Breaking the IR glass ceiling

Dec 12, 2017
Highlights from IR Magazine’s recent Women in IR series of events, held in September and October

Earlier this year, IR Magazine uncovered a glass ceiling and a gender pay gap in the IR profession. While there is an almost 50/50 split between men and women in junior roles, this changes at more senior levels, where 62 percent of the top IR roles are held by men.

Women are also less likely than their male counterparts to earn more than $200,000. This research prompted a series of events around the world, highlighting outstanding female IR professionals who shared their career advice and recommendations for how to break the glass ceiling.

London, September 13 – ‘What gets measured gets done’

In London, panelists debated whether quotas are needed to lead to more female representation in corporate roles – following the example of countries like Germany, Sweden and Norway, all of which have adopted board diversity quotas. A full summary of the event was published here.

New York, September 14 – ‘The skillset of the IRO is unique’

At the New York event, Jennifer Cohan, president of Edelman New York, set the tone by asking the attendees to think about how women can better advocate for themselves. This question resonated with Felise Kissell, head of investor relations at Blue Apron, who mentioned that she had attended an event earlier that same day where the majority of the women had opted to sit at the back of the room. She implored the audience to imbue their actions with confidence. ‘Have a strong presence when you speak,’ she said. ‘People will talk past you if you don’t speak up.’ 

All the panelists shared stories about moments in their career when they encountered bias or unequal treatment. ‘Send a message that this will not happen again, without making the other person feel embarrassed,’ said Lynn Tyson, executive director of investor relations at Ford. Sara Furber, head of listings at IEX, said female investor relations professionals should focus on excelling and take confidence from the relationships they’ve built. ‘The information you’re hearing externally has immense value,’ she said. ‘Make sure it gets heard.’

Tyson agreed, adding that ultimately the best way to be acknowledged is to excel at your job: ‘The skill-set of the IRO is unique. If I provide information that helps someone, I’m more likely to be invited to the important meetings.’ 

San Francisco, September 19 – ‘Success is by design’

Smooch Reynolds, senior executive search consultant specializing in IR and financial communications, and moderator of the panel in San Francisco, encouraged each attendee to actively manage her own career. ‘Somehow there’s an implied career path for men, but if you’re a woman you have to push a little harder,’ she said. ‘Success is by design.’

Reynolds asked each of the panelists to think about a game-changing moment that had occurred in their careers and explain what they had learned from it. For Julie Tracy, senior vice president and chief communications officer at Wright Medical Group, this moment had come in the form of a late-night phone call she received from a top shareholder after an earnings announcement that had surprised the Street. The investor wasn’t happy and kept talking over her, but she stayed calm, answered his questions and held her own. ‘I’ll spend as much time as you want on the phone with you, but you’ve got to let me finish what I’m saying,’ she told him, a comment he’d apparently never heard before. Years later she was told by the investor the firm would have sold its stake if no one had picked up the phone that night.

Tracy also provided insight into her approach to negotiating compensation. ‘Very quickly I realized that I could demonstrate the value of IR to what the CEO got paid,’ she said. ‘If you can make that connection, your value makes sense to management. But you have to have the courage and cojones to go and ask for it.’

Reynolds implored everyone to do their research and go into compensation conversations armed with data about what their market value is. ‘Heads of HR will probably recruit two IROs in their career,’ she said. ‘They don’t know what they’re talking about. You wouldn’t go to your board and suggest changes to the strategy without lots and lots of data, so don’t do that with your compensation.’

Toronto, October 4 – ‘It’s an advantage to be a woman in a man’s world’

‘This event is about creating empowerment,’ said Janet Craig, senior IR professional and moderator of the Toronto event, during her opening remarks. The panelists agreed that, given the skill-set required to succeed as an IRO, women have a competitive advantage. ‘Women are traditionally better communicators and aren’t as competitive as men,’ said Camilla Bartosieweicz, vice president of investor relations at Altus Group. ‘Own your femininity. I have used it to my advantage.’

Rebecca Corbin, chief executive and founder of Corbin Advisors, agreed: ‘I’ve always felt I’m only in competition with myself. We’re in a male-driven industry and, in my job, it’s rare I get to work with senior women. I’ve always felt it’s an advantage to be a woman in a man’s world because we think differently.’ 

Katherine Vyse, most recently senior vice president of investor relations at Brookfield Asset Management, was told by a friend that she was carrying her own glass ceiling around with her – meaning she was allowing a lack of confidence to get in the way of her career development. This was a message that stayed with her and when she recently served on the board of Mainstreet Health Investments, she jumped at the opportunity to chair the remuneration committee. ‘I truly believe I can figure anything out,’ she said.

 

This article originally appeared in the winter 2017 issue of IR Magazine.

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