Women in financial services podcast Céline Dufétel | Deloitte Insights

T. Rowe Price's Céline Dufétel on overcoming the confidence gap Within reach: Conversations with leaders on the front lines of the financial services industry

30 July 2020

The road to leadership is different for everyone. For T. Rowe Price's CFO Céline Dufétel, it meant navigating change (and ships), embracing the seven-minute rule, and not waiting for 110%.

“ A guy will go for the job if he’s got 20% of the qualifications, but we always think we need 110[%]. I often say to women, you’re sure not to get 100% of the things you don’t ask for and you’re sure not to achieve 100% of the things you don’t try.”

—Céline Dufétel, chief financial officer, T. Rowe Price

Tanya Ott: Imposter syndrome is real, even for some women in the C-suite. One leader shares her tips for taming the inner narrative and being comfortable outside your comfort zone.

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Tanya: This is the Press Room, and I’m Tanya Ott. We’ve been talking to women in the financial services industry about how they navigate that space, and today my guest actually was a navigator—the navigator of an oil tanker—when she was still a teenager.

Céline Dufétel is the chief financial officer of T. Rowe Price. She’s been with the company three years, but to understand her evolution as a leader you have to wind back the clock. Céline grew up in France with two French parents. When she was eight, her father got an assignment in the US—and she didn’t know a word of English. A few years later they moved back to France and this time it wasn’t language, but gender, that made her stand out.

Céline: I studied science and math in a school where only about 10% of students were women, which is not uncommon, as we know, in these very scientific journeys. And I was fortunate also to serve in the French navy, which was a great learning experience. I was the navigator of an oil tanker when I was 19. There were 200 men onboard and I was the only woman.

Tanya Ott: Wow!

Céline: I was in charge of navigation. As the captain liked to remind me—Céline, this is just a little oil spill waiting to happen. It was a tremendous amount of responsibility and the stakes were very high. And it was also very hard to fit in, as you can imagine, as a young woman and being in charge. And I learned a lot about leadership and humility and how to find common ground with a group that I didn’t have tons [in common] with and to be accepted.

I would also say that my father had a huge influence on me. Unfortunately, he passed [away] when I was 19. But he grew up in a poor part of France, the son of farmers, and he was the first generation to not only go to high school, but to get a college and a graduate degree. And he really taught me the value of hard work, perseverance, and also optimism, which have become essential ingredients in my career. He always taught me to try very hard. I tell the story of the way he taught me how to swim is he’d say, just swim to me. And then as I kept swimming, he kept backing up. And that was pretty much how life was with my father. You had to always aim for more. You had to always reach higher.

I went to undergrad in France and grad in the US, and after grad school, I wanted to be an investor, but I didn’t have the right to work in the US. I wasn’t a US citizen. It made more sense to go back home to France. And I started with McKinsey, which was an incredibly formative part of my career. I spent over a decade there, and I really learned how important it was to better myself. To be very clear about where my shortcomings were and work hard on them. I took a few blows, received some feedback, but I had the courage to listen and to really try to grow and work on these areas. And being uncomfortable is incredibly important as a leader and knowing what your weaknesses are to address them. One of the things I worked on early in my career was [that] I was an introvert. I found parts of being a consultant very exhausting. But I knew that if I wanted to continue to progress in my career, I really needed to get over that. And I even decided to give myself a bit of shock therapy and sign up for an assignment where basically for three months all I did was recruiting campus to campus, talking to people I’d never met before—which, if you’re an introvert, there’s probably nothing more horrible that you could do for three months. But it was what I needed. I needed to come out of my shell. I needed to take that on.

Tanya: It seems like one of the themes that has been constant through a lot of your life is that you might be either the only woman in the room or one of the few women in the room, all the way from your schooling when you were focusing on science and mathematics up through the Navy and beyond. What was that like for you?

Céline: I spent the early part of my career trying to do everything I could so that nobody would notice I was a woman and maybe I could just blend in. When I got my first job out of college, I asked my mother to buy me the most manly pinstriped suit that you could possibly find in the store. And I thought perhaps I’d disappear.

Tanya: How'd that work for you?

Céline: It didn’t work well. It was an age thing and it was a gender thing. Over the years I’ve learned to embrace it and to be myself, that the diversity that I bring to the room is actually valuable. It’s not something that I need to shy away from.

Tanya: It can be pretty challenging. I went into journalism and was an assistant news director in my early 20s and a woman in the field interviewing Congress people and things like that. And it can be really challenging when you’re a young woman and you’re in that kind of environment. What kind of advice do you give other women that are entering the field, as they’re looking at entering an industry in which there may not be a whole lot of people like them?

Céline: One of the challenges that women face, in my mind, is the confidence gap. Women tend to think they’re never ready. They can’t go for that next role. One of the things I tried to advise them on is, catch yourself when you’re thinking that way and when you are lacking in confidence. And then there are little tips and tricks that you can have. For instance, I call it the Seven Minute Rule.

Tanya: What is that?

Céline: If you’re in a meeting, you need to speak in the first seven minutes because the longer you wait, the harder it will be to get into the conversation. And be prepared, if you’re coming to a meeting and you’re a little nervous about participating. You think ahead—what are the questions you’re going to raise or what are the topics you’re going to raise? And have allies, have somebody in the room who maybe will call on you and say, Céline, what’s your perspective on this? There’re little things we can do. But in particular, when it comes to career decisions, not always selling ourselves short. A guy will go for the job if he’s got 20% of the qualifications, but we always think we need 110[%].

Tanya: I was talking with a woman the other day who was considering a management position for the first time, and that was her concern—I’m not sure I’m qualified. And I said, you’ve been doing this for 10 years. You don’t have everything on that list that you can tick off. But you can tick off a whole lot of it. And as I say to my students at the university, they can’t say yes if you don’t ask. Right?

Céline: Yes, I often say to women, you’re sure not to get 100% of the things you don’t ask for and you’re sure not to achieve 100% of the things you don’t try. I do think we need to be willing to take on more risks in our career. And frankly, it’s true for myself. I remember when I first got the call for this role at T. Rowe Price, my reaction was exactly that, that I wasn’t qualified and I wasn’t the right person. It’s actually my husband who pushed me pretty hard to go and interview. And here I am.

Tanya: I understand that in your current job at T. Rowe Price that you were recruited to that position when you were expecting a child. Is that right?

Céline: That’s correct.

Tanya: So, what was that process like? Because I imagine that might have been one of the things where you would say to yourself, well, maybe I shouldn’t do this now. What was that thought process like for you deciding to go for the gig beyond just having the confidence to do it?

Céline: My husband and I had decided to have a second child, and I first interviewed with my now boss, our CEO, literally the day after taking a pregnancy test. Then [I] followed a three-month interview process, as you would expect for a senior role. And throughout the process, I kept thinking, I’m going to drop out. And my husband kept pushing me to say, no, you’ve got to keep going. And I was offered the role and I was just at the end of the first trimester. I had a three-month non-compete, so I knew that I would start six months pregnant, which is an interesting way to start. But, as my husband put it to me, if not you, then who? You got to have the courage to do this, if for no other reason [than] to give the confidence to other women that it’s OK and they can do it, too.

Tanya: If it makes you feel any better, I started a new job, moved across country, nine months pregnant because the job search took forever for them to finalize. And I walked in as a huge human being who then went on bed rest two weeks later. So, the life of us women, right?

How do you look at this issue of—if you like to call it work-life balance, if you like to call it work-life blend—but this back and forth between what we have going on at home and what we have going on in our careers.

Céline: My husband is the CEO of a software company, so we have a dual-career family and we have two children who are quite young. My daughter’s four and my son’s two and a half. My view on things is life is a marathon, not a sprint. You can’t have it all every day, but over the course of the lifetime, you can have it all. And you need to recognize different time periods in your life and different times in the day or the month for what they are. My husband and I were married without children for a while and had a wonderful time with a lot of flexibility just for the two of us. Now we have children and there’s less time. I recognize there’s certainly less time for me, and my time is more divided between my work and my children. But that’s OK. And that’s a period of life, and then there’ll be another period of life.

Also, as a senior executive, there are periods of the year that are busier, if it’s quarterly earnings. There are periods that are calmer. And you need to just take advantage of those different periods of time to spend more time at work or spend more time with your family. And I have little tricks. For instance, one of the things I hate is having to travel to Asia because I have to leave for over a week and that’s one thing that’s really hard for me. But if I do that, I’ll schedule a week of vacation right after so that I fill up on my little munchkins right after not having been with them.

Tanya: We were talking about the confidence gap a little bit earlier between men and women—men willing to go for the job and women questioning whether they’re qualified. And I wonder if you have issues with the question that I just asked you about work-life balance, because I always feel strange asking it of women, because we don’t generally ask it of men.

Céline: You’re hitting on a great point. I don’t love talking about it because no one would ask my male counterparts, but on the other side, I recognize that it is something that, as a woman in the workforce and having children, you are trying to always figure out. I will tell you, still today I was on business travel and meeting with a new person I hadn’t met before who knew that I had children and the first thing they asked me was, if you’re here, who's with your children?

I'm pretty sure that’s not something that my male counterparts got a question on.

Tanya: Yes, pretty sure. Do you tell them, there’s this person at the Handy Mart down the road that I just left them with or something?

Céline: I told them they were four and two-and-a-half, so they were good on their own.

Tanya: Great. You’ve been in the industry for a while now. How have you seen the issue of gender equity change over the time that you’ve been working?

Céline: It’s changed a lot. The conversation now is very prevalent. Organizations are making genuine efforts to make a change. Certainly, we’ve seen it as it pertains to boards, which is critical, because obviously that has an impact on what the senior leadership composition of organizations is. I do think that we are making progress and I do see steps in the right direction across our industry.

Tanya: How can organizations embed inclusion and diversity into their business efforts rather than making them what some might call an add-on or a nice-to-have element?

Céline: To me, it’s simply a business imperative. If talent is core to what you do as an organization, which is true for all organizations, then you need the best talent. And by definition, if you fish from a broader pond, you will get better talent. Also, the visible commitment of senior leaders is critical. You’re not going to change an organization without that, and so it’s incumbent upon all of us to really lead.

Tanya: You talk about the senior leadership, and I’m wondering how the kinds of positions that women pursue or are considered for affect their path to the C-suite. Have you seen that evolve?

Céline: It’s a real challenge. It starts with education and the types of programs that women graduate from. We need more women in STEM. We need more women to pursue scientific careers and also to pursue finance careers. Historically, we’ve done a really poor job of encouraging that sufficiently. I can tell you my own story. I’ll give you one example, but there are many along the way. My high school math teacher, who was a woman, when I told her I was going to apply to the most competitive math program in France, her answer to me was, “But you’ll have to work so hard you won’t even have time to wash your hair.” I'm pretty sure she didn’t say that to my male counterparts. It’s these little cuts along the way that end up shaking our confidence in our ability to go and pursue these careers and pursue this type of education. In the workplace, women take support roles and they need to be in strategic and revenue-generating functions. When you’re looking for a C-suite executive, you are going to expect that experience, for good reasons, right? And so, women need to give themselves those experiences so that they are prepared as well when those opportunities come up.

Tanya: Going back to women going into STEM or math and finance. What do you think is the solution for that so that we have more women going into the field and they’re not being told you’re not going to have time to wash your hair?

Céline: It certainly starts in the school setting, right? That our teachers and our people who educate the next generation are encouraging these young women to pursue some of these opportunities. But there’s also a role that employers can play, reaching out into universities and helping with programs and engagement with that population. I’ll give you an example. At T. Rowe Price we have a stock-pitch teach-in essentially for women MBA students to encourage them to build the confidence to then, in the interview process, pitch stocks.

Tanya: And that’s that confidence gap thing at work, trying to close that. What do you hope the conversation around gender equity in financial services is going to look like in, say, 10 or 20 years from now?

Céline: We don’t have it anymore. We’ll only be done when we’re just not having it anymore. As a parent, one of the reasons that this is so important to me is I have a son and a daughter. And they are equally talented. And I want a world in which both of them will have access to the exact same opportunities.

Tanya: Céline, thank you so much for your time today. It’s been a great conversation. Really happy to have you with us.

Céline: Thank you so much for having me.

Tanya: Céline Dufétel is the chief finance officer of T. Rowe Price. She’s one of several women in leadership roles in the financial services industry that we’re talking with on the show. You can find more of the interviews on our website, deloitte.com/insights. You’ll also find reports and videos and all kinds of resources.

The Press Room is available wherever you get your podcasts. We’re also online at Deloitte.com/insights and on Twitter at @deloitteinsight (no S). I’m on Twitter at @tanyaott1 (spell out). I am Tanya Ott and we’ll be back here again in two weeks.

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