Welcome to The FQuestionnaire, where women in our community share perspectives on their life, career, and how they advance equality in the industries they work in. Today, we’re putting a spotlight on Sam Saperstein, Managing Director and Head of Women on the Move at JPMorgan Chase. Women on the Move is a global initiative that supports women-run businesses, provides tools and education to help women increase their financial health and independence, and offers resources that empower women to excel in their careers. In its efforts to address the issues women have in raising capital and having an equal shot at creating a business, Women on the Move recently partnered with global accelerator and investor Techstars to launch a series of pre-accelerators. Cohorts of women founders in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. tapped into insights on creating and furthering their business plans, raising money, and launching. JPMorgan has also invested $80 million into a fund with Techstars with a goal to create similar ecosystems around the country to help diverse founders. Here’s what the MD had to say about the value of sponsorship, the question she wishes people would start asking working women, and more.
The Female Quotient: What are the three most important character traits in modern leadership?
Sam Saperstein: Number one is being a continuously curious and active learner, because things are constantly changing and you have to always up your skill set — even as a leader. Second, you have to develop an innovation and growth mindset – one that anticipates disruption, seeks out new ideas on the horizon, and taps the whole team to foster the best ideas from everyone. And third is being both a player and a coach. A strong leader is someone who can really flex between setting a vision and getting down in the trenches with the team as needed.
FQ: What is the worst advice you received from someone in your career and how would you re reframe it to someone today?
SS: What comes to mind isn’t the worst advice I’ve ever received, but the worst thing I ever heard from a manager. More than a decade ago, I had a manager who took steps to dismantle my team, and reallocate my budget and resources while I was on maternity leave. He didn’t inform me what he was doing; I’d heard from some of my team. I was hurt and confused, so I called him, asked what was driving the changes and why he hadn’t provided any feedback before taking action. His reply was, “It’s not my job to coach you.” I told him that coaching was actually one of his most important jobs. Coaching and training go hand in hand while supporting the growth of employees and are central to a manager’s job, in fact, they become more important as you are promoted. Not the worst advice, but definitely the worst management insight I can recall.
FQ: What is the one piece of advice you wish other women would have shared with you when you started your career?
SS: I wish people were more upfront about finding an early career sponsor. It’s so important to find that person who can help make sure you’re developing relationships with people who can really help you along the way, and who you can deepen relationships with and work together over time. I don’t think I did as much as I could have in terms of establishing stronger connections and maintaining networks with some important and strategic people early in my career. I wish I had been more aggressive in developing and maintaining those relationships earlier on in my career.
FQ: Name a woman whose sponsorship has had a positive impact on your career, and what made their approach unique and memorable.
SS: Eileen Serra, a former JPMorgan Chase executive, hired me into the company and really stands out. Eileen had such a wonderful leadership style. She was incredibly smart and worked really well with people and teams. She never tried to force her opinion or viewpoint on other people, but instead she gathered people’s views to really understand what they had to say – she wanted those inputs. She could be a player-coach and get right in there with her team, but then synthesize everything and focus on what was most important. She taught me a lot about managing people, building great products and a great product experience, and doing it all with humility.
FQ: What’s one career related question you wish people would stop asking women, and one that you wish they would start?
SS: I wish people would stop asking, “Who is taking care of your kids?” and start asking, “What is your highest ambition and how can I help you get there?” The latter telegraphs to women that they should be ambitious, and it indicates that the person asking the question recognizes that all women have a right to be ambitious.
FQ: Describe a moment in your career where you realized your potential. What sparked this eureka moment?
SS: Early in my consulting career, I was in a team-building session where a group of people had to build an airplane from a pile of cardboard, paper clips, and toilet paper rolls. The whole group – mostly men – went straight to the table and started tinkering with the materials except for me. I took a step back and watched. I approached the project in a different way, thinking about what materials we had, how we might organize ourselves, and if we should divide up into teams and evaluate everything before taking any concrete action. One of the members of the group who I’d never met before approached me afterwards. “That was so interesting that you took a step back to try to figure things out and see the bigger picture. No one else did that,” he said. That moment made me think that maybe I did have something unique to bring to the table, and I began to see myself in a different light.
FQ: What’s one strategy you have for boosting self-confidence during moments of doubt?
SS: I would probably boil it down to one word: practice. If I’m nervous about something, whether it’s a critical meeting presentation or a big public speaking event, the one thing I can do to overcome any fears or doubts I may be harboring is to practice, practice, practice. You want to practice to the point where the ideas are almost instinctual. Practicing intensely can also help with message recall even if you’re distracted in the middle of your presentation. You can never be too prepared.
FQ: What’s giving you optimism about equality and the future of work?
SS: I’m reminded of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Change takes time, but it does happen. And in a similar vein, I think this arc of gender equality is bending in the right direction. Claudia Goldin is a wonderful historian and Harvard economist who wrote a book called “Career and Family,” which tells the story of the last hundred years of women’s participation in the workforce in the United States. She breaks the century into five cohorts of women and analyzes their progression from having a job outside the home, to striving for careers and trying to balance that with also having families. We’ve seen progress even though it took some time to achieve, but we have to keep our foot on the pedal. There will always be challenges – big and small – but keeping a position of unwavering hope will continue to fuel the pursuit for equality.