Redefining Success with Sallie Krawcheck

If you’re like me, this year you’ve spent some serious time thinking about failure, pivots and best laid plans. To say that 2020 is not what I envisioned is the understatement of the century. In January of this year, The Riveter was expanding across the country, welcoming hundreds of new members, preparing to launch our new iHeartMedia What’s Her Story with Sam and Amy podcast, and planning for a repeat of our 2019 Summit with Robin Roberts, Abby Wambach and Stacey Abrams. By March, we knew things would look different. But even now, I’m stunned by how very much has changed. We’ve closed the doors to our Riveter spaces and haven’t seen any of our members in months. And while all of this has been almost impossibly hard, I’ve learned so much from the strength of my teammates, our community, and the women I’ve watched lead their own businesses through these stormy waters. Today, I’m thrilled to share our conversation from last week’s What’s Her Story with Sam and Amy podcast with Wall Street legend and Ellevest founder Sallie Krawcheck. Sallie is also the master of finding opportunity in failure and learning to adapt to how her own definition of success has changed over her career. To hear all of Sallie’s wisdom, listen here

You’ve had incredible successes – and very public failures. What is it like to open the Wall Street Journal and see that you’ve been fired? 

My view in life is that you can do one of two things when you’re fired on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. One is to say, this is so humiliating and embarrassing and awful; poor me.  The other thing is to say score! I’m on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. If you had told me when I was a little girl growing up in Charleston, South Carolina – and the second to last one chosen for all these sports teams –  that anything I would do would be anywhere on the front page of the Wall Street Journal,  I would have done backflips down the hallway. I think it’s basically means of recognizing my privilege to have had the opportunity to do something that would get you that kind of recognition. 

I also recognized that there were going to be other opportunities to be successful. And there are many opportunities on any given day. I just don’t see many of them. So many just go right past me and I don’t see them and take advantage of them. Success might look like something that was different. But by definition, I was not supposed to be in that job from which I was fired. If you are being fired, you’re not supposed to be in that job. It may be your fault. It may be somebody else’s fault, but by definition I was leaving a bad situation and opening up opportunities to do other better things. 

What does success mean to you? 

It’s a moving target. At one stage it meant money. I grew up in a pretty modest middle-class household in which six of us shared a bathroom without a lock. So there was a period of time when I wanted to earn money so that I could have my own apartment and, frankly, my own bathroom. And then there have been other times when success was about being sort of famous.  I know we’re not supposed to admit that, because in our society the drive for fame is this shameful thing. There was another period of time when I was a research analyst, and I wanted everybody to know I was the best research analyst in my industry.

 At this point in my life, it’s about mission. It’s about impact. It’s about purpose. It’s about taking the decades of experience that only I have and using that to found Ellevest. The mission of Ellevest is to get more money in the hands of women, that’s how we measure our success.

How do you think about women and money today? 

Differently from most! If you say the word money to a man and ask him the words that come into his head, he’ll say: power, strength, and independence. But if you ask a woman the same question, she’ll say: loneliness, isolation, uncertainty. We, as women, have received messages since childhood that have told us that money is not for us. Money is tacky. You’re not that good at math. You’re not that good at coding. For example, you’re not that good at investing.

We treat women as frivolous when it comes to money. Again, we say, you’re not very good at it. You spend it on silly, silly, silly things like fashion and lattes and shoes and whatever. As a result, women have internalized these messages and think things like we shouldn’t talk about our salaries. There’s no amount of money we make that we don’t feel ashamed of. It’s either too much or we feel embarrassed that we don’t make enough. Even amongst young women, it’s still acceptable and sort of cute for a woman to be bad with money. 

I love to say if the men got together 200 years ago and said, how do we keep women from having full power? This is what they would have done. They would have made being bad with money cute. And they would have made looking for money and trying to make more money an unattractive, unfeminine thing. 

Please tune into What’s Her Story with Sam and Amy on iHeart or wherever you listen to podcasts for the full conversation! We talked more about parenting, investing, and life.