Thursday, March 6, 2008

10,000 Women : A Goldman Sachs Initiative

Yesterday was a day I will remember for a very long time. A few days earlier I received a phone call inviting me to a special press announcement by Goldman Sachs at the Low Library at Columbia University. I was told very little except it was ‘right up my alley’ and was something that would make me very proud of the firm. With a certain degree of skepticism, and a slight bit of annoyance due to having to arrange my schedule, I said, “sure, I'll be there.” I would not have missed it for all the bags at Bergdorfs.

Walking up the commanding steps of this most magnificent structure I entered unprepared for what unfolded next. As I worked my way through a maze of people and cameras, the stage opened up, and staring at me were the faces of the most beautiful women, and the number 10,000. The brilliantly designed set,merged the ticker tape style of Wall Street with more personal and grass-roots images of women from all over the world.

10,000 Women , A New Goldman Sachs Initiative

I quickly spotted many familiar faces. The middle few rows were occupied by the handfuls of senior women at the firm, many of whom I knew well from the time I was there. Other retired partners had been called back for this very special announcement as well.

Within a few minutes, and after about 30 people paraded on stage behind him, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, took center stage to tell us why we had been summoned. Goldman Sachs was announcing a brand new initiative that “will provide 10,000 underserved women, predominantly in developing and emerging markets, with a business and management education.” Why? Because he, they, Goldman Sachs, the firm that gave me my start in the business, the firm I worked with for fourteen years and gave me the honor of being a partner, had come to believe that the way to change the world for the better was to economically empower women. Here they were making a considerable and creative commitment to do just that. Damn right that was "right up by alley.” I was floored.

For the next hour, we heard more about this ambitious program from the people that were going to make it happen. The deans of Business Schools from the global North and South talked about their programmatic partnerships. A few women who would would benefit from the opportunities Goldman was creating for them shared their stories about what having a business education would mean for them.

You see, by providing a woman with a business education and other resources you enable her to not only improve her life, but her family’s, her community’s, her country’s and thus the world. As an activist and donor in the women’s space, of course I had heard this logic pattern before, but the power of witnessing it behind a Goldman Sachs podium was deeply personal and incredibly powerful. Goldman Sachs, the pre-eminent Global Investment Bank, called all these people together to tell them, and the world, that we MUST invest in women not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it makes good business sense. Though they had made this case internally to themselves for years and years prior--indeed, this message has been the primary driver for their diversity efforts--they were now saying it in a broader context, and on a world stage.

I remember reading a quote not long ago that left me deeply annoyed. It went something like, “It will take a man to lead the next wave of the women’s movement.” The sentiment, I believe was that what the women’s movement needs is for someone to put it where it belongs, front and center; given the style of leadership that it would take, that someone would likely be a man. Internally I thought WRONG, big WRONG, our movement doesn't need a man. But I do believe we need men, to work alongside women leaders, to lead the next wave of the women’s movement that is already well underway. We need both genders at the table to lead the kind of change that makes this world a more just and equitable place for all. Moreover, we need institutions in the public, corporate, and non-profit space to work together for change.

Philanthropy and social change is not something to do after you leave your business life. It's something you can combine with your business life. Leave it to Goldman to help show us the way.

1 comment:

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