Interview with Heather Landy

Heather Landy has been editor in chief of American Banker Magazine since the magazine’s launch in July 2011. She previously spent two years on the staff of the American Banker daily newspaper, covering large institutions and an array of governance, risk, accounting and regulatory issues affecting the sector. Prior to joining American Banker, she was a special correspondent to The Washington Post, covering Wall Street. In 2007 she won a Gerald Loeb Award, one of the highest honors in business journalism, while reporting on the retail industry for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She began her career at Bloomberg News, covering various beats including corporate finance, retailing and heavy industry. Heather is a graduate of Northwestern University, with a BSJ and MSJ from the Medill School of Journalism.

As editor in chief of a major magazine, people must turn to you to make decisions. A recent survey of more than 600 board directors showed that women are more likely to consider the rights of others and to take a cooperative approach to decision-making. (The survey linked these techniques to better performance for their companies.) How would you describe your own leadership and decision-making style?

I tend to take a collaborative approach. I work with smart people and I know I benefit from having their insight when I make a decision. I also find that people take more of an ownership stake in their work when they feel they’re contributing at that level, which I think makes for a better product overall. That said, some calls are very subjective or sensitive, and as a leader you need to be prepared to make those calls on your own.

You’ve written tips on covering the banking industry as a journalist. Research from this month shows that nearly half of women working in the banking industry believe they face career barriers because of their gender. What has been your experience covering banking and the financial sector? Do you have suggestions for women working in the financial sector and other sectors thought to be male-dominated?

Many female banking journalists often feel underestimated, and the good ones use this to their advantage. I can’t say that I have experienced overt sexism in any of the places where I’ve worked or from the companies I’ve covered as a reporter. But these days it’s the subtler stuff that’s usually more insipid.

My suggestion to women in male-dominated fields is to worry less about their perceived weaknesses and to do more to capitalize on their strengths. A man might be part of the old boys’ club, but what does he do when the club decides it doesn’t want him anymore? Successful women often derive their strength from external networks, i.e. relationships with clients or vendors. I’d much rather have the strength that is portable and broadly applicable over the strength that isn’t.

In your Twitter profile, you describe yourself as a “slightly exhausted mother.” There is a public discussion going on right now about whether women can have it all through a balance of work and family. What do you think?

I think “slightly” may have been an understatement. But I think it’s possible for some women to have it all – just probably not all at once. The long view is that you can dial your career up or down depending on what stage of life you or your children are in. In the here and now, I think compartmentalizing can help. Attempt to be fully present where you are, whether at work or at home, so that when you don’t have the quantity of time you’d like to devote to everything, you can at least have quality time.

American Banker Magazine, of which you are editor in chief, compiles an annual list of the Most Powerful Women in Banking & Finance. Have you noticed anything that the successful women who make that list have in common?

They’re smart, driven and seriously committed to mentoring others. Many of these women are pioneers and have sacrificed like crazy to get where they are, and they are doing what they can now to smooth the pathways to power for the women behind them, so that more talent will have the opportunity to flourish. They believe not only that this is the right thing to do, but that their institutions will be stronger for it.

Among the women on our 2012 ranking, about 75 percent are moms and, interestingly, only 40 percent have a spouse or partner who works full time.

Another commonality I’ve been thinking about lately is the influence of a supportive father. I haven’t done the research here, but I’ve heard enough of the women on our list talk about this that I’m starting to wonder if there isn’t something to it. I also hear a lot of stories about terrific moms, but anecdotally, it seems like the mothers’ influence often has more to do with how these women conduct their personal lives or how they approach important personal concepts like financial independence, whereas the influence of fathers seems to come into play more in terms of the professional arena. Of course, with more working mothers now, I think this easily could change for future generations of successful women, with moms playing just as big a role as dads when it comes to influencing their children’s professional lives.

At Minute Mentoring® events, we ask our Mentors to provide their top three tips for success. If you could share any three tips with the women reading this, what would they be?

No. 1: Be yourself when you’re at work, but be your best self. Know your flaws, but if you’re forever pointing them out or apologizing for them, it’s going to be hard to win the confidence of the people around you.

No. 2: Think about your career not as a ladder but as a lattice. Don’t be afraid to move sideways or to take a step down if it will round out your skills and help vault you higher in the end.

No. 3: Manage to do more by doing less. When you’re overwhelmed, take stock and dispense with low-priority items. Resist the temptation to do it all. Delegate. You may have to accept that the work gets done in a different way than you would have done it, but you can devote the extra time to a bigger priority – or to a rare chance to put your feet up for a few minutes and relax.

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