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Influential voices: Susan Heck

Influential voices: Susan Heck

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Susan Heck got a master's in Italian literature, worked in the Peace Corps and is now a VP at Morgan Stanley.
Susan Heck got a master's in Italian literature, worked in the Peace Corps and is now a VP at Morgan Stanley.

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Published by: The Clayman Institute on Aug 15, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Susan Heck never planned a career in finance. With aPhD in international education from StanfordUniversity, Heck pursued careers in Italian literature,teaching and community activism. In reflecting on hernearly 30-year career in finance, Heck acknowledgesthere is more than one way to navigate a meaningfullife.
Early roads traveled
In the 1960s, inspired by travel abroad, Heck pursueda master’s degree in Italian literature. While she lovedthe field, she felt she was not cut out to work in whatshe perceived to be an all-male ivory tower. So sheheaded off to Washington, DC in a borrowed VW. Heck found work at the Experiment in InternationalLiving introducing foreign exchange students to the workings of US government. At night she tutoredinner city youth, and was drawn to helping young people advance through education.Wanting more practical teaching experience, Heck joined the Peace Corps in Africa. Assigned toEthiopia, she worked both in the classroom and at the Ministry of Education, co-editing the national
There is more than one way to lead a life
By Lauren Aguilar
on Friday, January 13, 2012 - 2:41pm 
The Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research is committed to empowering women’s voices and leadership on the Stanford campus and beyond. To promote this goal, the Clayman Institute is publishing profiles of our Advisory Council, women and men who have volunteered their time and energy to creating greater gender equality. Over the course of the year, student writers will interview council members-- representing many communities, including financial, legal, non-profit, and entrepreneurial. We hope these profiles will inspire, as well as begin a dialogue with our readers about what it takes to exercise voice and influence in the areas that matter to you. We will ask each of the council members to share their histories, paths to success, and career advice.
student magazine. On weekends and after hours, with three Ethiopian friends, she started the first publicrelations and advertising firm in the country. While abroad, Heck deepened her commitment to education.Upon returning to the US, Heck experienced the customary re-entry crisis: how to use her educationalexperience? Heck taught high school dropouts for a year while she searched for a program to deepen herunderstanding of the role of education in development and lead her back to Africa. Heck found what shewanted in a doctorate program in international education at Stanford University.During her graduate years at Stanford, Heck became acutely aware of gender inequalities. She sought tomake a positive change at Stanford and in the broader community. Together with three students and afaculty member, she founded Stanford’s Center for Research on Women. Today, called the ClaymanInstitute for Gender Research, it is one of the nation’s oldest organizations devoted to promoting genderequality through research and education.While completing her Ph.D., Heck met and married a fellow Stanford graduate student. Havingcompleted the first Ph.D. in evaluation research at the Education School, Heck abandoned her plans toreturn to Africa and focused on applied research outside the Academy. She and her husband moved toTexas where she conducted research at the two government educational research institutes in Austin.Heck established a research firm with an anthropologist to train Central and Latin American researchershow to incorporate qualitative techniques in their educational research.
A turning point
When it became time to leave Texas, Heck wanted a change. She enrolled at the University of TexasBusiness School in a “retread” program designed for Ph.Ds wanting to move from academia to theprivate sector. Heck, her husband and small daughter moved to Los Angeles where she looked for jobsin business. “I was told in interviews, we don’t hire PhDs – you think too much,” she remembers. In themiddle of the 1981 recession, she volunteered on local political campaigns while continuing to reinventherself professionally.Through her political work, she met with a leader in her community known to help advance women. Asthe second woman “broker” at the then Dean Witter, she was a pioneer in the field. She invited Heck to job-shadow for a day, at the end of which the firm offered her a job.Heck says laughing, “I had no idea what I was getting into. I didn’t even know the difference between astock and a bond.” Heck now understands the firm recognized her potential as a self-starter from herwork in Ethiopia, at the Institute, and at her own research firm. What mattered was her persistence in theface of obstacles and rejection. Despite initially feeling like a duck out of water, Heck became a verysuccessful Financial Advisor and in 2001 became First Vice President of Investments at MorganStanley.What did it take? Heck is clear it was not solely mastering the technical aspects of her job. “Yes, youneed analytical skills, but most of all you need to cultivate the ability to listen and communicate clearlywith people of all backgrounds, cultures and education levels.”

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