In the teeming technology atmosphere of northern California, there is a premium on innovation and intellectual capital.
Lee Ann Coburn, vice president at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, also noticed there was a lack of organizations in the region to help women shape their careers.
She gave her Merrill Lynch female colleagues a platform for empowerment by establishing the Walnut Creek Women’s Exchange. It grew to 50 members and has since merged with a similar Merrill group in Oakland to form the 80-member San Francisco East Bay Women’s Exchange, one of about 50 such Merrill chapters nationwide.
The organization sponsors professional development, networking and social activities. It also has sponsored joint programs with some of the region’s most influential companies, including Cisco, Facebook, Genentech, Google and Oracle.
“I never had an opportunity before to be in a room with 45 women who are passionate and driven to make their companies better with a commitment to excellence,” Ms. Coburn said. “It was invigorating.”
The cross-pollination can help women at Merrill and tech firms bridge the confidence gap.
“Women oftentimes don’t speak up when they could or should,” Ms. Coburn said. “That affects their perceived performance and their ability to climb the corporate ladder.”
As she began her career, she drew on her experience as a member of the University of Pennsylvania lacrosse team. During practice, she would set out to hit 100 balls against a wall — but then blast a couple more. Going the extra step also helped in cold calling.
“It was always that bonus 101st or 102nd call that led to an exciting adventure or someone on the other end who needed my help,” she said.
– Mark Schoeff Jr.
Financial planning program director, William Paterson University