Cassandra Kelly, now the Global Chair of Pottinger, stepped up from selling daisy chains and baked goods as a young girl, and into the world of investment banking and stock market trading in her adult years. It was a rough business, but she was good at it. Still, she remembers the precise moment when she realised being good at it wasn’t good enough.
There was a moment in my life when I realised I didn’t like who I was. I know the precise moment.
I was wearing a trouser suit. I was about to walk onto the trading floor of an investment bank. I was putting on my armour – not my actual armour, of course, though I was wearing that trouser suit because it made me feel more self assured. I was putting on my metaphorical armour, toughening myself up.
An industry in strife
I was getting ready for another one of those days on the trading floor where I’d be disrespected by nearly everyone around me, because that’s what it was like: disrespectful to women and disrespectful to men. Inappropriate gifts left on chairs, inappropriate language, and inappropriate behaviour with unhealthy boundaries – it was the way it was back then.
Have you seen the film The Wolf of Wall Street? It was more accurate than you think. If you wanted to be part of the game you certainly weren’t going to complain. You got your Ferrari or you flew away to the Hamptons, and that made it all worth it.
Of course, now some of that behaviour is simply unimaginable today. Some of it is just not tolerated. The behaviours have certainly improved dramatically, but the attitudes remain in some form … Liz Broderick [Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner] says it’s like asbestos. It’s in the walls, it’s in the floors and it’s in your lungs. It’s insidious.
Investment banking as a career has improved from what it was when I worked in it. But it still needs to undergo considerably more cultural revolution! An industry that pays US$xmn worth of fines per day over five years, well that’s an industry that has still got some room for improvement.
Recognising the attitude
But to go back to that day. I was standing there in my trouser suit, and it was like getting ready to jump into a boxing ring. It was like I was giving myself a few hard slaps, smacking myself around before I went in there to be smacked around by someone else.
And I thought to myself, just then, ‘This is ridiculous.’ The fact I actually have to toughen up, take a breath, push myself around mentally and go in there like I’m impenetrable.
How can I be at my best when I’m doing something like that just in order to survive? Sure, I was doing very well in that world and I was progressing fast. But to survive I had to behave in a way that was not consistent with who I was. I had to pretend not to have feelings. I was not in a position to change that behaviour. I didn’t have permission and I didn’t have the right role, so I couldn’t do anything about it.
I stood there and I thought: I don’t like this. I don’t like myself. The only way I could get respect was by being tough as nails, by being someone I don’t like.
It’s like asbestos. It’s in the walls, it’s in the floors and it’s in your lungs. It’s insidious. Liz Broderick, Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner
If you can’t beat it …
I wasn’t that girl making daisy chains to pay for my neighbour’s hospital bills anymore. The concept of giving had no place in this environment. I thought to myself, ‘This is madness.’
So you know what I did?
It would be a great story to say I had that moment of realisation and I immediately packed my bags and walked away. But it took me some time to make the decision. I eventually decided that I wasn’t being as effective as I wanted to be in that culture. I couldn’t change it or make it better.
The saying goes, ‘If you can’t beat it, join it’. It took me a long time, but eventually I decided, ‘If you can’t beat it, quit it.’
Pottinger is a global corporate advisory firm owned by its employees. This independence allows them to provide completely objective advice. Pottinger has won multiple awards in recognition of its contribution to staff and clients and was recently highlighted as a role model by the Australian Government’s Workforce & Productivity Agency.
Pottinger’s notable work includes advising on the 2007 AUD$7bn Suncorp-Metway/Promina merger and 2008 AUD$230m sale of its credit card portfolio to Citigroup, and the AUD$4.4bn water transaction and further development of Queensland Urban Utilities in 2010. Pottinger has also launched the Glass Elevator initiative to help connect, inspire and engage senior businesswomen so that they feel better supported as they continue their journey to greater impact and seniority.
Written by Thread Publishing (threadpublishing.com). Connecting the world one story at a time to bring humanity back into business. © 2015