Fierce Female Leader Spotlight: Sarah Casey – Managing Principal, Chicago

Mar 23, 2022   |   By Anuja Agnihotri

Highlighting female leaders at SEI to commemorate Women’s History Month

To commemorate Women’s History Month, SEI is highlighting some of our talented and fierce female leaders. In our most recent female leader spotlight, we spoke to Sarah Casey — Managing Principal at the SEI Chicago branch — to gain insight into the challenges facing women in the workplace and why SEI is different from companies she’d worked for in the past. Here’s what she had to say.

1. When you started your career, did you face challenges to grow and reach your potential? How did you get rid of these barriers?

Early in my career, I found myself constantly evaluating what I was passionate about, and what I was good at, and trying to find ways to make them align. I’m lucky to have found my way, mostly in building and coaching sales teams.

I remember specific moments of being surprised at some of the encounters I had with former leaders and managers at my previous companies, and in the companies I was trying to partner with. Some of the organizations published exactly what type of pants women could and could not wear in the workplace, but had no mention of restrictions for men (and zero mention at all for those that identify as non-binary). There were times when I was told by managers, with all the best intentions, that the women on our team should not fly wearing skirts or dresses, for safety reasons. And I have plenty of other similar anecdotes of off-color comments I heard while at large conferences around the US. 

These instances were a part of what helped me to shape the type of professional I was going to be. They encouraged me to do my best to learn from the mistakes I made, and the ones I will make, and to try my best to remember my “a-ha” moments. The moments where I may have been a part of a conversation with a colleague, chatting with a manager or listening to a podcast (the podcasts came later) and something clicked for me… a moment I knew I had learned something right then — like a spark, and I carry it with me. Those are the best moments and they still happen all the time. 

I have learned that resiliency is a requirement to achieving growth of any kind. I try to lead with empathy in difficult conversations and situations. I have an ever-present goal of becoming more patient – admittedly, one of my biggest challenges. I have learned that I have a responsibility to speak up when I see opportunities to create positive change and to take ownership of my own missteps.

2. Tell us about an experience at SEI when you felt like SEI was different from other companies?

There was not one individual experience that flipped a switch leading me to the conclusion that SEI is different. Rather, a collection of observations and moments that confirm that SEI was the right company for me. I joined because I liked what I heard from each person in my gauntlet and there is a big part of me that just likes a challenge, and the early days of helping to build the Chicago office was certainly a big one. 

I spent my first few months traveling to other markets to get to know their leadership teams and consultants. I am constantly in awe of the caliber of our team members. In interviews, I talk often about how “flat-organization” can be a buzzword, but SEI stands behind it. Everyone has access to MDs, to Bill and to one another. The culture of collaboration is real. From day one, I was able to reach out to anyone in any market and was received with genuine kindness and a desire to support me. 

Ideas for internal initiatives are common and team members are encouraged to try them out – some are now part of how our offices operate. The value SEI places on its transparent and inclusive culture is what stood out to me early on and continues to be one of the reasons I am proud to be a part of this organization.

3. How can men contribute more to women’s empowerment at SEI?

Women’s empowerment is not just about men’s contributions. The collective efforts of our teams are what brings growth and change. My ask of our teams is that they continue the conversations and efforts related to creating a diverse and inclusive environment at SEI. Refer people in your network to SEI and tell your story. 

My story is that I have seen an increase in female consultants join in our markets and in leadership. I am purposeful in sharing how we understand the value in having a diverse team of consultants and that we believe that we can better support our clients because of the perspectives our teams bring. I am proud to be a part of a company that continually evaluates how we can improve and takes action to do it. 

4. What excites you about SEI’s focus on DE&I in the future?

The focus SEI has put on DE&I initiatives is another way to enhance our culture. I know that the National DE&I Committee and local LOC Champions are guiding us to continue to learn from one another and to evolve as an organization. I have seen female presence in Leadership significantly grow, and in the last 18 months, 8 of our 10 hires in SEI Chicago have been female.  I’m proud to work for a firm that recognizes that we need to make intentional efforts to diversify our teams, and that we’re better for it. 

I’m excited to continue initiatives already in place, like DINE, “Did you know…” postings on DE&I channels, book clubs and ways to celebrate the history and backgrounds of one another.  I’m grateful to be part of a company that understands the value of DE&I and actively seeks out ways to make SEI a place where any and all people have a place to feel that they are valued and have a voice.

5. Is there any advice you would give your younger self or somebody else you want to share your knowledge with?

Sure.  Here are a few things I think would be helpful… I hope.

  1. Practice.  Practice anything you care about accomplishing. Especially if you’re good at it. 
  2. Jump on the bomb. If you make a mistake, own it, and fast. You’ll be shocked how taking accountability lessens poor repercussions.
  3. People can change. You’ll go back and forth on this theory for a long time, but they can and they will. Have faith in them.
  4. Offer to help. Volunteer in your community, help your friend move, be the shoulder to cry on. You’ll learn from the experience just as much as they will.
  5. If a Backstreet Boys song comes on, wherever you are – you gotta dance.

At SEI, we are honored to have so many talented female leaders driving the success of our organization and are committed to ensuring that their voices never go unheard. Keep an eye out for more female leader spotlights to come this month! 

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