Shattering the Glass Ceiling:
One Woman’s Take

glass ceiling

We’ve heard plenty lately about how women’s lack of confidence is holding back their careers, and heard plenty of advice on how they need to lean-in if they want to rise to the top echelons of corporate leadership. Really?

Cara Williams, a Senior Partner at Mercer Investments, has a slightly different take on the situation. She heads Mercer Investments’ Wealth Management business and Global Technology Solutions worldwide and provides advisory services and delivers wealth management solutions for financial intermediaries and retail platforms. Williams’ global team works with clients whose ultimate goals are to run profitable businesses with minimum risk

We talked to her about what women should be doing if they want to shatter the glass ceiling and lead.

GR: What do you think are some of the biggest hurdles women face in their climb to the top?

CW: I spent 11 years at an all-girls school and observed that women’s lack of confidence often manifests itself as cockiness or arrogance. You know the types – you really don’t want to work with them – nor do the guys in the top spots who hand out the invites to the senior management ‘club.’ From my perspective, women in business need to roll with the punches better. I spent 6 years as a civilian with the military and the military taught me that. Women, in general, don’t do this very well because they take themselves too seriously. Women also need to be better networkers. Networking should not be a forced or contrived thing.

IE: How can women clear these hurdles?

CW: When it comes to being flexible, women shouldn’t be overly definitive about their career goals. They should try to keep options open, or at least, try not close out options too soon. Women need to look to their skill sets – not what they’ve done – to define their path forward. They should be less fixated on titles and job descriptions, and more open minded about using their different, broader skill sets. They need to go with the flow more and box themselves in less. As far as networking goes, it needs to be genuine…real. I network with people I know, and more importantly, that I like. I try to schedule drinks and dinners when I pass through cities on my travels. My mom came from institutional sales and I learned how to network from watching her do it. Even though it’s natural to me, I still had to acquire the skill, and other women can, too. If you network – genuinely and mindfully – you will rarely have to go through headhunters…you’ll just need to pick up the phone and make ‘that’ call.

GR: You have a huge role at Mercer with P&L responsibility. What keeps you awake at night?

CW: I hate not to deliver. I don’t ever want to let my partners and teammates down. We are mutually dependent across regions and functions to deliver results. My early role was to help partners across the globe. I was the go-to person for the regional partners so over time we built up a massive level of trust and friendship. This trust and friendship smoothed the way when I transitioned into the Wealth Management role a few years back. The role is highly collaborative, so getting support is critical. And you don’t get support by being bossy and non-collaborative. You need to work well together through the good and the bad. You need to bring everyone along with you. It’s not about “I” — it’s about “We.”

About the Author

Gayle Rigione is Ivy Exec’s Chief Community Development Officer. Gayle spent 15 years in diverse relationship management and senior management roles at MasterCard International, Arthur Andersen Strategic Services, and Bankers Trust Company. She earned her MBA from Columbia.