Karen O’Connor On Women In Finance


As a successful woman in finance, what advice would you give a young person starting in the field?

First of all, people need to be experts in what they do. This means everybody has to work hard — you have to put your head down, you have to work, you have to understand what you’re doing to be a content expert, so that somebody can rely upon you for whatever that body of information. So the very first thing is, you can’t get away with not working hard, and becoming that expert is the most essential thing.

The second thing is that people need to be leaders. People need to stand up and be heard. Just the other day, a young girl I had dinner with said to me, “how do I become successful, how do I become you?” I said, “You can’t become me, you must be successful in your own right. You need to be a leader.” She said, “how can I be a leader? I’m not in that kind of role.” I said “you’ll be invited to meetings – in every meeting that you go to, have your voice heard. Think of something you can add to the conversation. Do not walk away from that meeting being a silent person at the table — say something! If you are totally clueless because you just started, ask a thoughtful question. Have your voice heard, because the more you do that the people will see that in you and recognize you as a leader, because a lot of people won’t do this.”

I also said you have to take some risks. One of the things that I’ve done in my whole career is taken risks — I realize I’m going to fail sometimes, and I’m okay with failing, because I tried and I gave it my all. You should take that tough assignment that you’re not sure you can do, because if you throw yourself at it, you’ll be successful. Take an assignment that is across the country. Be willing to go to Europe on an assignment. Be willing to go out there because it will give you a global perspective that a lot of people in the U.S. don’t have and make you a more valuable person. So I think people need to take risks and out themselves out there because that’s where they’ll grow.

The last snippet of advice I’d give is that people need to quantify their value. They need to get paid. This is an area where women struggle. I have a little trick where I start an plain Excel spreadsheet at the beginning of the year. I put down things that I have accomplished — I hired this senior person, I did this strategic partnership, I brought a client in it, etc. It could be a hundred different things, and every time I do something that is noteworthy, I put it in my Excel spreadsheet. At the end of the year, when it’s time to do my performance self-evaluation, I look at this spreadsheet and I aggregate all the things I’ve done. If you bring clients into the company, which meant I had to answer maybe 4,682 questions during the year, if you didn’t add those together and put them on your spreadsheet, you would never be able to say you did over four thousand answers to these due diligence questions. People can’t dismiss the numbers, they can’t dismiss the value that you’ve brought to the table and quantified. When you put it in front of people. Sometimes people forget there’s a correlation between the value that you give and the remuneration you should receive. At the end of the day, that’s what we’re here for — to grow our value and create our brand.

Watch the full interview here:

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