A common phrase in acceptance speeches is, “‘Standing on the Shoulders of Those Who Came Before Me.” Whether the recipient is a woman, person of color, disabled, deaf, LGBTQ+ or other, they acknowledge those who came before them. When being recognized for helping advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), those being recognized pay respect to those who came before them. I was reminded of this last week when I sat down with Michelle Clayman on The Caring Economy to hear about her career trajectory and commitment to serving others, particularly with regard to gender equity and inclusion. She always acknowledges the women who came before her.
Michelle Clayman is the Founder, Managing Partner and Chief Investment Officer of New Amsterdam Partners LLC, an institutional money management firm based in New York City. She is a member of the Board of Trustees of Stanford University where she also serves as Chair of the Advisory Council of the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research. She is a member of the Vice Chancellor’s Circle at Oxford University and a Johnson Honorary Fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford. She sits on the Dean’s Council at Harvard Divinity School. She is Board Chair of the Girl Scout Council of Greater New York.
Through the years, Clayman has served as President of the Society of Quantitative Analysts, as well as on the boards of the Institute of Quantitative Research in Finance and US SIF – the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investing. She has been published in the Financial Analysts Journal, the Finance Professionals’ Post and the Journal of Investing and is a co-editor of Corporate Finance: A Practical Approach (Wiley 2008). She was also a co-editor of the 2016 UNPRI publication: A practical guide to ESG integration for equity investing. She has chaired the Equity Curriculum Committee of the CFA Institute.
Ask a busy person
Another proverb that I am fond of and try to exemplify is: “If You Want Something Done, Ask a Busy Person To Do It.” The crafter of this proverb remains anonymous but certainly Michelle Clayman embodies that message – she is someone you want to ask for help because of her abilities and her service to others.
When I ask Clayman about civic engagement and getting young people involved in solving big social issues, she discusses her volunteerism happily. She shares, “When I moved to New York 1979 I felt very dissociated from real life — I was working on Wall Street and living on the Upper East Side with Yuppies, going out five nights a week. One day at a friend’s brunch I met someone who had a Girl Scout troop and needed an assistant leader, so stepped up. In the end I did it for 17 years, in Grammercy with girls between 10 and 14, and it was very interesting because it was ethnically mixed, socio-economically mixed, and educationally mixed. In time I realized that if you can go into a church basement and persuade a group of 9-year-olds to get on board with something, then you have no problem dealing with 50-year-old guys on Wall Street.”
Her employer Solomon Brothers was very supportive of it, and they received a full page spread in Institutional Investor magazine about Clayman and her volunteerism.
Pay your dues
Of the current generation of leaders, Clayman also says that her alma mater Stanford is doubling down, which now has a new first year program that requires all students to study civics. She says, “First it asks students‘how are you going to plan your college career?’ and then it asks, ‘what does it mean to be a member of the Stanford community, the community around the university, the country itself, and then as a global citizen.’” So, things are looking upbeat at Stanford and hopefully beyond.
When I ask Clayman about her early days on Wall Street, she says: “I tell young people about my first job and their eyes just bug out of their heads so my first job was spreading statements which means I got piles of physical annual reports and I had to copy numbers onto forms and crunch ratios by hands but it meant that you really got to know what financial statement.”
And she thrived. Saying, “I was asked to go in as the junior person in a quantitative equity research group where I built models, and I wrote research papers. I was the person on the team who was sent around North America and Europe telling money managers or showing them how to use quantitative methods in their investment processes during that journey.”
Then alight bulb went on in her head and she said, “Oh my gosh I think I can do this better.” So, she did. She launched her own firm and never looked back.
Definition of a feminist
When I ask Clayman if she is a feminist and how she defines , she declares: “Of course I’m a feminist. I think it’s sad that there were so many years when women retreated from that label and, young women particularly. It’s about one thing — equal opportunity for women and girls based on their abilities and interests. It’s in no way negative towards men, it’s just making sure that everyone has a fair share.
That philosophy engaged Clayman in the Stanford institute that now bears her name. The institute was founded in 1974 and in the early 2000s Clayman put her money behind it, stating: “My business was doing extremely well, and I put down the money to grow the Institute. Nothing cheers up an institution so much as getting a large gift,suddenly you’re treated very seriously, including a board seat.”
The Michelle R Clayman Institute
When I ask Clayman to tell us more about the Institute, she says: “In the past there have been times in the women’s movement where everything has been doom and gloom. Our attitude is to see what we can do to make the world a better place. So, the Institute looks like how science has often ignored issues relating to women, such drug testing where test protocols did not include women, or quantitative research on women and leadership, or studies performance evaluations and how they can negatively affect women.
Message to young citizens
When I ask Clayman what she says to the young Stanford students on pursuing a career, she says: “Try and find something that you’re interested in now, but at the same time you have to be very careful about this whole mantra of ‘follow your passion’ because you also have to live. You have to be able to buy groceries and pay the rent, so think through the ramifications. Find a balance. Be imaginative and find your way.
As with all guests on The Caring Economy, Michelle Claymanexemplifies how leaders with purpose-driven lives and careers are shaping our contemporary workplace for the better.