The Power of Women at Work

Financial trailblazer Sallie Krawcheck rings an important alarm bell for women in her new book “Own It: The Power of Women at Work.”

Krawcheck boasts an impressive resume: former chief financial officer of Citi, CEO of Citi Wealth Management and CEO of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and U.S. Trust. She also serves as co-founder and CEO of Ellevest, a digital investment platform that is  “redefining investing for women.”

In “Own It”, Krawcheck reports on the vital statistics: women live an average of five years longer than men and retire with an average of just two-thirds of the money that men have — a retirement savings gap she places at some $14 trillion. This is worrisome, in part, because women are 80 to 90 percent of retirement home residents and more likely to be financially insecure than male retirees; women are far less likely than men to have invested and saved adequate funds for their retirement.

women live an average of five years longer than men and retire with an average of just two-thirds of the money that men have

“The path to closing the retirement savings gap ceases being about increasing taxes and reducing entitlements,” Krawcheck writes, “and instead becomes about keeping women in the workforce longer, closing the gender pay gap, and closing the gender investing gap. If women are in the workforce longer and earning more, they’re contributing to Social Security and their 401(k)s, helping to set themselves up for a more prosperous retirement. And these actions also have the impact of actually growing the economy, as more earnings means more economic activity and more investing means more capital for businesses to grow.”

Krawcheck describes many of the obstacles she faced on Wall Street, including some gender-based harassment. She argues that women still have far to go, but that there has been steady progress. She is also honest and vulnerable about her career failures, such as getting let go from various positions, including her ouster from Bank of America/Merrill Lynch.

“But resilience is not all I learned about failure from the whole Bank of America debacle,” she writes. “I also learned that failure, while sometimes embarrassing, can lead to bigger and better — and more exciting — things, as it did for me after the new CEO shot me.”

I also learned that failure, while sometimes embarrassing, can lead to bigger and better — and more exciting — things, as it did for me after the new CEO shot me.”

In fact, Krawcheck claims failing big “has been perhaps the luckiest thing” in her career.

“It’s not just me saying this,” she writes. “I hear it from many people: failure can actually open doors that you didn’t even know were there.”

Krawcheck explores academic and other research data on the financial and business decision making of men and women. While she applauds men for their strengths, she writes that she believes the financial crisis of 2008 was in part caused by too little diversity of thought. She compares it to a basketball team where there are five types of the same players, such as five point guards, rather than a well-rounded team with a blend of unique skills. She believes if Wall Street had more women, who bring a steadier hand to business and the ability to see things and make decisions holistically, we possibly could have avoided the mortgage meltdown.

In fact, Krawcheck claims failing big “has been perhaps the luckiest thing” in her career.

“Ladies, companies, the economy, and society at large — they need us badly,” she writes. “And only once we get comfortable owning who we really are can we seize the great opportunities in front of us today and the even better ones it will open up for us tomorrow.”

Krawcheck believes that most of the career advice given to women today assumes that the business world remains static, yet she believes that’s no longer the case. Because business is changing, including allowing greater workplace flexibility and entrepreneurship, she believes women have more power than they realize.

“We have more power than we know,” she advises in “Own It.” “As soon as we own our power, the future belongs to us.”

Carrie Sheffield is a senior contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter @carriesheffield and on Facebook.