Lesson From a Woman of Wall Street: Ask For What You Want
Megan Brown isn’t the first woman to get pregnant and exit corporate life, frustrated and finished with the “rat race.” But she is among the minority to have climbed the ranks of Wall Street – accepting, and actually loving, being a woman in the dog-eat-dog world of a not-so-female-friendly industry – before giving into her need to move on, and out.
During a recent conversation inManhattan, Megan spoke with me about her baptism by fire in the finance industry. She started on the floor of the New York Stock exchange as a trader working for “a really tough cookie.” Her boss spared no one from his foul language and screaming rants. “It was brutal. I was yelled at from seven in the morning until the bell rang at four. I would be on the train home and I would cry every night – EVERY night.” After 18 months of a tortuously steep learning curve, and with her boss’s encouragement, she moved to Bear Stearns. “What a difference! It was so professional; no one’s yelling at me.” Megan held numerous jobs within the corporation, ultimately becoming the global head of third-party distribution. She considered herself a lifer, believing she would be with Bear Stearns forever (of course, that was before it imploded). At one point she recalls asking her boss why there weren’t more women – and there were hardly any – his response was, “Honestly, Megan, I would hire them, but I don’t even get any resumes."
Listening to Megan’s stories – and lamenting on my own experiences in the finance world – it’s no surprise why most women want no part of such aggressive, fast-paced, male-dominated organizations. But Megan thrived on the challenges. “I didn’t take it personally, you just kind of felt like the men were weak.” In fact, she approached the testosterone-enriched environment as a study in sociology:
“My girlfriend, Jenn (who’s also in the business) and I, we used to call it the Man Circus. You have all the empty suits that are bringing anything to the table that they can. And they all use a bevy of analogies like, ‘We all need to be rowing in the same direction’ and ‘picking the low-hanging fruit.’ You can’t understand anything they’re saying, but all the other men think they sound brilliant. Jenn and I used to sit through these meetings together and just look at them thinking, “There’s an empty suit sitting up there with nice hair.’”
Megan thinks she succeeded on Wall Street partly because she is the daughter of a race car driver. She was raised like a boy, could change a tire by the time she was seven, and was taught not to cry. “It’s a skill set I don’t think I ever would have developed otherwise.” At work, “I was willing to be as male as I needed to be to succeed.” And that includes a repertoire of seriously dirty jokes. It was part of the job. And so was traveling. During the first five weeks back to work after maternity leave (after Bear Stearns, she landed at J.P. Morgan) Megan was on the road more than she was at home. Read the complete forbes.com/forbeswoman article.