Ever experience that nagging voice in your head? I don’t deserve… I’m not worthy… I’m a fraud… It’s called Impostor Syndrome. Today we will talk with Ann Miletti, Head of Active Equity at Wells Fargo Asset Management (WFAM), about her career and how she came to view Impostor Syndrome—not uncommon among professional women—as her competitive advantage.

 

Ann Miletti: People should just recognize in our business and in other businesses that likely the feelings that they’re having other people are having, as well, and really try to create a support system for yourself and for others around you to try and make them successful.

Laurie King: That’s Ann Miletti.  I’m Laurie King, and you are listening to On the Trading Desk®.

This episode is for the high achievers in finance who, thanks to that nagging voice in their heads, have doubted themselves. Thinking things like, “I don’t deserve this title, role, promotion, seat at the table…” You can fill in the blank. It’s called the Impostor Syndrome, and it’s pretty common, even among leaders—especially among leaders. Men and women.

That’s why today we’re speaking with Ann Miletti, Head of Active Equity at Wells Fargo Asset Management (WFAM), and no stranger to the Impostor Syndrome. Over the course of her 30-year career, which began in a mutual fund call center, Ann has learned to embrace her inner impostor and even see it as her competitive advantage. Welcome to the program, Ann.

Ann: Thanks for having me, Laurie.

Laurie: We’re here to chat about the Impostor Syndrome. What does that term mean to you?

Ann: Well, it really means to me feeling like you don’t really belong. In a way, feeling like you’re acting the part, but you really don’t know what you’re doing.

Laurie: Well, can you tell us more about your non-traditional career path and maybe that is a way to talk about how you encountered Impostor Syndrome along the way?

Ann: Sure, I’m happy to. I actually started my journey in quite a different way than a lot of people in our industry.

I actually graduated from college with a teaching degree and planned on being an elementary school teacher. But my husband and I had a baby born with a heart defect, and it was a pretty severe one. And he had to have surgery within four days of his birth. And so it was a pretty critical time, and he was in the ICU, and we weren’t really sure if he was going to make it or not in those first few weeks.

But coming out of it, I had to change careers. We had a lot of medical bills, but I couldn’t work during the day if my husband was working during the day. So that led me to look for new opportunities. And I started in the call center at a financial firm and then over time, moved into different positions. Moved into being an assistant for a portfolio manager, and then an analyst, and then over time, a portfolio manager, until now where I head up all of our active equity teams.

But all along the way there, I had that nagging feeling like I was just faking it, that I didn’t really know what I was doing, that I really shouldn’t be in that position. And I think what kept me there in the beginning was that 1) I really, really needed the job, and 2) what I learned in those early days of my son being really ill was you just have to take things day by day—and sometimes hour by hour—and really just push yourself to focus on what’s in front of you and getting through that and not thinking too far ahead.

Laurie: So you flipped the script on the Impostor Syndrome, so to speak. How exactly did you view it as your competitive advantage?

Ann: Well, I’m not sure that I ever really saw it as a competitive advantage, but I did see some differences in what I could do versus what other people did.

I noticed that a lot of my peers focused on the financials and their very strong financial background, which honestly, in the beginning, I was very jealous of. I had to work very hard to figure how to manipulate spreadsheets and cash flow statements and balance sheets.

But one thing that I found that I was pretty good at was talking to people and asking questions about their businesses and really understanding, when I sat down with the management team, where they were trying to go and why and having those conversations. So it’s more that qualitative aspect of investing that seemed to be easier for me.

And what I understood is in some ways I came from a different and more unique background than some of my peers, and I learned that maybe I didn’t have the same strengths, but my gut or my qualitative side for this business sometimes was stronger than others. And when paired up with people that were really good on the quantitative side, it was really pretty powerful.

Laurie: Well, I like how you just said “paired up.” And I suppose you also had some mentors along the way that helped.

Ann: Very much so. I had mentors who really pushed me and saw things in me that I didn’t see in myself.

So when I said I kind of felt like I didn’t deserve the part, I actually said that at times when I got a promotion. I had a mentor who told me, hey, I’m going to make you an analyst or I’m going to make you a senior analyst. And I would say I’m not sure I want that position.

And I really would guard anyone today against saying that. I would really go back and think about it, but maybe accept the position. And if it’s a place you want to be and if it’s a job you really love, I would accept the position and just do it. It’s likely that other people do believe in you. He believed in me. And he saw things in me that I didn’t see myself and those are the types of mentors that were really, really helpful to me.

And I had teammates, as well—not just superiors, but teammates—who had different strengths than I did and they were complementary. And I also recognized that very early on when working as part of a team.

Laurie: So do you still experience feelings of Impostor Syndrome? And how do you get over it?

Ann: You know, I do, and I think it’s something that is hard for some people to admit. In fact, Laurie, I would say that I didn’t talk about these things for many years, probably the first 15 years of my career. It’s something I was afraid to talk about out loud, and I think, in some ways, that’s why they call it the Impostor Syndrome. It’s a feeling that so many people have that don’t often express.

So it’s not something that I talked about out loud, but I recognize as a leader and manager of other people that the more that you talk about your own experiences and share that with others, the more power that it brings both to yourself, but also to other people who experience the same things.

But I do experience it today. I am challenged in my role to try new things, to do new things, to achieve things that I’ve never done before, and that same voice creeps in my head, and I just go back to my very early days in this business where I don’t try to think too far ahead or plan too far ahead, but just tackle what’s in front of me and take it minute by minute, hour by hour.

Laurie: You were an advocate for more women in financial fields. What would you say to other women considering a career in finance but who might be telling themselves that they don’t belong?

Ann: I wish that they would give it a try. And I understand that it’s hard to feel like you don’t belong when you don’t see a lot of role models. But that’s one thing we really do need to change and there are some great mentors in our business.

We’re trying to provide more in our own organization, females and other diverse mentors, to help people from the outside see that this is a profession that is great for so many people.

It’s also a profession—in fact, I just heard somebody else talking about this recently—many people get out of college, and I would say this applies especially to younger women, they come out and they want to be in positions where they help people, and they don’t see finance or asset management as one of those fields. And I find that so surprising because our business does so much to help people. We actually try to work to help finance people’s education, their retirement, their futures. And we do things for the community.

Laurie: So it’s a really purposeful career, is what you’re saying?

Ann: It really is, and I don’t think we as an industry do a great job of articulating those points or of showing that to the outside world. It’s all about money and greed, and that’s often how it’s portrayed in the movies or even on the news.

Laurie: So going even broader, how can the financial services industry as a whole benefit from cultivating a culture of openness and vulnerability when it comes to things like Impostor Syndrome?

Ann: Well, I think it is really showing people that it does exist and hopefully having people with some experience who may still suffer from it—people like myself—talk about it more. And so when you have young people in their careers feeling like they don’t belong and really having that feeling of wanting to quit and give up—and I can tell you, I had so many times where I wanted to quit and give up—but if we can talk about that more and make people recognize that they’re not alone, it can actually help bring and foster more success.

Laurie: Wow, I’m really surprised to hear you say you contemplated quitting. I kind of thought of the Impostor Syndrome as, well, I’ll just stay a research assistant forever rather than take on the next, but to actually feel like maybe quitting because you didn’t belong? That’s a pretty powerful statement.

Ann: Yeah, more than once, Laurie. More than once.

Laurie: Well, as we wrap up this episode, do you have any final thoughts to leave our listeners?

Ann: I would just say that people should just recognize in our business and in other businesses that likely the feelings that they’re having other people are having, as well, and really try to create a support system for yourself and for others around you to try and make them successful.

I always believed that my success wasn’t independent, wasn’t built alone. It really was built with a lot of people around me and a lot of people that wanted to see me successful. And in return, I want to give that to other people. And we can be more a successful company. We certainly can provide more to our clients if we all support each other more.

Laurie: Well, thank you for that, Ann. It’s really been a pleasure talking with you.

Ann: Thanks, Laurie.

Laurie: For our listeners, if you’d like to learn more about asset management, whether to learn more about careers, investing, or what may be happening in the markets, go to wellsfargoassetmanagement.com.

To stay connected to On the Trading Desk and listen to past and future episodes of this program, you may subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Overcast, or Google Podcasts. Until next time, I’m Laurie King; take care.

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