Josephine Linden: CEO of Linden Global Strategies, Former Partner at Goldman Sachs

Interview by Molly O'Brien, Marketing & Communications Specialist, Advance

“I’ve always worked a little bit harder, always been willing to accept more responsibilities. I think part of this involves being able to ignore discrimination – and just continue to put your blinkers on and move forward.” 

Josephine Linden knows a thing or three about being a woman in business. Relocating to the US from Sydney in 1977, she completed her MBA at the University of Chicago before acquiring a prestigious position at Goldman Sachs in 1983 – not only a largely male-dominated company, but also industry.

Following her 26-year tenure at Goldman Sachs, which included numerous career highs, such as becoming partner, Josephine went on to establish Linden Global Strategies, a wealth-management advisory firm in New York City.

Advance spoke to Josephine about her experiences overcoming gender-related roadblocks throughout her career, what she perceives to be the most significant barrier to female leadership in 2017 and if the concept of work/life balance exists.

What was the biggest impetus to leave Australia to come to the US?

Simple: because my husband received a Fulbright scholarship to study law at UC Berkeley.

Was your background in finance before you left for the US, or was it something that happened organically once you arrived? 

While I was in Australia, I was working as an economist at a company called Colonial Mutual Life in a very junior position. After spending some time in Ottawa and the US, I decided to acquire my Business Degree at the University of Chicago. So, it was not until several years later that I started to work in finance.

How was your experience in Ottawa?
Extremely cold!

What is the best career decision you’ve made to date?  

To join a first-rate organisation with great people, which happened to be Goldman Sachs, the gold standard of the industry. After I completed Business School, I interviewed for a number of different organisations and fortunately Goldman chose to give me an offer, which I gladly accepted.

Was it competitive then, as opposed to now?

It was very competitive, yes. They interviewed a lot of people for each position.

And the worst career decision you’ve made?

That would probably be the decision not to go to Business School earlier in my life. I was working full time during the day, and going to Business School at night. It would have been more beneficial for me to go to Business School full time instead of juggling both a job and study.

When you started at Goldman Sachs, what was the admittance ratio, male to female?  

When I started at Goldman Sachs, there were just two women in my training program, and 28 men. I was very fortunate that I chose a field and a function that was less subject to discrimination. I chose a business that is not probably as political as some others, and my success depended largely on my knowledge, my talent and how hard I worked.

Is finance perhaps a more black and white industry?  

My area was definitely more black and white. There are other areas in finance that really depend on seniors distributing assignments, and I think it was tougher to get assignments as a woman 30 years ago than it is today.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership in 2017?

There are two issues. One is the people who are doing the promoting, and the other side, the woman who is being promoted. There is an expression – “PMS” – which stands for “Pale Male Stale” – where many men find they want to hire people who are like them, and that may not necessarily be women – they’re not willing to take risks. On the other side, some women don’t have the confidence in themselves to be able to strive to reach for leadership positions. If you ask a group of people how many of them think that they could be CEOs, and that group is made up of men, virtually every single man would raise their hand. In a group of women, you would be lucky if you find two or three, because they feel a need to be better trained, or need to have more information before they can answer “yes” to that question.

Do you think that level of self confidence in women is getting better or worse?

I recently met with a group of women who are currently sitting on public and private Boards, and the consensus was that it has in some ways changed greatly for the better, however younger generations still have to have more confidence in their abilities to be leaders of the future.

Do you think this attitude is something that’s industry specific?

I do think there are some industries where women are more accepted than others. For example, in the legal profession, you’ll find a lot more women who are in leadership positions. I also believe that the medical industry is largely gender-blind. More women are advancing, but there are still many industries that are not as accommodating to women.

Specific to the financial industry, what are some trends you’ve noticed over the years about women at work, and the things they could be doing to better to advance their careers?

I think confidence is a huge part of it, but it’s also learning the nuts and bolts of the business. Specific to my own industry, things like understanding financial statements and how to do deals. One thing I have dedicated myself to is trying to identify, hire and promote strong talent, and to mentor women who show talent and potential. I’ve always believed that the harder you work the luckier you get.

How did you overcome any gender-related roadblocks during your time at Goldman Sachs?  

It definitely hasn’t been an easy route, to have some of the successes I’ve been fortunate to achieve. If I had been male, I may have achieved them earlier, but you never know. Sometimes, by being female you get identified differently, and you may get opportunities your male counterpart may not. I’ve always worked a little bit harder, always been willing to accept more responsibilities – I think part of this involves being able to ignore discrimination – and just continue to move forward and put your blinkers on.

In what ways did Goldman Sachs evolve during your 26-year tenure there?

Goldman has undertaken various efforts in terms of trying to address diversity, many of them being very successful in recruiting, identifying, mentoring, training and taking risks.

People often wonder about the differences between how men and women lead. What are your thoughts on that? 

Generally speaking, I think females tend to be more inclusive as leaders, and have a more nurturing style. On the other hand, there are some women who are probably more discriminating than men. As Madeleine Albright said: “There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.” There are so many different styles of leadership though; I think it’s tough to categorise styles of leadership as being purely gender driven. But I do believe women tend to be more inclusive and go out of their way to spread diversity, and that means hiring, promoting and mentoring people with differences.

Is there such a thing as work/life balance?

There is a statement in the Bible - there is a “time for every purpose.” There are certain times in one’s life where it is very difficult to measure balance because you’re striving hard for a position or for a promotion, or you’re travelling, and so things can get a little out of whack. I believe life is like a seesaw, where most of the time it’s out of balance, but occasionally you get that perfectly clear balance. It’s crucial to recognise that balance is important, but I do think it’s difficult to achieve.

I have been very fortunate; I have three children, one of them a daughter who I always have been deeply supportive of in her own career. I am very fortunate to have a loving husband; you do need to have support from your partner whoever that may be. Lastly, you need to have a sense of flexibility and sense of humour – because things go wrong!

What will be the biggest challenges and opportunities for the generation of women ahead of you?

I think it’s not just women – I think it’s this upcoming generation. And that’s to find work that is challenging, intellectually stimulating and of course also rewarding. With the ever-changing growth of technology – the younger generation may find it difficult to keep up with the increasing demands, and they are recognising that the pace of change is quickening, and that can make it difficult to find the right job. When I went to Business School, it was normal for people to stay in their first job for five years, now people can rotate jobs three times in their first year.

What women inspire you, and why?

Queen Elizabeth is an incredible inspiration to me. You think of her age and how much she continues to achieve. I hope when I’m 90 my children still like me and I’m still working – she works diligently every day! She’s quite remarkable.

Another woman for whom I have tremendous respect is Julia Child –I was fortunate enough to observe her during the shooting of some of her episodes in Boston. As I love to cook, what was amazing to me was not just the cooking and preparation but her incredible focus on excellence in every area. After every show, there was a post mortem on what and how they could do better.

What advice would you give to your 20-year old self?  

To have more confidence in my abilities.

It can be very difficult when you start out, to recognise that you can do well – that you have the personality, intellect and tenacity to succeed. It can be tough to see the pathway; you just have to go foot after foot, and to pick yourself up after the bumps on the road. It’s important to remember that life can really be a lot of fun.

And find someone whom you love to share your journey with!