Sheila Bair’s Rules of the Road

December 24, 2013


Sheila Bair may not be a household name, but her work impacted millions of households in the United States and around the world. As the head of the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Chairman Bair played a critical role in addressing the 2008 financial crisis and was twice named the second most powerful women in the world by Forbes Magazine.

Chairman Bair shared her experiences and advice with GIC members and friends at the inaugural women’s conference on Nov. 13 at the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank. At this conference, she laid out five rules of the road for the mostly female audience.

1. Never get emotional.
Bair explored this age-old adage by relaying a story about her interactions with an editor from the Wall Street Journal. While through her story she illustrated the importance of standing up for yourself, she also emphasized that emotion diminished her ability to advocate for a policy effectively.

“We feel things, and I don’t think that’s something women should be embarrassed about. But in a business context, it can make you … less respected,” Bair said.

2. Always support each other’s right to be heard.
It can be tough out there. Bair stated that – to the general agreement of the audience – she had often been in rooms where a woman’s idea or opinion is ignored only to be repeated by a man and then well received.

Bair argued, “We aren’t always going to agree with each other, and we shouldn’t feel like we always have to agree with each other. But we should always, at least, support each other’s right to be heard.”

3. Don’t be in the game for credit, but also claim credit where credit is due.
Bair’s experience in policymaking can be applied across a number of fields. While it’s important to protect your name and reputation, it’s also important to achieve your goals. Get out there an advocate for the policy or plan you believe in, and change the outcome.

“If you don’t take a position … then you really are just playing for credit … you’re not playing for the end result,” Bair said.

4. Align with dads.
In the worlds of finance and government, high-ranking female mentors may be hard to come by. And while the gender balance has shifted since Chairman Bair was a young staffer in the U.S. Senate, this piece of advice holds true: Dads of daughters can be a woman’s strongest ally.

“Dads of daughters … have greater sensitivity to women and their potential, aspirations and their right to compete on an equal footing,” Bair explained.

5. Don’t let anyone photograph your neck.
This light-hearted rule touches on an often-discussed topic in politics and finance today: Appearance plays a factor.

“It’s really about how form can overtake substance,” Bair said.


Chairman Bair served as the afternoon keynote speaker at “Women and Risk: Myth or Market Opportunity?” on Nov. 13. To see Chairman Bair’s presentation in full, please visit

Leave a Reply