February 2018

Hold Fast to Your Integrity 

By Zonnie Breckinridge of Fenimore, Kay, Harrison & Ford, LLP, in Austin, TX

There were many pearls of wisdom in the previous PWR blog posts; little to add to the ways we women can find fulfillment in our careers while juggling the many other roles we so often have to assume. If I were to offer one additional insight from my 39 years as a lawyer serving the banking industry, it would be to keep your integrity at the forefront of your professional life. One might say, that goes without saying. But, what does it really mean to be a working woman of integrity? For me, it is to remain loyal to my core values despite the work-place culture, pressure from bosses, colleagues and even clients (however subtle) and events that pull us away from what we truly value. It means, quite simply, not making the ethical compromises too often required in business.

My favorite example of a woman who held fast to her values at work is Sallie Krawcheck, who in 2008, was chief executive officer of the Global Wealth Management division at Citigroup. Like most other money-center banks, Citigroup sold clients investments that lost most of their value in the market downturn at that time. Ms. Krawcheck believed that Citigroup should offer its clients partial refunds. Her position, however, was at odds with that of her boss and the rest of the management team. This led to a lengthy debate that ultimately resulted in Ms. Krawcheck’s dismissal from the company. Ms. Krawcheck subsequently held other executive positions on Wall Street and went on to purchase 85 Broads, a large, successful women’s professional global networking group, which she rebranded the Ellevate Network.

Our integrity hinges on our ethical behavior at work. Honesty, fairness and how we relate to our customers, clients and fellow employees are the methods by which we hold fast to our values. We must take responsibility for our actions (not blame others), “say something if we see something” that is not right, treat people with respect, keep our promises and avoid decisions made solely for our personal gain. Our ethical choices are not always easy or even black and white. Making the right decision may require a good bit of reflection and discernment. And, it might very well cost us something (that raise or promotion or even our job). But I know from experience that we will never regret making ethics a priority in the choices we make at work. Succumbing to the pressure to compromise our integrity might save our job or guaranty that bonus, but over the long term, it will surely come back to haunt us, one way or another.