This month I am introducing a new feature on my website recognizing and celebrating inspiration. The focus will be on people who have overcome obstacles or made significant contributions either professionally or on a personal basis. As a financial advisor, whose client roster is composed of several amazing women, my goal is to share with you stories of women who inspire me
March is Women’s History Month, where every year, the National Women’s History Project declares a theme. This year, the theme is “Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business”. I am proud to recognize and celebrate AIG employee Elyse Waldinger.
Elyse started her career at Merrill Lynch in the Corporate Training Systems program. The Dow was under 1000, healthcare was offered at no cost to employees and there was an unwritten rule of loyalty between companies and its employees. Now 35 years later, the Dow is over 20,000, healthcare costs are quite high and, according to Elyse, “you are always looking over your shoulder for the next round of layoffs.”
Elyse had to deal with being a woman in a male-dominated field. She found that male colleagues were given the higher profile projects because they would involve late hours and “It was just not safe for a female to commute in the dark” (regardless of their willingness to do the work and take the risk). In 1986, she joined the Technology Group at Chemical Bank (later to become JPMorgan Chase). While the working environment for women had improved, women were still very much in the minority, especially in technology. As the only woman in a meeting, she would often be asked to take the minutes or to get coffee for everyone. And her paycheck was not equal. Elyse recalls one occasion where she was told that a male counterpart was making a significantly higher paycheck because he was married and had children. This did not sit well with Elyse at all.
By the time Elyse started at AIG in 2006, women were in more senior roles and the next generation of men were in the work force, greatly improving how women are treated in the workplace. She is currently a Program Manager. She is the primary point of contact for Key Stakeholders and Senior Leadership, overseeing and directing a program of projects aimed at improving and expanding existing capabilities for the Consumer Personal Insurance Business.
Elyse recently came back from a one-year stay working for AIG on a special project in Japan. Elyse found it even harder to succeed in Tokyo, as there is not only gender bias, but cultural bias as well. However, given her focus and determination, Elyse earned the respect of her Japanese colleagues and they asked her to extend her stay!
Elyse shared this wonderful insight. “As a woman who has spent my entire career in Financial Services, I never thought I would be honored for just doing my job and surviving the ups and downs of the economy. Women have come a long way since I first started out but there is still a long way to go. I feel proud that the women following me in the corporate world may have it a little bit easier and hope they continue to blaze that trail to true equality.
“There is no magic to achievement. It’s really about hard work, choices, and persistence,”quote by Michelle Obama.