This is not the start of a bad joke about three people walking into a bar. Instead, it is a simple lesson on the value of networking.
I was recently fortunate enough to participate in meetings at the White House with staff in the administration and portfolio managers of the top investment houses, as well as policy advisors and consultants from both sides of the aisle. We talked about trade, budgets, potential recession, drug pricing, and more.
This is networking at its best.
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The professor happens to be me. After 20+ years of being an investment banker and a finance executive, I am now an assistant finance professor of professional practice at Rutgers Business School.
The Wall Street analyst happens to be my husband, Andy, who graduated from Rutgers with a degree in economics. Andy is now the U.S. sector head of industrials-equity research at Citigroup.
The White House staffer is Andy’s roommate from almost 25 years ago, Paul, who happens to now be the special assistant to the president for legislative affairs.
Every year for the past three years, Andy and Paul bring together a group of portfolio managers from some of the largest investment houses to meet with White House staffers to discuss administration policy and its potential impact on the markets. The investors gain access to policy makers and a better understanding of what may and may not get accomplished prior to the elections. The White House gains access to investors and a better understanding of the market reactions to policy actions they are, or are, not considering.
Since the timing was right, I asked to join the meetings, wearing my finance professor hat. While my personal political views may differ from many of the others in the room, I strongly believe that you cannot effect change if you are not part of the conversation, and you cannot be part of the conversation unless you are at the table, which I was.
For example, until this year, every participant was a man — there was never a woman portfolio manager or a woman staffer from the White House at these meetings. Andy knows that I am focused on advancing women in business, with the goal of equal representation and equal pay. I talk about this at home all the time.
This year, 40% of the investors were women. Half of the staffers we met with were women. While you could argue that it is a coincidence, I like to think my work is raising awareness to bring more gender diversity to the table. It is often said that change starts at home, and this micro-change really did just that.
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I have some additional insight that I will bring into the classroom this fall, a collaboration with one of the investors about women in finance and additional connections for our students on the recruiting and mentoring front.
We talk about leverage a lot in finance. Leverage, as defined by Oxford Dictionaries, is “to use (something) to maximum advantage.” That is just what I did. I leveraged my network. This time, my network happened to be my husband and his friend.
I often hear from students that they want to “do it on their own,” but that is silly. Everyone gets help from someone, and no one should be too embarrassed or too proud to use their contacts.
Growing up, my family was not in the business world and my parents did not have any connections in finance. I went to college and learned how to reach out to alumni and friends’ families. I am grateful for the relationships I developed.
Fast forward to today, I am privileged to have access to contacts and networks that I did not even know existed. That said, I also believe that I now have the responsibility to open my networks to those who do not have access. As it relates to finance, this is especially true for women, people of color, and other under-represented populations.
As a professor, I feel compelled to end with a final lesson: You never know where you are going to meet someone that you may be able to help or that may be able to help you.
Your first networks are your teams and classmates. After you graduate, your network could be anyone you encounter, socially, professionally, or other. (I actually found a guest speaker for a class during my son’s pediatric visit — turns out our pediatrician’s son is an investment banker and his current boss is my former Managing Director.)
Make sure you always conduct yourself in a professional manner. Do not be shy about talking about what you are working on, what interests you, what motivates you, or what you are hoping to accomplish. You never know what may come out of those innocuous conversations, and you will likely be very pleasantly surprised.
Lisa Kaplowitz combines industry and academic expertise to drive equal representation and equal pay at all levels by removing barriers and empowering women with confidence and technical expertise.