A 2020 women’s leadership study from LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co. found that American women held less than 40% of corporate management positions, and women continue to fight underrepresentation when it comes to board positions and CEO roles. They also face gender bias, harassment, and opposition to their management styles.
Here’s how one MIT Sloan alumna has pushed back on those statistics and used what she’s learned along the way to help those behind her.
Jennifer DeSisto, MBA ’05, chief investment officer and portfolio manager at Anchor Capital Advisors
In what ways is your professional life as a woman in the workplace different from how you imagined it would be when you started your career?
I did not expect how hard it would be balancing between being a senior executive, a mom, and a supportive spouse. Since it is a lot to manage, I have learned to utilize my time well, delegate where appropriate, and also set boundaries. By being in this situation where my husband and I both work and have to juggle our schedules, I have empathy for my colleagues in a similar boat. We all need flexibility in our careers to manage between work and home.
Who was an ally or mentor for you as you’ve navigated your career? What made that person stand out, and how specifically did they help you get to the next level of your professional development?
My former board members, Kate Taylor and Jenn Borggaard, have been amazing mentors for me. I worked closely with them on a consulting project for my firm, and they saw that I had the strategic vision and the ability to work across teams and build trust on top of deep investment knowledge. They advocated to my CEO to promote me to chief investment officer, and they have supported me in the role as I have learned to manage the team. I truly believe that women in this industry need strong advocates to reach higher rungs on the career ladder.
Certain industries are as male-dominated as ever. Where do you see progress in your own professional experience, and how can we scale that throughout your industry?
There is more evidence that having diverse teams broadens perspectives and helps improve performances. We are seeing more attention — and a requirement in some cases — in the investment industry to have diverse teams, which is allowing an opportunity for women to progress. I worked with an organization called 100 Women in Finance, and one of its initiatives is to bring attention and recognition to women investment professionals. There is also a focus to getting women to have a seat at the table and being an advocate for women to move into higher positions. There is never a better time for women in this industry, and I’m excited to see the progress.
How do you support women coming up behind you?
One of the most important things women can do for their career is show up, be visible, and have a voice. With women on my investment team, I make sure they are heard; I invite them to industry events and client meetings, I make introductions to expand their networks, and I advocate for them in going to business school and future jobs. To see progress we must have men and women advocating and supporting women to move into bigger roles with more responsibility.
What is the most difficult lesson you’ve learned in your professional life? In what unexpected ways did you grow from it?
Two challenges are when I was viewed as a threat and I have spoken up. In these cases, I have found people trying to harm my career. What I have learned is to build my career squad. These are people who will support and advocate for me. I go to this team for advice, networking, and support. I also learned how to pick my battles better. It is important for people to speak up, but it has to be done with a constructive view in mind. As I have progressed in my career, I have gotten better at managing difficult situations and people, but more importantly focusing on positivity and achieving the best outcome.