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Breaking the glass ceiling

Award winner shares principles she has followed in her career

Northern Trust’s Sabrina Bailey speaks at the Trailblazers Dinner last month.

Climbing the corporate ladder can be daunting, even more so for women in institutional investment management.

At an Oct. 26 event in Chicago, one executive offered a glimpse into her own path to the 250 guests gathered at the 2017 Women Investment Professionals' annual Trailblazers Dinner.

This year's winner of the Distinguished Woman Investment Professional award, Sabrina Bailey, global head of retirement solutions at Northern Trust Asset Management, described her life in three words: "I am human." That maxim easily encompasses attributes that have guided her, she said.

Curiosity is key to effective leadership, Ms. Bailey noted. "Be like the 3-year-old — without the temper tantrums." Learning the "whys" fuels a desire to find solutions, she explained.

Perseverance means sticking out an assignment even when it seems impossible, she said, recalling her first leadership position in which she was given a year to turn around a troubled division and show growth or have the unit shut down. (She succeeded.)

Humility is realizing that, "I don't have to know all the answers. "Embracing service "resets your outlook," whether it's helping Americans reach retirement success or taking a family trip last year with the non-profit The Bridge of Hope to an impoverished rural village in Sierra Leone to provide medical and educational help.

And, finally, attitude — " the only thing you can choose."

Maintaining a positive attitude isn't always easy, especially when hearing comments like: "Women's voices should be soft," she said. "Don't get me wrong, it's hurtful."

In a subsequent interview with Pensions & Investments, Ms. Bailey said daily reflection allows her to mentally hit the reset button. That helps her face the next day focused on opportunities.

"If you remember one thing, it is I am human," she told the guests at the University Club of Chicago. "You are, too."