Sallie Krawcheck: I was told to 'sit down and shut up'

Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg | Getty Images

It's been a rougher-than-usual several months for women speaking in public.

At an Uber board meeting last week, Arianna Huffington was interrupted — while talking about how to attract more women to join the beleaguered company's board — so that fellow board member David Bonderman could crack wise about women talking too much.

During dogged questioning of Attorney General Jeff Sessions at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Sen. Kamala Harris was twice interrupted by male colleagues and urged to extend Sessions greater "courtesy." On a CNN panel recapping the hearing, former Trump adviser Jason Miller described Harris as "hysterical."

It's behavior that's all-too-familiar to professional women, including former CEO of Merrill Lynch's global wealth management division and founder of Ellevest, Sallie Krawcheck.

J.P. Morgan female exec says quotas are bad for women in business

"I've been there: At Citi, I was literally told to 'sit down and shut up' when I was fighting to reimburse client funds for losses on high-risk products — that we had mistakenly sold as low-risk — in the downturn of 2008," Krawcheck writes in a post published on LinkedIn today. "I was literally told those words: 'Sit down and shut up.'"

It's a quandary that Krawcheck says she is often asked to address: How can women raise their voices loud enough to have their contributions to predominantly male professional environments acknowledged without being deemed hysterical?

"In almost every women's group I speak to, the questions of 'How can I be heard at work?' or 'How did you manage to be heard in a male environment?' are asked," she writes. "Being heard is, after all, a key precondition for being recognized at work, for getting that raise, for moving ahead, for getting promoted."

Krawcheck says that to overcome this dynamic in her own career, she focused on being "the one with the numbers," inferring that if leadership grew accustomed to hearing her deliver data in meetings, they'd be more open to eventually hearing her opinions as well. And when she was interrupted, she'd use humor to reorient the dialogue.

But she admits this strategy was less than 100 percent effective and was largely dependent on a supportive boss.

Being heard is, after all, a key precondition for being recognized at work.
Sallie Krawcheck
founder, Ellevest

"In one of my 360-degree performance reviews," she writes, "I was told I was both too aggressive and not assertive enough — that 'my voice' was both too loud and not loud enough. (So much for the advice to 'speak up more loudly.') When I asked my boss how to interpret this and to help me to navigate through it, he told me it was up to me to figure it out."

Krawcheck writes that ultimately, her solution was to start a business where she could empower woman and have her success determined by the market, "rather than it being the partial result of navigating this type of minefield."

Changing the way women are received in predominantly male work environments, she writes, starts with acknowledging what's truly at stake for the parties involved.

"At its root," Krawcheck writes, "we should recognize that this tug-of-war over who is shushing and who is talking is all about power."

Don't miss: Twitter VP explains how to handle "mansplaining" at the office

2 things you can do to get ahead — without looking overly ambitious