Christine Ciriani, Managing Partner of Capco Switzerland
I was the first female student body president at Claremont McKenna College in the U.S. Back then, women accounted for around 20 percent of the student body. At a President’s Dinner, a former university fellow looked me up and down and said, “Hmm – a women President! Well, I’ll be”! It didn’t even occur to me until then that I was considered a “female” student body president. I thought I was just doing my role as an individual who cared about making an impact where I could.
I’ve been surrounded by strong role models, starting with my mother, and as such often did not consider gender as a differentiating factor. However, advice from other women who made great sacrifices to get ahead did not always support this.
In the early years of my career working on Wall Street, I was advised by more senior women in the office to dress discretely and to never ‘make a show’ of my gender in a workplace setting. A Group Chief Risk Officer once even took the time to tell me that if I did ever have children, I shouldn’t put pictures of them on my desk, as other colleagues would think of me as a mother rather than a professional (by the way, I have pictures of my two boys on my desk today and could encourage any other mothers to do the same if they wish to!).
This is when I realised that blazing new paths and challenging norms is a conscious decision which takes courage. As Grace Hopper said, “The most dangerous phrase in the language is, ”We’ve always done it this way.” It is not easy to break routines in the workplace. This stems from how we collaborate (anyone try to implement Agile in a bank?) to what we wear (blue nail polish in financial markets? Not if you want to be taken seriously?!).
We all have the responsibility to embrace diversity in the workplace as a conscious decision. The good thing is that more organizations are committed to equality, and more people have a voice. How can parity come at a faster pace? In my mind, that comes with open discussion, non-exclusionary networks and crucially, employers making a greater commitment to address under-representation of all forms.
I am proud that at Capco Switzerland, we are higher than the average in terms of diversity across backgrounds, gender and nationalities. It is one of our pillars of strength and adds richness to our workplace. Looking to the future, I will continue to make diversity and inclusion a priority, and will ensure that our practice continues to foster women and that we lead by example - not just on International Women’s Day but every day.