April 7th, 2014 | 6:00 am

Voice of Experience: Edith Cooper, Executive Vice President and Global Head of Human Capital Management, Goldman Sachs

filed under Voices of Experience

cooper_edith_gsBy Michelle Hendelman

For the last six years, Edith Cooper has been the Global Head of Human Capital Management at Goldman Sachs. In other words, she is responsible for the well-being, development and promotion of Goldman’s 32,000 employees worldwide. While this is no small task, Cooper loves the people-centric aspect of her role. “Our people are our number one asset,” said Cooper.

She continued, “This is a dynamic business and our priorities evolve alongside the markets. As a result, there is an increased focus on managing people, leading people, and leveraging the diverse set of experiences that our people bring to the table.”

The Dynamic Space of Human Capital Management
Cooper’s role at Goldman Sachs has also evolved over the last 17 years as she has transitioned from sales and trading into managing clients and people. According to Cooper, the last five years have been especially challenging, however, new opportunities to serve clients continue to emerge. She noted, “as markets and organizations continue to expand and globalize, we now more than ever must pay attention to and respond to global trends.”

“Clients need us to have 24/7 awareness of market drivers and opportunities in order to facilitate growth, and part of my role is to ensure that our people are well positioned to add that value to our clients,” Cooper added. She explained how important it is to attract people to the organization who are not only individually excellent, but also embrace the fact that delivering client satisfaction is very much a collaborative effort.

According to Cooper, technology is changing the human capital management space in a number of ways including by enhancing and expanding recruiting efforts. “The connectivity is constant,” noted Cooper, “and our reach is global due to online tools and advancing technologies.” This is elevated by the fact that the Millennials who are beginning to fill the halls at Goldman Sachs have been raised around technology, and incorporate it into everything that they do.

“The challenge used to be in gathering information, but now that so much more information is easily accessible, the opportunity to add value is by connecting information and leveraging it strategically,” said Cooper.

Expanding the Dialogue of Women’s Career Advancement
Cooper acknowledged that there has been significant progress for women in the workplace, but that there is more work to be done. “In order to be successful, an organization must ensure that there is diversity at every level,” she explained. According to Cooper, the ongoing conversations around professional women encourage people to broaden their perspective and expand the dialogue.

For Cooper, a great source of pride comes from the fact that she has had the opportunity to grow her career at Goldman Sachs while also maintaining a great home life. She attributes this to the fact that her support system –both at work and at home –has been strong and steady. While this has worked for her, she encourages women to determine their own degree of work-life balance by recognizing that there are multiple paths to take and choices to make throughout the length of your career.

“Women who believe that they can go out and be excellent at every single thing on a daily basis are likely setting themselves up to fail. You must pick your spots and create your own definition of success,” added Cooper.

Professional growth is not accidental, said Cooper. “It may seem that way as you reflect back on your career, but it is necessary to consider all of the hard work you put in and the challenges you faced and overcame in order to understand how you arrived to where you are today,” she noted.

Cooper continued, “You also have to acknowledge your company’s investment in you professionally and personally because you cannot do it all alone.”

Advice for Professional Women
“Be comfortable being uncomfortable,” advised Cooper. It’s in those moments where you stretch yourself and push the limits of your comfort zone that you will experience true growth, said Cooper. This is something she experienced firsthand when she accepted an assignment to work in London for two years.

“Stepping outside of my personal comfort zone allowed me to acquire the skills and knowledge required to manage people in a global organization,” said Cooper. “Without that international experience,” she added, “my work today might not have been possible.”

Cooper also emphasized the importance of being responsive to change as well as being resilient. “Take advantage of the opportunities to learn and grow and know that how you react during the difficult times will impact your career more than how you respond when everything is going smoothly,” noted Cooper.

Cooper encourages young women to speak up and share their point of view, even when it is challenging. “It is okay if you don’t know everything. You stand more of a chance to learn if you present your opinions with conviction and confidence, than if you say nothing at all,” said Cooper.

She added, “And keep in mind that there is not always one right answer. It’s not an exam. So, be comfortable in not knowing and accept the gray area. .”

The Positive Circle of Networking
It is important to recognize the impact that networks, mentors, and sponsors can have on shaping your own career path, noted Cooper. “My professional peer group is broad,” said Cooper, “and we all take turns helping each other out.”

Cooper added, “We are all here because someone took the time to show interest in us and share their experiences with us, and so it is important to give back.” She noted that mentoring and networking is a two way street, and that she often learns from the exchanges she has with young women. “Learning from the next generation of women makes me a much better professional,” Cooper remarked.

At Goldman Sachs, Cooper indicated that the emphasis on networking really starts during the recruiting process. She noted, “We have programs on campuses representing all diversity groups in order to establish an important sense of connectivity early on.”

In Her Spare Time
When she is not in the office, Cooper prioritizes family time and enjoys supporting her three children in their hobbies and sports. “I also love to participate in activities that keep me in shape,” said Cooper, who has completed several marathons.

3 comments

  1. Jodi Brockington

    Edith-Thanks for sharing!!!

    I believe that women need to start leaning ON each other instead of IN…

    Your career like many women illustrates that it is possible to have a career and life that you want…hard work and networking truly pays off.

    I would welcome the opportunity to speak with you offline about your vision and plans for your career and those women at GS.

    I hope to see you at the next marathon or sports event soon!!!

    Jodi

  2. Laurie H. Liu

    Thank you for setting an excellent example for all of us.

    I have observations and thoughts to share about women who have family responsibilities but still are extremely committed to their career aspirations. I believe timely and ongoing dialogues can provide more accurate snapshots of candidates. Goldman’s return ship program sets industry leadership,but it does not cover all situations.

  3. Peter Vasquez

    I commend you on Edith on sharing this valuable information to us.
    We can all benefit from this and take into count all that it can offer not just woman but all of us who want to capitalize from this. I’m a single parent and I’m juggling so many obstacles, as a parent and a former associate from Morgan Stanley. So keep us all inform and let’s us know where we can seek more valuable information. Thank You.