As part of our Learning from Leaders Q&A series, we met with five of our female leaders to learn what has shaped their careers and what advice they have for others looking to grow professionally. Here, LJ Williams, Corporate Vice President of Broker-Dealer and Investment Advisor Compliance, tells us how she refused to let anything stop her from building a career in the financial services industry.
What career advice would you have given yourself as a young person? What advice would you give to young women today?
My advice would be to learn how to network. Work on having meaningful relationships–get to know people on a personal level. Fresh out of college, I didn't understand the importance of having a professional network. I didn’t have a mentor or an advocate during the early stages of my career, and I think that if there had been someone to advise me on how to build relationships, it would have been so valuable.
When considering companies to work for, what are important things to look for?
Diversity and inclusion are so important. When I interviewed with New York Life, one of the things that really struck me was that the Chief Compliance Officer and General Counsel were both women. I had not seen that in this industry or at other firms before.
My real name is Lisa, but when I first started searching for a role in the financial services industry, it was much more male-dominated than it is now. Back then, it was common to go through a head hunter in order to find a financial services job in New York, and I decided I did not want them to immediately know that I was a woman. So, about a year into my career, I changed my name professionally to LJ Williams. This change meant that when you looked at my resume, the first thing you saw was not that I was a woman, but that I had the right qualifications and skills. I felt that helped to balance for any bias, conscious or unconscious, on the part of the recruiter, who expected candidates to be predominantly male.
But today, things have really changed. The culture is very different from when I started out. Within a year of being at New York Life, I was given the opportunity to participate in a leadership development program. I now co-chair the women’s employee resource group called The Women’s Initiative (TWI) and I was previously co-chair of the Office of General Counsel/Corporate Compliance Diversity Committee. These are the kinds of initiatives that were not common in the past.
What drives you? And then how do you kick back when you need to relax?
My grandmother raised me and because of that, I've always tried to make her proud. She's no longer with us, but she’s still spurring me on. She once shared with me that because some of her own children hadn’t reached the level of success she’d hope for, she felt I was her last chance to help a child succeed. It wasn’t the best conversation we ever had but it rings in my head, so even though she's not here she’s still motivating me.
And what do I do to relax? That’s an issue; I have a problem relaxing! In my attempts to try to relax, I do go to the spa a lot.
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