Winning on Wall Street: An Interview with Anita Warner
JANET: Anita, you retired from a successful dynamic career on Wall Street. I’d like to discuss your tactics for survival in a field so dominated by men. Most of the six million people around the world who already have learned the TM technique wouldn’t be considered the “alternative lifestyle type” but, in fact, are mainstream: educators, business people, politicians, celebrities, athletes, scientists, doctors, and so on. You held a high profile job in the world of finance and yet meditation fit right into your lifestyle and even enhanced it. So let’s start at the beginning–how did you hear about TM and when did you learn?
ANITA: At the time, I was living in Pennsylvania and my friend recommended it to me. At first I thought it would be difficult because I had tried meditating in a yoga class. But then she said that what she was doing was quite easy and that is how I decided to learn TM. I had been working with special education students and was very tired and drained from work, and when I learned TM and then would come home to meditate after work I found myself completely rejuvenated. I liked it. And I started noticing in my day to day life that I feel better, more alert and balanced—everything that the research on TM states that you’ll experience.
JANET: How did you get into the field of finance and was it unusual for women to take on that profession at that time?
I had moved to San Francisco and started in the brokerage industry there. I started as a sales assistant in 1976 with Merrill Lynch. Fortunately for me—and possibly this affected my employment—at the time I entered the field, one of the big Wall Street firms was just settling a large scale lawsuit for discriminating against women. Up until that time, women in finance predominately only held support staff positions. A woman had to have a lot of poise and self-esteem to even consider merging into this field. I didn’t know it at the time, but Transcendental Meditation actually increases self-esteem and self-actualization which must have given me a good foundation for beginning this career smoothly.
JANET: What was it like to be a woman in a strongly predominantly male business; how were you treated by clients, youir bosses, and your male peers.
ANITA: I think it had its pros and cons. At Merrill Lynch, I started in a support position, but I began every morning with TM before heading out to Wall Street, and it gave me unending energy and focus. Within two years, I became an Institutional Fixed Income sales professional and, ultimately, I earned the title of Vice President.
A VP in this division had the responsibilities of handling major clients. Even though there were few women at the time, I found I was personally capable of hard work and of going the extra mile. There is no question that my Transcendental Meditation practice enhanced leadership performance qualities in me.
My successful job performance earned me the support of clients and management and enabled me to move me forward. In spite of the trend in the industry to have a more diversified workforce, which created more opportunity for minorities, including women, the field itself was extremely competitive and women had to work that much harder to be successful in the field. This proved to have positive results with clients because they were the beneficiaries of women working harder to prove themselves. The reward to me was that I had a very long and successful career, almost 20 years, and had many large and very loyal clients.
JANET: It is interesting to note that studies published in publications such as the Academy of Management Journal and Career Development International showed that TM improves job performance, job effectiveness, relationships with co-workers and supervisors, and decreased anxiety and tension on the job. At the time of the apex of your career, what percentage of similar jobs in the industry were held by women?
ANITA: Unfortunately, it was only about 20% and I am not sure it is much different today. Women have been found to take in stress more than men do, so the job can seem less tolerable to them then to men if the women don’t find an effective means to build resistance to stress and a way to dissolve it. Also, women tend to be the caretakers at home of children and elderly parents and then find it hard to re-enter the workplace. In my experience, TM was effective in helping one through these kinds of challenges.
JANET: What was the quality of life like for your peers who had to withstand the same pressures as you did but who hadn’t learned TM?
ANITA: I worked in the Bond Sales and Trading Department. The set-up of the workplace was an open trading floor with about 300 people in one large room transacting hundreds of different transactions a day. The environment was supercharged, loud and chaotic. Hundreds of millions of dollars of trades were transacted in minutes and the pressure that went along with this was intense. In order to be able to compete competently in this atmosphere, it was necessary to remain calm and yet totally alert in the midst of havoc. There were no breaks for lunch and hardly time to go to the bathroom. Working in this type of environment day in and day out for 10 hours a day had its effect on the participants. Many at the time were involved in recreational drug use and high alcohol abuse was commonplace. Resorting to these kinds of unhealthy behaviors snowballed because their minds and health could deteriorate as a result. A lot of drug or alcohol use could prove deleterious to ones career because it was necessary that one stay completely engaged in what was happening in the marketplace at all times—that was essential to one’s success.
JANET: It must have been uncomfortable to witness people around you turning to these kinds of support that ultimately made them less healthy. Meanwhile, you never entered into that lifestyle because you didn’t feel the need. Can you explain personally and more specifically what benefits of TM practice contributed to your work life being effective, successful, and cutting edge?
ANITA: I had already been doing the TM technique for a while when I entered the field so had already started to accumulate a good foundation in myself of calm and clarity. And I think this gave me the confidence to compete in a very competitive field. I believed in myself and was not shy about navigating uncharted waters for women. I also was able to remain collected and focused in the midst of the chaos and the pressure of the work environment, and operated effectively and efficiently without losing my composure, even while the intensity of the work was causing others around me to be very stressed.
Meditating before work gave me the energy to handle the job. And then meditating again at the end of the business day, before going out for the evening—which I oftentimes had to do to entertain clients—was a way to decompress from the pressure naturally, without drugs and alcohol. Being in sales, you have to come across well. I found that my positive attitude and ability to harmoniously interface between my clients and my firm contributed enormously to my success. I also cultivated very good relationships with coworkers which helped to facilitate what I was trying to accomplish on behalf of my clients and added to my ability to succeed.
JANET: If you could give advice to a woman just starting out now in a similar career, or someone already established in her career but who is concerned about stress or lack of focus or success, what would you say to her?
ANITA: Be kind to yourself and take the Transcendental Meditation course. It pays for itself over and over in every way imaginable. You’ll never regret it.
About the Author
Janet Hoffman is the executive director of TM for Women Professionals in the USA.