Sallie Krawcheck is having a great month. Her company, Ellevest, the first digital investment platform designed specifically for women, just had a huge funding round. $34.6 million to be exact. This included new investments from PSP Growth, Salesforce Ventures, CreditEase Fintech Investment Fund, LH Holdings and SK Impact Fund, LLC. And though Krawcheck is a seasoned pro who was once dubbed the Queen of Wall Street (she was the president of the Global Wealth & Investment Management division of Bank of America and CFO of Citigroup) she still had to deal with her fair share of mansplainers along the way.
She described a huge funding round like this as the best of times and the worst of times. "We really got some great investors, but you know you have to kiss a lot of frogs," the South Carolina native told Levo. Since launching Ellevest in 2016, Krawcheck has repeatedly been told by potential investors that women don't invest and that they are a "niche market." She had a meeting with one man who clearly had no idea of her extensive background in finance and started to explain to her what financial advisors do.
"Just to have it put to me in very simple language was very helpful because who knew he could capture that so simply," Krawcheck, who once ran Smith Barney Merrill Lynch U.S. Trust, said with more than a hint of sarcasm.
But unlike many of us who deal with this kind of behavior, Krawcheck had to factor in the politics of fundraising. "You do get tired of it and you do just want to walk away. I did think, 'Should I just storm out of the room?!' but I didn't because it's a small world and you see people again," she explained. "Maybe not that guy, but a junior associate sitting in the back you may see again in 10 years and you don't even know it."
Still, with her air-tight fundraising strategy and a deep and wide funnel, she was able to turn down certain parties.
"Be more considerate of him than he is of you, but that is not someone you want investing in your company," she said. "So what do you do when this person wants to invest in your company and you don't want them to? For some people, you have to take the money. Money is green. But if you have a big enough pipeline you can tell people no thank you."
Of course, dealing with men doing inappropriate things in the workplace is something that Krawcheck has had to endure since her first finance job in 1987. In her book Own It: The Power of Women at Work, she describes how every morning she would be greeted by a photocopied picture of male genitalia on her desk. Remember, this is the late '80s when people could get away with a lot more in the workplace (Note: The Wolf of Wall Street was based on a true story.) That didn't mean it was any less demeaning.
"I was upset. And I was humiliated. And I was embarrassed. And I felt shame. And I knew they didn't want me there," she wrote of her male colleagues. At the time, she feared reporting this harassment to a superior. She couldn't even conceive of it actually. So her retaliation was to join in on the humor. Now, as more and more instances of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace come to light, Krawcheck's approach has changed.
"A friend of mine said to me that if a female or a person of any difference goes out looking for discrimination you will see it everywhere and it will tire you out and bring you down," Krawcheck noted. "My advice is to acknowledge it is there, but you need to match the response to the situation. If someone is making a pass at you or behaving inappropriately you don't want to do business with them. You want to report them if you're able so they won't be doing it to other folks."
As for the sometimes murky, or less overt behavior that falls somewhere on the spectrum of mansplaining, the quote on her Levo profile might just sum it up. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
"It's not fair and it's not right and everything should change and we shouldn't have to [deal with] it," she said in our interview. "But in the meantime, each of us have to find a way to navigate through what is still a very gendered business environment."
If that means turning down a potential investor who doesn't believe in her mission or respect her leadership experience, well, Sallie Krawcheck doesn't suffer fools gladly.