Goldman Director Kullman Says Women Face 1980s Work Issues

(Bloomberg) -- After companies promised for decades to fix the work environment for women, former DuPont Co. chief Ellen Kullman is watching her daughter encounter many of the same challenges that she did as a young adult in the 1980s.

The realization “killed me,” Kullman, who now sits on boards including Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s, told about 100 women at an event in New York Thursday. “My daughter was surprised when she was faced with it because she was brought up believing the world is now a fair place.”

Kullman, 62, told stories about leaving a job at General Electric Co. because she wasn’t compensated equally to her male peers. Then, when she jumped to DuPont, she said she experienced non-sexual harassment by a male counterpart early in her career. Two male witnesses denied any wrongdoing by their colleague when asked by their then-chief executive officer about the incident. Another man supported Kullman when she came forward.

“What I found is the men close ranks and take care of each other,” Kullman, who was at DuPont for more than 25 years, including as CEO from 2009 to 2015, said at the event hosted by Evercore Wealth Management. “There were a few principled men who would tell the truth.”

Kullman now sits on multiple company boards and is a co-chair of Paradigm for Parity, a group of business leaders, corporate directors and academics that seeks to close the gender gap by 2030. Bloomberg LP is a member of the effort. Jewelle Bickford, a partner at Evercore Wealth, is also a co-chair.

At Thursday’s event in New York, feminist icon Gloria Steinem also spoke, offering an optimistic tone in light of the #MeToo movement. She said that for the first time in her life, women are being believed when they come forward about their harassment experiences. Closing the gender gap in the workforce isn’t just a moral issue, but one that improves the economy.

“We talk about equal pay but we don’t also say it’s the biggest economic stimulus this country could have,” she said. “It’s a way better economic stimulus than giving money to bankers and Wall Street like we did in the last crisis. Women are not going to put money in a Swiss bank account, we’re going to spend it.”

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