Big-Time Female Exec Buys 85 Broads (The Company, Not Actual Women)

Sallie Krawcheck, whose resume includes time as an executive at Bank of America and Citigroup and who was – according to Forbes – the 7th most powerful woman in 2005, announced Wednesday that's she's purchasing 85 Broads, a worldwide network for professional women. What do all these broads do? Help women become businesswomen.

The name is slightly misleading; 85 Broads was started in 1997 by a group of women that included founder and executive Janet Hanson, though the broads part was actually the address of Goldman Sachs at the time (85 Broad Street). Hanson is still committed to the project – in an interview with Katie Couric, she said she'd invested almost everything she was worth ($7 million) into keeping it running – and will be staying on as Chairman Emeritus with an ownership stake.

In a post about her choice to join 85 Broads on LinkedIn, Krawcheck explained that it's only recently that she's wanted to focus on helping women in business:

"For most of my career, I tried to avoid the topic of being a woman in business, vaguely concerned that talking too much about it would hold me back in some way. My standard response: 'Oh gosh, I never really think about being a woman in business. I’m just focused on getting the job done.'

But I’ve been thinking about it over the past year…..a lot.

And it’s not just because of the fairness issue, important though that is. It’s because the research and business case for the economic advancement of women is so compelling, in a world deeply in need of greater economic prosperity."

What 85 Broads does by connecting women from different organizations sounds like a mix between a consciousness-raising circle and a website like LinkedIn that's built just for women – though like those "Leaning In", the company wants to distinguish themselves from that feminist-y legacy:

"Don’t think of these as tired 'support groups;' they are instead platforms for the exchange and promotion of information and ideas, accelerating one’s acquisition of skills and knowledge."

Krawcheck seems like the perfect person to move from merely advocating for women to doing something to help them because she's evolved that way throughout her own career; she's been the subject of articles with headlines like "The Woman Who Made It on Wall Street". In that piece, Heidi N. Moore wrote about Krawcheck's belief that women "get tired" after they turn 30 and fail to rise further in business:

"She is something of a maverick among female executives, because she is all too willing to portray her struggles as shared, while many female executives want to project Superwoman. This makes Krawcheck easier to relate to, because her co-workers see what she's up against."

Whether her not her recent shift in worldview has actually developed over time or is happening because now she's got the clout to do something about it, it's refreshing to see a female executive who has gotten to a place where she's confident and strong enough to not feel as though she doesn't have to avoid the female issue. Though nothing 85 Broads does is particularly groundbreaking, something Krawcheck acknowledges (it teaches women how to do things like manage better, develop a strong social media presence, mentor young women), it's interesting to see how women are being increasing discussed as a commodity in the business community they way they have long been seen in other sectors, prostitution or modeling being the most obvious examples. This time, however, they're being seen as investment commodities – something that gets better over time and doesn't devalue with age or as they become less attractive according to societal standards. Krawcheck uses this language herself:

"I am becoming involved with and investing in 85 Broads because investing in women is smart business. And women investing in themselves and in others, as they do through the network, is even smarter business."

It's the language we hear politicians use more and more: invest in women and the country and world will prosper. It's basically the same way people talk about microfinancing in developing nations, or buying products from a company like Tom's which is built off of an idea of corporate responsibility. I'm not sure there's anything particularly wrong with this change in language, as arguing merely that the world should be fairer and so women deserve an equal wage hasn't gotten anyone very far. There's not much that's more motivational than the idea that doing good things will also make you money, so let's run with that while it's working.

Krawcheck Agrees to Buy the Women’s Network 85 Broads [NYT]

Photo by Mark Lennihan/AP