March 13, 2013

The Washington Women Who Leaned In When Sheryl Sandberg Didn't

Michael Hirsh, National Journal -  While debate rages outside the Beltway over Sheryl Sandberg’s advice for fixing a male-dominated world, here in Washington, a handful of powerful women have been “leaning” way ahead of her in taking on what may be the most chauvinistic industry in America: Wall Street. (And, in a few cases, they've done it while raising families at the same time.)

They may not be getting quite as much air time — or publicity — as Facebook’s Sandberg, whose book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, is now topping Amazon's best-seller list. But they may have a few things to teach her.

It’s a striking theme in finance that goes back to well before the crisis of 2008: Very often the gutsiest and most prescient adversaries of Wall Street have been women, many of them tough regulators who looked over their shoulders and found scant few male supporters when it came to confronting the (typically all male) titans of finance and economics. Among them: new Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; former Obama economic adviser Christina Romer; retired bank regulator Sheila Bair; and Brooksley Born, who as a far-sighted derivatives overseer in the late ’90s took on the powerful Robert Rubin cabal and, for her troubles, was railroaded out of government....

Setting aside Arab terrorist groups and the mob, there may be no harsher world for women to make headway in than Wall Street. Especially compared to the nerds of Silicon Valley, no corporate culture is more macho than Wall Street’s, which is perhaps why its heaviest hitters used to be known by a part of their anatomy that women don’t share.

.... So pay attention, Sheryl: You’ve got some serious role models here. Of course, it may be that the life lessons of some of these women could bring back uncomfortable memories for you. As my colleague Matt Cooper pointed out yesterday, Sandberg herself did precious little “leaning in” in the late ’90s while serving as chief of staff to then-Treasury Secretary Summers, when he helped hand Wall Street license to wreak disaster on the American economy.

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