In 1996 Jacki Zehner was the youngest woman, and the first female trader, to be made partner at Goldman Sachs. After leaving the firm in 2002, Jacki became a founding partner of Circle Financial Group, a private wealth management operation, consisting of a small group of women committed to effectively managing their families’ assets and philanthropic activities.
Throughout her life, Jacki’s main focus has been the social and economic empowerment of women: she’s a philanthropist, serving as co-chair of Women Moving Millions, vice-chair of Women’s Funding Network, and she is the president of the Jacquelyn and Gregory Zehner Foundation. Jacki also serves as advisor for various other organizations, working to advance gender equality for women and girls. Here is her story.
What is your name, age, and location?
Jacki Zehner, 46, new resident of Park City, Utah.
What is your profession?
In the for profit context I am a consultant on the issues of women’s leadership, corporate diversity and women’s philanthropy. I am also an active investor. I spent 14 years at Goldman Sachs primarily as a bond trader and desk manager followed by two years in human capital management. I was the first woman trader to be made partner of the firm.
In the non-profit space I am a blogger, and serve in an advisory capacity to multiple organizations that are in the women and girls space.
What did you study in school and what degrees do you have?
I went to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree in 1988.
What was your first job?
Very first was working in a concession stand in a local hockey rink. First job out of college was as a mortgage analyst for Goldman Sachs in New York.
Who or what inspired you to break into your current line of work?
As a woman professional at Goldman Sachs I became passionate about corporate diversity, or otherwise put increasing the number of talented women at the firm. I became involved with a number of diversity efforts at Goldman and felt called to work in this area in a broader capacity. I feel very strongly that organizations and the world in general needs to be more gender balanced.
Name/describe what has been your most rewarding project so far?
I lead a project with the National Council for Research on Women called “Women in Fund Management: A Road-Map to Critical Mass and Why it Matters” which was released in 2009. I worked closely with the writers to frame the arguments, present the evidence, and come up with a set of action steps to address the lack of women in finance.
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has helped your career?
I believe that in my case being a woman helped in becoming a partner of Goldman at such an young age. Yes, I was very profitable and a great culture carrier, but I also believe they were looking to promote women for which you could check all the boxes. It also helped that I had amazing sponsors, men and women.
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has hindered your career?
At one point in my career I had a horribly sexist and otherwise poor manager. He put me in situations no young women should be put in. That kind of behavior from a direct boss is something no young woman should have to deal with. I had to put so much energy in to protecting myself that should have been directed in to my career.
Please say a few words about your experiences with the work-family balance.
Yes I have two children, a son age 13 and a daughter age 10. In the early days when both my husband and I were working full time as traders it was tough. We barely saw our son and we felt guilty a lot of the time. One of the reasons we both decided to leave Wall Street was that it did not really allow us to be the parents we wanted to be. That said, I always have worked, for money or not for money, and do not believe I would be the fulfilled woman I am without doing both. I don’t see it as being either/or, a great mom or a great professional, you can be both, but it takes a lot of effort.
Who is your role model or mentor (alive or dead)?
I truly have too many to list. At the top of the list however would be my 94 year old grandmother Sadie. She is the most positive person I have ever met.
If you could give one piece of advice to a woman starting out in your field, what would it be?
Just one????? Don’t expect it to be easy. Expect it to be very, very hard and be positively surprised if it is not. The rewards for a successful career in finance are immense, not just financially, but in terms of doing interesting and challenging work. Yes it is still predominantly a man’s world, but fight for your place in that world and use your seat at the table to create space for others.
Follow Jacki on Twitter: @JackiZehner
Special thanks to Nina Gidwaney
– Interview by Elena Rossini