SFNet Women in Secured Finance Conference Explores How Women Can Step into Their Power

May 1, 2019

By Eileen Wubbe

The SFNet Women in Secured Finance Committee presented an in-depth conference offering a dynamic combination of networking and professional development on March 14 at the Wells Fargo Capital Finance Conference Center in New York. This half-day conference brought together some of the industry’s leading female executives and other professionals to provide women in commercial finance with the tools to “make their mark.” A welcome reception was held at Paul Hastings the evening of March 13. 

“The SFNet Women in Secured Finance conference provided a wonderful opportunity to meet many extraordinary women shaping the commercial finance world.  It was a unique opportunity for women in our industry to learn from each other and to cultivate relationships and networks of support,” said Conference attendee Meredith L. Carter, president and CEO of Context Business Lending, LLC.

The event kicked off with keynote speaker Dr. Sharon Melnick, a global authority on women’s next-level success and founder of the Next Level Leader initiative. Informed by ten years of psychology research at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Melnick’s methods have transformed 25,000 trainees at 30 Fortune 500 companies (including eight in the financial services sector). The author of Success Under Stress and Confidence When It Countsdiscussed strategies for how women can step “into their power” and communicate with confidence. 

 “When you are in your power, you can create that rock-star year,” Dr. Melnick said. “There are three skillsets to help you stay in your power: confidence, resilience and influence.”

The first strategy Dr. Melnick discussed was to immediately sort out what aspects of a situation are within your control in any given challenging situation and to distinguish that from aspects of the situation that aren’t within your control. 

“You want to focus on what you can control. That’s where you’re in your power. Focusing on what you can’t control stresses you and leaks your power,” said Dr. Melnick. “Because there are so many things that are within your control (your communications, reactions, thoughts and influencing), all you have to remember is one simple rule—the 50% rule: Be Impeccable for your 50%. That means take 100% responsibility for what you can control and be effective at that before you allow your energy to be drained by matters you can’t control.” 

Shifting from being reactive and surviving your to-do list to being more intentional was another strategy offered. With the average human being having about 60,000 thoughts a day, each one of these thoughts is an opportunity to be in your power.  You can channel all those thoughts into ‘who you want to show up as’ (which Dr. Melnick calls your “Horizon Point”).  

Who you show up as determines how others experience you and determines the influence and impact you will have.  The sweet spot is the combination of your strength and aspirations and who your organization needs you to be. 

Attendees also learned how to balance their on/off button by doing a breathing exercise to take a “mental vacation” during busy days, and a strategy to overcome the “prove it again” bias women often face by painting a mental movie for job interviewers so they “see” you doing a next-level role. 

Following Dr. Melnick, attendees had the option of  attending two panels: “How to Get Ahead,” an interactive panel discussion about mentoring, networking, visibility, and making your voice heard, and “Now That I Am Here, What Is Next?”, which offered insights on real life challenges faced by women in senior roles and tools to leverage success to a top leadership position.

“How to Get Ahead” featured moderator Bhav Singh, associate, Paul Hastings LLP and panelists Andrea Bernard, managing director, Wells Fargo Capital Finance; Cheryl Carner, senior managing director, Crystal Financial; Jennifer Ezring, partner, Cahill Gordon & Reindel; and Betsy Ratto, managing director - head of Retail Finance (BABC), Bank of America Merrill Lynch. The panel focused on four main topics: networking, mentorship, visibility and making your voice heard.

The interactive panel kicked off discussing networking. 

“Whether you’re introverted or extroverted, putting yourself out there can be challenging,” said Carner. “I’m guessing there are people in this room who will say that they don’t like networking or don’t spend enough time doing it. But there is no question that doing so is critically important since a majority of jobs are found from networking. Besides my first role in specialty finance focused on retailers, which I got through a recruiter, every role I’ve had came through someone who knew me or knew of me from the industry. Certainly in my day-to-day role where I am responsible for business development and sourcing new transaction opportunities, networking is absolutely critical. But it’s not just about deals. It’s about relationships where I help other people who are looking for information and resources and asking others to help me.”

“I would suggest to never think you are too junior to start networking,” said Ezring. “For someone who is at a more junior level in their institution, that networking starts the day you have the job. For example, as a lawyer, when you’re the first-year associate on a transaction, there’s a first-year analyst at your client who’s working on that same transaction with you. Someday you’re going to be the partner, and they are going to be the managing director, or they’re going to have moved on to something else, but you’re all going to become more senior together. You never know where life is going to take those people, and the fact that you made that connection could be useful from a business perspective,” said Carner.

“You need to think of your career as an ongoing job interview,” said Bernard. “You don’t know how the relationships you have are going to impact you in the future. I’ve always been a firm believer in taking advantage of good opportunities when they present, whether it’s building skills or a broader network of relationships.”  

Singh asked the panelists how much time should be devoted to networking.  

“Some days you just want to go home and spend an hour thinking about going to the gym (and then not go) or watch Netflix,” she joked. “How much time do you devote to networking, and does that change at certain times during your career or certain times of the year? How do you find motivation to go to an event or dinner when you are exhausted?” she asked panelists.

 “If you think about it as a critical part of your job, no matter what your specific role is, it won’t be a choice per se,” Carner said. “But let’s be clear; there are absolutely days and times when you don’t feel like it. So you have to cut yourself a little bit of slack. Set some parameters or goals for yourself, like staying for an event for 45 minutes so it doesn’t have to be a whole night, or take five business cards and once they are handed out, you can leave.”


According to SAP Success Factors, 30% of research indicates that employees who are mentored receive higher compensation, a greater number of promotions, and have lower intentions of leaving their organization. When polled and asked about their mentorship experience, 19% of WICF attendees attending the panel said they couldn’t have done it without their mentor while 44% said it was somewhat helpful for their career. No one in the room indicated that mentorship wasn’t helpful. 

Singh asked what criteria and characteristics do panelists look for in a mentor and how can you ask someone to be your mentor.

“I personally have found that the most important mentoring relationships that I have had the benefit of, were those that grew informally. Sort of an organic sense you get from a senior person that ‘this is someone who thinks I will be helpful to their career or thinks that I have some diamond-in-the-rough quality’,” said Ezring.  “The people I chose to be my mentors generally had something I wanted. They had the job I wanted or the clients I wanted or some skill that I needed. I think the goal in seeking a mentoring relationship from the mentee’s perspective should be to find things about a mentor that you can incorporate into your own work persona.”

“If you’re one of the people in the room who says ‘I don’t have a mentor,’ you have to get out from living under a rock,” Ratto explained. “Get your head out of the cubicle. Don’t be that person who just does the work, hands it in and doesn’t talk about it. You have to develop the relationship.”

Staying Visible and Relevant in Your Organization 

In order to be successful, people need to know who you are. How do you stand out when there are 100 people in the room? 

 “I think the single most important thing you can do to increase your visibility in your organization is to build a very strong personal brand,” said Bernard. “Your brand is what people say about you when you leave the room, and it’s so important to control that.”

“I also think there are opportunities to build or enhance your visibility in a non-specific deal context,” added Carner. “I work in a really small organization, but we’ve done some non-profit work as an organization that I’ve tried to spearhead. It’s also about creating other opportunities to engage and interact.”

Ezring offered volunteering to work on projects in order to get your name and face out in front of senior staff.

Ratto mentioned how confidence grows throughout your career using an anecdotal story about her experience becoming a certified yoga instructor.

“When I went through yoga teacher training, I went through 500 hours of training,” Ratto explained. “Teaching one pose in front of a group of teachers in the program had me so nervous, I wrote everything down, and read all the words. I taught my first class in a community center. It was for a group of older immigrant women. I was excited, but nervous and overthinking it.  I had my script prepared, but realized reading and referring to it wasn’t going to work.  I had a big language and skill hurdle to cross.  I had to adapt to a more in-the-moment approach of show and tell them what to do, and it was fine. I had done the work and knew the material. The message is:  Don’t be shy to just do it. You know that you know all of the information. Jump in when you feel you know the answer. Be confident in yourself. Find that inner confidence.”


Now That I Am Here, What Is Next? 

“Now That I Am Here, What Is Next?” featured Moderator Guelay Mese, head of ABL, BNP Paribas and panelists Penny Fine, managing director, CIT Asset Management, investment advisor to CIT Northbridge Credit, LLC; Joye Lynn, head of Corporate Asset-Based Lending, Wells Fargo Capital Finance; Jan Naifeh, senior managing director, FTI Consulting; and Cyntra Trani, director of Credit Management, Asset-Based Lending, TD Bank.

The panel began discussing the amount of time spent thinking strategically.  Fine said she thought strategically nearly all the time, given the start-up nature of her group and role in business development.  

Over time as roles and careers change, the amount of time spent thinking strategically will shift and fluctuate, but panelists agreed it’s extremely important to make time for strategy and it’s needed to stay relevant and keep business moving forward. 

“In setting up our new Corporate Asset-Based Lending platform, I had the opportunity to create a business plan, team structure, support system, and achievable goals so the first few months were all strategy-driven and now it’s shifted into execution and implementation mode where finding time to be strategic is frankly a struggle, but a necessity,” said Lynn.  

If an important part of someone’s job is related to leading a team, then it’s essential to make sure they each have, or ask for, the resources so time can be dedicated for strategy.

Building Influence and Managing Up

Lynn discussed understanding what goals and priorities are important to a firm and its leadership team and then ensure a business is aligned with that.  

“Once it’s aligned and those goals have been clearly communicated to your team members, then highlight/reinforce their successes in achieving those wins, big and small, from winning a new deal, developing a process improvement, recruiting a new talented team member, or community support involvement,” Lynn said.  “Sharing those successes across your team and then with senior management also enables the leadership team to be aware of these accomplishments but then further pass them on and gain support for the business.”

Panelists agreed jumping out of your comfort zone can help provide new opportunities. 

Fine recalled her riskiest career move came in the midst of the credit crisis when she learned her employer was shutting down the lending unit she managed. While the finance company wanted to keep her employed in another role, Fine decided to make the leap into consulting instead. She later returned to lending when she took a job at a bank – another big risk, but one that helped her become much more knowledgeable about the industry.

Lynn recalled when she first became a manager and was unsure how to “define” or “create” her management style. 

“My boss, Barry Bobrow, gave me great advice: ‘That’s easy, think of the best managers that you’ve had and what you really admired — do that. Then think of the worst ones — don’t do that.’  It was simple advice, but really effective,” added Lynn.

Trani discussed the importance of being an advocate.

“Being an advocate for yourself and your team is extremely important, especially as a woman,” added Trani. “As a leader, publicly recognizing the contributions of others – over a team email or during a group meeting – helps to create an inclusive environment where people feel comfortable sharing their voice and expressing their ideas.”

Lynn agreed, adding, “While being a mentor or sponsor is a large investment, be an advocate for other women — in meetings don’t interrupt others, echo good ideas and attribute them, invite others to speak up, and intervene if you observe inappropriate behavior.”   

Lynn and Trani agreed on having informal lunches with staff to get to know each other on a personal level.

 The panel also discussed some of the personal trade-offs women will often make in the work world.

“Be open to all possibilities,” said Naifeh.  “When an opportunity knocks, think about what you might contribute and what you might get out of it.  We all have a great deal going on, but there are times we have to just say yes!”

“I often find it challenging to manage work-life balance and meet the demanding expectations I impose on myself and that I sometimes feel others impose on me; I’m sure many professional women can relate,” said Trani. “I find myself trying to give 100% to everything and everyone – striving for perfection at work, being a dedicated and involved mother, being present for my husband as an engaging and supportive wife, and participating in my community.  It’s a lot of pressure and there are a lot of moving pieces, and sometimes it seems like I can’t keep up. But what has helped me is to identify things that are important that I just won’t budge on. I then set parameters around those.”

“I Got This”: Women Negotiating

Dr. Beth Fisher-Yoshida closed out the Conference with a discussion titled “I Got This”: Women Negotiating. Dr. Fisher-Yoshida is vice chair of the faculty of Professional Studies and the academic director of the Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program at Columbia University. As professor of Professional Practice, she teaches classes in negotiation, conflict resolution and conflict analysis. 

Her presentation focused on preparing for negotiation, staying grounded and confident and being agile during critical moments.

“At first women didn’t even really pay attention to what was going on during negotiations,” Dr. Fisher-Yoshida said, describing how workplace culture has shifted over the last 25 years.  “During negotiations, women tend to advocate for others more acceptably. Men self-advocate more comfortably and acceptably. Women are also socialized to be likeable. A lot of research has shown that women put their heads down and say ‘I will just continue to do good work because somebody will notice.’ Maybe. But they may not notice in the time frame that you were hoping. So you may be in the same position for quite a long time because you’re not being noticed, and you’re not being assertive because you weren’t socialized to assert. So we have mixed messages.” 

Dr. Fisher-Yoshida led attendees in a self-awareness activity where they had to brainstorm the significant people, events and influences that have shaped their stories in their minds that then have been carried with them everywhere and affect how these have influenced negotiation strategies. 

For salary increases, women were encouraged to think about what the needs were to make the demands they are making, rather than simply asking for a raise repeatedly, and the needs of the other party. With this in mind, she said, there is more creativity to work with.  

“When you work at the level of needs, then you have potential solutions,” Dr. Fisher-Yoshida said. “If I’m looking for recognition and want to be acknowledged that I’ve really worked hard and have been a good contributing member of the team, I may think of it in a certain way, but there may be other ways. The negotiation is very short-term event and you want to think about how the negotiation fits into the long-term strategy. Otherwise everything is just a one-off. And you don’t want it to be a one-off, you want it to be a continuation. Even if I don’t ‘win’ this negotiation, am I moving closer to my longer-term goals? If I don’t know what my longer-term goal is, I’m not going to recognize what I may be gaining in this particular negotiation. You also have to really know whom you’re dealing with—what’s important to them and what is your relationship with that person.” 

SFNet’s Women in Commercial Finance Committee was formed in 2013 in order to support women involved in asset-based lending and factoring. The mission of the Committee is to promote the advancement of women in leadership in the commercial finance industry through networking, education, and advocacy. This year marked the 4th Women in Commercial Finance Conference which sold out for the first time with more than 200 attendees. For information on becoming a part of the Committee or helping to plan future WICF events, please contact Michele Ocejo at mocejo@SFNet.com.  TSL


About the Author

Eileen Wubbe is senior editor of The Secured Lender.