We would have thought of it already. But the reason I think it's important for us to have a discussion and lots of different approaches is because it's not easy. What can work for one company, one woman, doesn't necessarily work for everyone else.
How is your approach different than Sandberg's?
The women who are members of 85 Broads span the generations and the decades. Where we do see a strong grouping are women in their 30s and 40s, women who have passed the first chapter in their career and are thinking about the tools they can add in the second and third chapters in their career. We're both giving women the tools they need and the networks they need to help them be successful.
How does that phase in life differ from the phases Sandberg targets?
The 20s—this is a gross generalization—can be about are you working harder than the guy or gal next to you. It's a little bit of: Did you get better grades? Are you better at your job? Are you putting in more hours? Are you getting to the answer faster? By the time individuals get to their mid-30s, everybody is pretty good at their jobs. They figured out at the age of 24, if you're a dope or not. If you look around at that age, at why some individuals get promotions and others don't it's not A+ student versus the C student, it's the knowledge you have, the network you have, the tentacles you have into the company or into the industry.
Typically, that's what the guys will have been doing a bit more naturally. Women, to overgeneralize, tend to be good students. I tell the women there is no HR fairy godmother who is going to come tap you on the shoulder because you got an A.
How are you using your own experience to help others?
As I'm thinking about the course of a career, careers are no longer going to be defined by starting at some place out of college and getting the gold watch decades later, while having progressed through the ranks. As I've thought about my career, what's the next interesting thing to do? How can one take one's skills and knowledge and interest that one built up before and translate them into something interesting in the next stage? And how can one keep learning and push oneself? That's something I think people really need to think about going forward to an extent that our parents did not. I think anyone who is not approaching their own career creatively is going to be missing out in a pretty significant way.