Karen Finerman: Fake Confidence Until You Have It

Vulnerability was the very most impressive part of Karen Finerman’s keynote at the 2015 NJ Conference for Women today. I predicted she would be the Lean-In-Woman-Who-Has-It-All, the hedge fund founder with four kids, four nannies, a professional husband, fancy digs in New York City, the whole nine yards.

She did say Lean In. she has all that, but she wasn’t afraid to tell about the time she failed. Miserably. As a teenager she idolized Ivan Boesky and wanted to be an arbitrageur. After graduating from Wharton, she was riding high with her hedge fund until . . . the Wall Street melt down. Her inexpensive small cap stocks tanked and she discovered they were cheap for a reason.The fund haemorrhaged millions of dollars. They cashed out to pay angry investors and then the market climbed. Depressed, she didn’t want to go to work and walked to save taxi money.

“I was washed up at 33 and everyone knew it. I had to decide — am I in or out.”

Later, when someone asked how to get through adversity, she had a one-word answer: Prozac. But at this point she preached how to persevere by faking confidence. “Pretend you have what it takes to go on. Look for the smallest improvement. Know it will change.”

The “know it will change” rule comes into play with the “51 percent rule.” When making a difficult decision, don’t be afraid to go with the one that is 51 percent right, even though you feel ambivalent about it. (I call this buyer’s remorse). And if it turns out to be a wrong decision, don’t wait too long to cut your losses.

Finerman talked a lot about how men seem confident (they pound the table and sound as if they are right) whereas women are not (they feel like frauds when — shh– men are the frauds). Account managers prefer male table pounders to women that explain all the risks. Why? Women leave the choice to the manager, whereas a table pounder makes the choice seem less risky.

How to raise a culture of confidence in young girls (asked by Wanda Stansbury of the Center for Child and Family Achievement: Have expectations that are the exact same as the boys. Give them something they can master. Teach them to fake confidence until it is there. Practice what confidence looks like until you strengthen those muscles.

Six hundred women were at this conference. and they loved it.


Other female-centric advice, some of it in Finerman’s book (everyone at the conference got one). 

Men may make it through life without being in charge of their kids, but women will not make it through life without being in charge of their money.

Invest in a great CFO and scrimp elsewhere.

Women should not do investment banking as a long-term career — there is no work/life balance

Be willing to give up the lead parent position. Don’t have to be the bake sale mom. Instead, thank the stay at home mom volunteer.

Learn what it feels like to make mistakes.

Finerman has a book, given out to everyone who came. In my last post I nagged about the bad grammar in her title. But I can forgive that in a woman who can tell about her mistakes.

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