Finance is a results-driven field. Leaving women out is leaving money on the table.
You all know the stereotypes about the finance industry: It’s a bunch of high-achieving types, pinstripe suits, maybe a corner office with a big mahogany desk. And the person sitting behind that desk? Usually white, and usually a guy.
Collectively, we’ve worked in finance for several decades, with Michelle on the sales side and Sweta in analysis and portfolio management. And while we’re happy to claim some of those cliches about high achievers who dress well, the truth is that finance really is a male-dominated industry.
Why is finance the way it is?
From our perspective, finance is challenging for women. Both of us have children, and both of us needed to be trailblazers to raise a family and succeed at work. When Michelle decided to start a family while working at a previous firm, nobody in her position had had a child in the 30-year history of that company. Sweta’s old boss assumed she was quitting when he heard she was having a kid.
Culturally speaking, finance has always been geared toward men. Important decisions are often made on the golf course or over drinks. Long hours favor workers who aren’t primary caregivers. Ditto for people who can travel. We’ve seen brilliant young women enter the field, then drop out after four or five years when they start families. Research confirms that this “missing rung” is a huge problem in finance. It’s a dynamic that silences voices who could advocate for change at mid- and senior levels.
Gender equity is good for everyone—especially investors
Research shows that female fund managers consistently outperform men, perhaps because we’re generally good at slowing down, listening, and considering broader perspectives. We’re aware of the irony here. Both of us have heard the canard that women aren’t in leadership positions in finance because we’re too emotional to make good decisions.
Today, we’re fortunate to be building a new culture at CDI with a supportive team that values diversity and balance. Over our careers we’ve learned how to take opportunities where we find them, rather than getting frustrated by roadblocks. Occasionally, being a woman is so novel that it’s helpful—you stand out from the crowd.
We’ve also seen firsthand how a diversity of ideas leads to better and more novel investment strategies. Hiring women, people of color, and people from underrepresented social or economic backgrounds doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get interesting ideas from your staff, but it definitely increases the odds.
Where does finance go from here?
Our industry is undergoing a transformation. There’s more room for women, more room for people of color, more room to talk about things that used to be off limits. We love these changes, and we really love the champions who are driving them. The challenge is translating these shifts into policies that respect work-life balance and promote more women into mid- and senior-level positions.
Big picture, we believe that competitive firms will be ones that prioritize family leave—including paternity leave—allow flexibility around remote work, and retain women in their midcareer. Surprisingly, the pandemic has been useful for advancing these goals. Although remote work can be a double-edged sword for working parents, it makes some aspects of childcare easier. And while many investment firms still value employees who can work long hours, the pandemic has helped shift the emphasis from hours worked to results.
That lines up with how we see ourselves as women in the workforce. Our advice to young women looking to enter the finance space is to focus on your skills, focus on results, and put the other box-checking stuff on the back burner. Beyond that, be competent and don’t back down. Money doesn't have a gender.
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