Reputation at Work and in Banking for Women

October 09, 2010

Reputation at Work and in Banking for Women

This week I joined a panel discussion on reputation and trust at American Banker/US Banker’s The 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking national workshop.  The women in attendance were all very senior women with years of experience. I spoke about the changing world of reputation and how complex it had become. No longer are we living in a world where large corporate advertising campaigns suffice for reputation-building. Today, Google is a reputation management system not a search engine, microconstituencies are increasingly influential, the visible arm of government is no longer faint, an activist general public matters, and the media is never turned off. I talked about the radical changes in industry reputation – such as the financial sector – and how little attention is paid today to the tobacco industry compared to a decade ago where they seemed to be the only ones who did not lightly offer their employer’s name when they walked into a room. In fact, there are few industries that have been untouched by issues and stumbles today.  As part of my comments, I mentioned how CEOs and companies are perceived to manage a crisis or catastrophe impacts reputation like never before.
The workshop was terrific. I was very impressed with the senior women in the room, their words of advice and the program itself. Thanks to Barbara Rhem for making the day so meaningful, downright educational and energizing.  I think every woman there would agree. A few things stuck out.

  • The regulatory environment has placed much demand on banks and other financial institutions. Many agreed that the demands required an increasing amount of time to the point that it was hard to focus on improving the bottom line.
  • There is no more climbing the ladder, it is climbing the lattice. The work place is more of a web than a straight chute to the top.
  • Sylvia Hewett, founding president of Center for Work-Life Policy and prolific researcher and who I admire, spoke about new research that she will be publishing soon on how women can succeed. She talked about pitfalls or tripwires that get in women’s way. She talked about women clinging to “performance” while men focus on “relationships.”  And it takes relationships to succeed. Also, women have to do better at figuring out how to use their friendships or professional relationships to get ahead and not think that they are violating their relationships. Additionally, women need to not share their ambivalence as readily as they do.
  • True or not, an interesting idea. GE’s CEO was mentioned as asking executives how many loyal lieutenants they have to determine whether they have the support when things get rough or to push initiatives through.
  • As sexual politics and innuendos get exposed, it is becoming increasingly difficult for male and female executives to dine together. Had not thought of that. Ugh. Someone mentioned how at one Fortune 500 company, mentoring relationships where men and women are involved now include an executive coach for that very reason.
  • The need today to deal with “ambiguity” and “uncertainty” all the time today.  How we have to operate in the “grey zone.” This of course applies to men as well as women.
  • The importance of boards in ferreting out risk and how women board members need to speak up and be strong when they things being done wrong.
  • Many of the women I sat with or overheard mentioned how they were used to being the only woman in the room in their companies and at meetings.  Remarkable how some things never change.
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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of corporate and CEO reputations.

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