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When smart, accomplished women get together, magic happens. Our recent event was a prime example: we held our 2nd Women Supporting Women in Financial Services – Let’s Lean in Together event on September 28, this time in New York City. Quite simply, it was the definition of time well spent.

The event featured a keynote by Bina Kalola, Managing Director, Global Banking and Markets Financial Technology Investments for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and a panel of accomplished women, including Susan Mays, Partner at AIM, Vanessa Van Brunt, former police officer and former head of Prime Brokerage and Alternatives Cash at BlackRock (now turned author), Rachael Levy, Senior Finance Reporter for Business Insider, and Angela Roseboro, former Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for T. Rowe Price.

Ms. Kalola’s keynote speech had three conclusions for women:

  • Hone your technical skills – be competent and excellent at what you do.
  • Don’t be afraid to take risks – without discomfort, you can’t grow.
  • Ask for help. Sometimes the most valuable pieces of advice come from those who’ve gathered more wisdom, but if we don’t ask, we won’t receive them.

Then the panel discussion began by asking each woman to define success. There seemed to be a consensus that success was an “ever-changing concept” that could change daily, or even from moment to moment. They also discussed the obstacles that all women in finance face, with the panelists advising, “You need to find the basic definition of a sponsor, and figure out how to build the right team [around you] to get over obstacles.”

The subject of gender bias inevitably arose, and the panelists discussed the continuum of power and likability – in other words, the results of a recent study that showed that women who were perceived as powerful weren’t always likable, and vice versa. One panelist felt that the issue was becoming less prominent, especially as millennials grow up seeing women in positions of power. Another panelist, however, said, “I think there are more men who aren’t likable when in positions of power than women. Women will move on if they don’t know something, whereas men will keep talking.”

The panelists, and some audience members, shared their own experiences, including those with what many feel are the “unwritten rules” of behavior for women, which differ from those for men. One audience member even jumped into the fray and shared the hilarious story of having a male boss who showed up in gym clothes every day for work, and had to be reminded to change into a suit to meet with clients. And yet she herself had to be so careful with what she wore to work each morning.

Another subject that elicited a great deal of energy was whether women should allow themselves to perform administrative tasks, such as taking notes during meetings or pouring coffee. Panelists differed in opinions here, as well, with some stating that they purposefully don’t pour beverages in a meeting to preserve their authority, while another said she would pour the coffee, but then start the meeting right away to take charge.

Other insights that we gathered from the panel:

  • “How do we stand up for ourselves while staying respectful?”
    • “It’s important to pick your battles.”
    • “Using your sense of humor, drawing a line, and standing your ground is the key.”
  • “How to handle woman-to-woman conflicts?”
    • “The world is too small, and it’s important to try to let it go.”
    • “You can be competitive, but don’t pull someone down just to get ahead of them. You never know when someone you’ve upset will come back into your life.”
    • “It’s important to understand the other side, and look at the bigger picture.”
    • “Take the woman picking a fight with you out to lunch and build that relationship. Always best to reach out to your ‘enemies.’”
  • Other interesting pieces of wisdom that emerged:
    • “Start sentences with, ‘I’m glad you said that.’ And then twist it to your purposes. That way, you position yourself as being on the same side as them, but still have the chance to get your point across.”
    • “If you want to impress someone, shake hands firmly, grasping their full hand. If you want to creep someone out or throw them off balance, shake hands by grasping only their fingers.”

    This one-of-a-kind evening was an invaluable opportunity to share our experiences, strategies, and insights with the goal of helping each other thrive in what can be a very challenging, male-dominated culture. By continuing to communicate and to support each other, we’ll help put women where they deserve to be: in charge.