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Industry Spotlight > Women in Wealth

How a Fearless Girl Became a Leader at State Street

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With markets lurching enough to cause investor whiplash, Brie Williams urges advisors to listen to their clients’ worries and to explain clearly how the latest swings impact on their portfolios. 

This is “an opportunity to provide education because knowledge is power,” said the State Street Global Advisors’ head of practice management, SPDR ETFs, in an interview with ThinkAdvisor.  

“Advisors are well positioned to work with their clients and help them manage the risk of emotionally driven investment decisions by showing them [what] their financial plans [means] long term, not just in the now,” and explaining how these plans protect their wealth during market events like we’re experiencing, Williams shared.

Though much of her job concerns getting the right message to advisors, she also delivers solutions to wealth management firms and advisors and provides research and strategic insights on other developments. But she wasn’t always in financial services.

Williams started her professional life in advertising and then moved to Putnam in 2006 to be senior vice president of global marketing communications. She joined SSGA —  in 2014. 

(State Street commissioned the bronze “Fearless Girl” sculpture, now located near the New York Stock Exchange, in 2017. It launched the SSGA Gender Diversity Index ETF in 2016.)

“If someone were to have asked me to place a bet as to whether I’d be in financial services as part of my career, I would have said they were wrong,” she explained. 

“I [am] in this seat because of several role models, coaches and sponsors — and someone along the way during my marketing and advertising career tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Hey, you would be really good at this. Why don’t you take that meeting and explore it a little further?’” Williams shared.

Without “naming names,” she pointed to two people who were especially instrumental to her career growth. One manager “helped me look in the mirror and see things that I did not want to see. That was a challenging conversation.” 

It actually was a “pivotal moment in the choices I made next,” and helped her think outside the box, Williams said. “Without that tough conversation as well as encouragement, I probably would not be in the seat I’m in today.”

Another boss taught her the ins and outs of sales distribution. Although her marketing skills transferred over, she needed other help. That person “really upped my game,” she noted.

What’s been a key challenge in your career?

Learning to fail up. That’s an art you have to learn with experience because it’s tough to fall down — especially if you do it publicly. 

I don’t mean a fall from grace ethically, but rather a presentation that wasn’t as strong as it could have been or a missed key point that [was] to be delivered in a management meeting. Being able to take these in, not only for your self-assessment, but to ask for feedback, can help you grow and be better the next time. 

And allowing yourself that permission to learn as you go is critical, because so many of us — and I’m going to raise my hand here — strive to be perfect and want to be a pleaser. … Part of developing is learning from your mistakes. 

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

Be authentic — and never, never trade off on that. You are who you are. Embrace it. Own it. And use it as a strength.

We’re all … able to psych ourselves out of doing something. When I find my mind going to that place, let’s say, I have to present in front of 400 people and it’s a brand new subject matter that we’re debuting for their first time, anxiety can take over. [I take] deep breaths and remember who am I. I know what I’m doing. I’m here for a reason. They want to hear what I have to say. Go forth and conquer!

What career advice do you give to others?

First, follow their passion. 

Second, when they start thinking about what they need to shape their career, they do need mentors, coaches and sponsors along the way. Each of those types of role models play different factors in one’s career and how it gets shaped.

A sponsor is someone you identify over time within your organization who is sitting in an influential power seat. You’re asking them … to bang on the table on your behalf. … A mentor doesn’t necessarily have to be in your organization or even in your industry, but is someone who can be an effective sounding board for you and show you the ropes along the way. Be that counsel of objectivity when you need it. … [A coach can] really help you polish your skills. 

And throughout your career you need all three of those influences because it will give you a more well-rounded aspect to the way you develop. People need help to stay out of their own way sometimes.

What can the industry do to promote more women?

There are opportunities when looking at policies and protocols … [that] impact the way we recruit, hire, coach and mentor and train women for greater inclusion. We also have to be conscious about where we can introduce bias interrupters and start to tear down real as well as perceived roadblocks along the career path. 

 And then [there is] accountability: What is senior management doing to improve transparency and communication that impacts fostering a more gender balanced culture? Accountability is on both sides. And when you look at diversity, inclusion programs within firms, it has to be top down with feet held to the fire at all management levels. Gender targets have a purposeful intention and you’re not a target for the sake of a target.

Who do you follow on social or other media? 

I enjoy point of view from a wide range of individuals. … One who has gotten it right would be Ellevate’s Sally Krawcheck [and her] messaging to the industry on what we can do better and how women can as individual investors own their worth and, and embrace engagement to make their money work for them.

[Also] on my desk is a small print with a quote from Louise M. Pare: “The world is remade through the power of fierce women performing acts of creative rebellion.”  

It was given to me by Maggie O’Neill, an artist and creative entrepreneur [who] is an inspiration in her efforts to transform the status quo in the art industry and pay it forward. Her Superfierce movement is aimed at creating a foundation of support, connectivity and resources for female artists. Now that’s mentorship in action.


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