Last week I was invited to speak at a conference for CEOs and executives in the financial services industry. At the conference, Ken Fisher, founder of the second-largest firm in our industry and manager of over $112 Billion (that’s more than the entire Venezuelan economy) was on stage during a “fireside chat” to answer questions about how he had become so successful. Instead, this industry “leader” compared bringing in clients to “getting into a girl’s pants” and talked about how his “loyal army” of employees has his firm name “branded on their ass.”
As one of less than 20 women out of 220 attendees, I sat in the audience stunned by what I was hearing. I had quite deliberately chosen not to attend conferences in the financial services industry for the past 10 years because of how common gender-based harassment and discrimination is at these events. This particular conference has a no media policy and a privacy code so that executives can speak freely about the challenges and opportunities they see, the effects of regulation, etc. without worry that their comments will be publicized.
I barely slept Tuesday night as I struggled to reconcile my work on behalf of others, with letting myself be silenced. So on Wednesday morning, when media started contacting me to confirm reports from this now viral whistleblower video, I decided I would break the rules and speak out, on the record. After trade publications broke the story, national media started to call as well. I gave comments to many outlets, including CBS News and The Washington Post, and I was interviewed on CNBC TV.
Some have said that those of us who spoke out are calling for Ken Fisher and other leaders to be more politically correct – it’s not about being politically correct, it’s about the responsibility that comes with power. When you are on stage, you’re there because others want to learn from you. They want to understand and possibly adopt your worldview. When your description of the world uses women as sexual objects and refers to employees as if they were cattle, it has an impact on real people in and outside of the room.
I spoke out to expose an abuse of power that was, at its core, a failure of empathy – the failure of someone who would call himself successful to imagine the impact of his words on the people sitting directly in front of him.
Ken Fisher has now finally offered a full apology, which I would like to believe was not for having been caught, but for failing to see the impact his words might have on the lives of others.
At Robasciotti & Philipson, we are aware of the impact we have on our employees, clients, the broader industry, and the world. Making financial services more inclusive of women, the LGBTQ+ community, people of color, and all marginalized groups is something we have been dedicated to since we opened our doors in 2004 and the reason we created our social justice investing platform, RISE (Return on Investment & Social Equity). I hope this watershed moment brings more people to the conversation and encourages financial services leaders to step boldly towards an industry that works for everyone.