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Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and co-founder of Ellevest, speaks at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, U.S., May 2, 2016. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

'Play your own game'

Sallie Krawcheck writes the book on how to conquer an industry ‘built by men for men’

By Zainab Salbi on January 13, 2017

Sallie Krawcheck, a woman who successfully penetrated the ranks of Wall Street, becoming one of its most powerful players, is offering a shoutout for women in the form of a new book, Own It: The Power of Women at Work.

For years, women were advised to act like men, she notes, while she puts forth a new approach.  “If we control 80 percent of spending, why do we have to play a man’s game?  We have options now, while you couldn’t do that 10 years ago,” Krawcheck said last week in the downtown office of her two new ventures, Ellevest, a digital investment platform for women, and Ellevate, a network that helps women advance in the workplace. 

Krawcheck, the former Chair and CEO of Sanford C. Bernstein, has held several senior positions at Citigroup, including CEO of Citi’s wealth management business. Later she became President of the Global Wealth & Investment Management division of Bank of America. She’s been entrusted with handling billions of dollars, but her career has been no direct ascent: She fell down the ladder a couple of times on the way up, including with the heavily publicized elimination of her position from Bank of America in 2011.

In revealing the ups and downs of her career, Krawcheck is unapologetic about her trajectory. “As one of the very few women on Wall Street, I can tell you that sometimes I was more successful because I was a woman and sometimes less successful because I was a woman.  I saw things differently,” she said, explaining the importance of diversity in the workplace and in decision making.

Own It she does.  Her book cover features her smiling confidently in a slick red dress and sexy heels. She has left behind the wolves of Wall Street to build her own empire by mobilizing and inspiring women. Own It shows them how to leverage the power they already have.  “Women control five trillion of investable assets, jointly control another six trillion. We direct 80 percent of consumer spending and we are half of the work force. We had our power all this time but we did not always use it.” She encourages her readers to “play your own game as women.  We should bring ourselves to work rather than live a Mad Men version of work.”

Sallie Krawcheck on the cover of her book 'Own It: The Power of Women at Work.'
Sallie Krawcheck on the cover of her book ‘Own It: The Power of Women at Work.’

She is clear about some differences between men and women in the workplace. “Men make more efficient decisions and women make more effective decisions. If you look where business is going, the quality of what women bring is more valuable.” She also notes, “If we are not treated well, we have the power to change things.”

Wall Street is “built by men for men,” she explains. “This is costing the industry hundreds of millions of dollars in opportunity because it is not reaching women.” Her response to this state of affairs can be seen on billboard ads in New York City depicting a woman with the tag line “Women of NY cover your A$$”  This is not meant to exclude men but, but to include women, Krawcheck explains. 

She is aware of the dynamic created by the one-token-woman-at-the-top model, with other women fighting for that one chair at the table. “We need to break that cycle. We need to bring more than one woman. We need to invest in women’s companies in order for us to move forward.”

She is quick to point out that women have more options today, and that if business is not going to take serious measures to include them fully, they will create their own path. “Women make businesses better,” Krawcheck concludes, as she walks through a sea of her young colleagues — mostly women in their 20s and 30s, casually dressed and generating a hip, energetic vibe. The contemporary aesthetic extends to the office itself, beginning with the electronic receptionist that lets visitors in. It’s a departure from the traditional banking world, but one that reflects the reality of today.

Krawcheck’s book addresses the tangible challenges that impact women’s daily lives, and is courageous in admitting failures, hurt and embarrassments.  But it also keeps in perspective the fact that women today have more choices than our grandmothers had, and that American women — despite all of the roadblocks they may face — are still privileged in light of what is happening in the world. Krawcheck ends her book by encouraging her readers to experience joy as they move forward, and to remain aware of all that has been accomplished.

Own It is not only a book for women, though. It calls out what has not and is not working behind the closed doors of male-dominated Wall Street.  Men would do well to read the book, too.  If they don’t address the lack of diversity on Wall Street, a new path will emerge with its own force behind it. Krawcheck’s journey and the women’s networks she has built are proof of that.

Zainab Salbi is an author and media commentator and the founder of Women for Women International — a grassroots humanitarian and development organization dedicated to serving women survivors of war. Salbi is an editor at large for Women in the World, reporting on the intersection of Middle Eastern and Western cultures. For more information on Salbi’s work visit


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