Megan Brown isn't the first woman to get pregnant and exit corporate life, frustrated and finished with the "rat race." But she is among the minority to have climbed the ranks of Wall Street - accepting, and actually loving, being a woman in the dog-eat-dog world of a not-so-female-friendly industry - before giving into her need to move on, and out.
During a recent conversation in Manhattan, Megan spoke with me about her baptism by fire in the finance industry. She started on the floor of the New York Stock exchange as a trader working for "a really tough cookie." Her boss spared no one from his foul language and screaming rants. "It was brutal. I was yelled at from seven in the morning until the bell rang at four. I would be on the train home and I would cry every night - EVERY night." After 18 months of a tortuously steep learning curve, and with her boss's encouragement, she moved to Bear Stearns. "What a difference! It was so professional; no one's yelling at me." Megan held numerous jobs within the corporation, ultimately becoming the global head of third-party distribution. She considered herself a lifer, believing she would be with Bear Stearns forever (of course, that was before it imploded). At one point she recalls asking her boss why there weren't more women - and there were hardly any - his response was, "Honestly, Megan, I would hire them, but I don't even get any resumes."
Listening to Megan's stories - and lamenting on my own experiences in the finance world - it's no surprise why most women want no part of such aggressive, fast-paced, male-dominated organizations. But Megan thrived on the challenges. "I didn't take it personally, you just kind of felt like the men were weak." In fact, she approached the testosterone-enriched environment as a study in sociology:
"My girlfriend, Jenn (who's also in the business) and I, we used to call it the Man Circus. You have all the empty suits that are bringing anything to the table that they can. And they all use a bevy of analogies like, 'We all need to be rowing in the same direction' and 'picking the low-hanging fruit.' You can't understand anything they're saying, but all the other men think they sound brilliant. Jenn and I used to sit through these meetings together and just look at them thinking, "There's an empty suit sitting up there with nice hair.'"
Megan thinks she succeeded on Wall Street partly because she is the daughter of a race car driver. She was raised like a boy, could change a tire by the time she was seven, and was taught not to cry. "It's a skill set I don't think I ever would have developed otherwise." At work, "I was willing to be as male as I needed to be to succeed." And that includes a repertoire of seriously dirty jokes.
It was part of the job. And so was traveling. During the first five weeks back to work after maternity leave (after Bear Stearns, she landed at J.P. Morgan) Megan was on the road more than she was at home. When she missed her baby's first belly roll, she decided it was time for a change. Playing to her upbringing as the "boy Dad never got," Megan exchanged one male-dominated industry for another: tech.
"It takes a village these days to raise a baby and manage your life. How am I going to do this?" From this question HatchedIt.com was born. Megan co-founded the social-collaboration start-up with her sister-in-law. "I had been an executive for all these years...using Outlook just like everyone else...and I started to realize how archaic it was to communicate that way. You had to send an email invite to notify someone about an event on your calendar." And the difficulties multiply when you need to coordinate with so many people - aunts, uncles, grandparents, childcare - who are helping the family.
The online organizational tool isn't just for mommies or syncing calendars, planning events or sharing grocery lists; the vision for HatchedIt.com is ambitious - just like its co-creator. Megan sees business-to-business as a future target market and advanced functionality for the site to "talk" to other life management apps. Think of Dropbox, Tripit, Tablet Hotels and Outlook all seamlessly coordinating so that you and your marathon running group can share and store your individual training times, as well as schedule your upcoming competitions. The business model includes gaining revenue from add-on apps that users can buy to increase functionality.
In order to grow to the next level, the start-up is looking for funding. Launched a year ago, HatchedIt.com has more than 12,000 users, but it hasn't "hatched" any money - yet. Megan recognizes the hurdles of approaching Venture Capital Firms with a platform primarily targeting women. "Venture capital firms are all run by men. I don't have a problem with that. I love men. I've worked with men for a lot of years. But I am concerned there is a lack of comprehension behind the market power of women."
In fact, she equates talking to some male investors to "death by a thousand paper cuts" because of their generalist mentality: "Oh, she's a girl. She can't do anything or it's a product targeting women, it's not going to go anywhere..." But Megan won't be deterred. She said, "I have a thicker skin than a lot of women because of having that experience in finance. I also think there is a different way to manage men than you manage women... Men respond differently ... I have to remind myself when dealing with a man, you need to be direct; you need to ask for what you need upfront; and you need to not be embarrassed or apologize. It's a skill set that took me a long time to really understand in finance and I had to learn quickly to ramp up my career. But if not for those experiences, I don't think I would understand that now, especially as we are looking for funding and partnerships, you really need to ask for what you want. And for a lot of women [in any industry or situation], that's challenging."
As more women face the challenge, the proverbial glass ceiling will keep cracking and hopefully, one day it will break apart. Until then, don't be afraid to take risks and nurture your ideas. They might just hatch.
The article first appeared on Forbes.com.
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