Deborah Doyle McWhinney doesn’t believe the financial crisis of 2008 would have happened if it had been Lehman Sisters instead of Lehman Brothers.

McWhinney, the president of Citi Personal Banking & Wealth Management, who keynoted the Women Advisors Forum in New York Wednesday, said women take a longer-term perspective, which helps to avoid risks and volatility.

The conference was buzzing with conversation about how there aren’t often a lot of women in the room at high levels. Breaking the glass ceiling made many women realize it can be lonely at the top.

“I do more homework, more research, and more reading,” than male executives, said Cathy Weatherford, president and chief executive officer of the Insured Retirement Institute. “I think that when you open your mouth you will be the most knowledgeable person at the table and you will get the credibility because of that.”

With Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin as the most visible examples, Weatherford said 2008 was the year of women in politics, and this year will be the year of women in business with people like Carly Fiorina, former chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard running for the United States Senate seat representing California.

During lunch, the conversation focused on where are all the young women in financial services. Clara Sierra, and executive vice president and director of strategic alliances at Sentinel Investments, said when she was in business school twenty years ago a number of her colleagues took jobs in financial services.

There are fewer and fewer women in the industry, she said. One of the reasons: work-life balance, which has always been a challenge for women, has only gotten harder as women struggle to hold their careers and family lives together. 

In an afternoon session called “Reaching Higher Ground,” many of the women spoke to the realities and opportunities of being a woman in the financial services industry. Applause thundered through the room when Saly Glassman, a wealth management advisor at Bank of America Merrill Lynch [BAC], said: “If you want to get something done send a woman.”

As Sentinel Investments Sierra said, “Don’t let fear paralyze you.” And once you make it to the top, make sure you help bring another woman up with you. Many of the panelists talked about how women have the responsibility to mentor younger women. That’s the only way to get –and keep-more women in the financial services industry and fill the top ranks for the next generation.


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