Coffee, Culture and Connection
by Christine Sandler, Co-chair, STA Women in Finance
Vacationing in magnificent Cortona, the plan was to walk into town each morning to get coffee. The very first morning, faced with a daunting hill we arrived at the coffee bar. The décor was perfect, light grey and cream walls, very clean and open with two women managing the bar. We ordered our drinks, with a little assistance given the language barrier. The coffee was heavenly. Each morning we went back to the same coffee bar. We brought our friends. By day three, they knew our orders. We didn’t linger, there was no small talk at all.
The morning of our departure, we made our final trip to the coffee shop. We told the girls we were leaving that day. In broken English, they asked if we would be back that afternoon. Sadly, we said no. We paid for our drinks and were handed small bags of chocolates. The women came out from behind the counter and hugged us. Not some lousy bend-at-the-waist hug, but a real embrace and kisses on both cheeks. They said, “You’ll come back?” “Of course we will,” I replied and I truly meant it. If you ever find yourself in the town of Cortona, make time for a doppio at Café Signorelli. It’s worth it.
As we were leaving, I got a little teary-eyed. In one week, I developed a greater connection with these women than with many of the people I’ve worked with for years, even decades. What gives? Why the revelation? Why the tearful emotions?
The nature of trading is based upon the contrast between transparency and opacity. It’s ingrained in us. If you show your hand, you could get your face ripped off. We’ve learned that it’s often best to keep things close to the vest. Opening up is bad.
If anyone were to ask, my “BAG” (big audacious goal) would be to bring humanity to finance by being transparent, genuine and generous with my time and efforts. I thrive on connection. I began to think; perhaps other women are like me? Perhaps they too seek something greater than a stimulating work environment and good pay but desire true connection? Maybe that explains the popularity of Pinterest, I thought, and sighed.
Why the lack of true connection? Low numbers of women may play a role. Let’s face it, we stand out already and understand the expectations to be professional: do the work and keep your head down. All proven paths to success, right? But perhaps it’s more cultural, this lack of connection. The nature of trading is based upon the contrast between transparency and opacity. It’s ingrained in us. If you show your hand, you could get your face ripped off. We’ve learned that it’s often best to keep things close to the vest. Opening up is bad.
What are we losing when we place a premium on opacity rather than openness? We lose what is unique about the individual and we lose that connection. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not impossible to forge meaningful relationships but it takes awareness and a bit of effort. One of my most meaningful connections began in the ladies restroom. A very chic woman told me she liked my handbag — that might seem like an insipid start to a friendship but this very chic woman has become a dear friend. We’ve made an effort to keep this connection going in spite of the fact that we don’t see each other every day.
The point is that we’re scratching our heads asking why it’s difficult to attract and retain women in finance. Maybe the answer is simpler than we think. Ladies, conquer the fear that you’ll be disadvantaged by being approachable. Make the effort to connect. Perhaps you’ll find that it’s even more magical than the espresso in Cortona.