The Importance of Women in the Financial Sector

In my experience, many young women tend not to think about working in finance as a viable career option. It could be lack of exposure to the sectors within finance or lack of role models or mentors but there is no reason women should overlook a career in finance. People who work in finance come from a wide range of backgrounds and study a variety of subjects in school, so it might be confusing to know which path to take to have a career in finance. This is different than, say, women who go into college knowing they want to be doctors. In that case, they know that the first step is to major in pre-med. The same is true for women who want to be lawyers; they tend to major in political science or a complementary field.

I wasn’t immune to this way of thinking. I was initially pre-law and had the typical political science major as well. I deferred law school and, through a series of lucky events, was hired at a top sellside equity research shop in that interim time of deferring law school. I fell in love with the industry, and I have been in finance ever since.

Mentorships Paved the Way

Throughout my career, I’ve been active in groups that support and advocate for the advancement of women in finance. During my time at Neuberger Berman, I participated in the Women’s Initiatives Leading Lehman (or the WILL program), titled as such once Lehman purchased Neuberger Berman in 2003 (the month I joined the team).

Lehman instituted policies that allowed women to join active groups at the parent company. This gave women the opportunity to meet with higher-level executives, including Erin Callan, the CFO of Lehman at the time. The access afforded to lower-level female executives was a bit unprecedented at the time, and the encouragement of higher-level executives to embrace these women in finance was essential to the success of my time at Neuberger/Lehman, as well as that of many others around me.

In addition, WILL was proactive in recruiting and hiring women straight from college to work in its equities and banking programs. I am an alumnus of Barnard University, which is one of the Seven Sister Schools. The Seven Sister Schools refers to a consortium of seven prestigious liberal arts colleges for women, including Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Radcliffe (now part of Harvard), Smith, Vassar, and Wellesley. Because of my affiliation with the schools, I was able to participate in many of the Barnard College and Seven Sisters recruiting events, which allowed me to meet and encourage other women who might be interested in a career in finance.

Recruitment Efforts Should Be Broader

I think it’s vital that women know that anyone can work in finance as a short-term career investment because many firms usually provide a two-year “tour” opportunity to learn on the job (commonly known as a two-year banking or equity research program).

It’s my firm belief that Wall Street can and should recruit from as many majors as possible, instead of looking at just economics majors, for example. Several tertiary majors may display the discipline and analytical ability necessary to work in finance. When I mentor a young woman who is interested in this field, I tend to encourage her to study and major in whatever excites her. But, whatever she chooses, she must be driven and focused on reaching out to as many firms and potential finance contacts as possible.

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past 20 years, it’s that who you know is as important as what you know. And who you know can make an essential impact on your success. If you’re interested in finance, offer to take someone who works in the sector to coffee to pick their brain about their experience and the best tools to get where they are. Be diligent in speaking up while proactively seeking mentorship.

How to Attract More Women to Finance

While this industry is growing and there are far more women in finance then when I started 20 years ago, women are by and large the minority in almost every segment and subsector within finance. Change like this happens slowly and attracting more women to finance begins at the collegiate level. Beyond that, it’s essential that hiring firms meet with every potential candidate and then assess if they have the skillset, fortitude, intelligence, and perseverance to work in finance and stay in finance. The best way to excel in the sector is to stay and become an expert.

I was lucky to have a hiring manager and mentor who paved the way for many women in my industry. Jack Rivkin was the Director of Research at Neuberger Berman in 2003 when he hired me. At the time, Jack had the number one most widely read Harvard Business school case studies highlighting how he brought Shearson Lehman’s equity research department from ranking number 27 to being Institutional Investor (II), ranked number one circa the late 1980s.

Jack told me he had two policies that helped his department become number one on Wall Street for several years. The first policy was to interview and hire women. He realized that half the population was not in the candidate pool solely because of their gender. By expanding his hiring to include women, he was able to hire from a larger pool of qualified candidates. His second policy was a “no jerk” policy, though at the time of our interview he used a stronger word. By not allowing jerks (male or female) in his research department, he cultivated a strong team that helped each other reach the number one ranking individually and in totality as a firm. While not all firms will have a Jack, it’s worth noting that there are other hiring managers who exist in important leadership roles and are willing to vouch for women candidates actively seeking success in the financial industry.

Find Sandy Chin on Bloomberg