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Women Find Purpose in Finance Careers

Chaitali Patel

Global Director of 100 Women Impact Collective, 100 Women in Finance

The finance industry needs more women leaders, so why do women seem so reluctant to choose this career path?

The finance industry will play an essential role in restoring economic stability and sparking growth as the world recovers from the pandemic’s destruction. Investment capital and lending will allow business to resume and employees to be rehired. Finance professionals will determine how and where this money moves, and toward what ends.

At the same time, millions of American women are (virtually) graduating from university. They earn more bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees than men, forming a diverse pool of talent both prepared and positioned to join the finance industry to help foster economic recovery. Paradoxically, however, women remain dramatically underrepresented as professional investors and finance executives.

A story from my own family helps to explain what this might be so.

Last month, my niece graduated from university with a degree in computer science and data analytics. She was fortunate to land a tech job with a Fortune 500 retailer. When I asked her whether she’d considered a job in finance, she said no. She said she preferred to work with purpose-driven colleagues on innovations that would improve lives. In contrast, she saw finance as a stuffy, formal industry that wasn’t welcoming to women.

She’s not alone. Many graduates say they want careers of purpose and impact. Let’s celebrate this, as this impulse aligns with solving some of the world’s biggest problems. Her perceptions, however, revealed how little she knows about finance work. Her aspirations are noble and clear, but her understanding of what finance can achieve is not. This is not entirely her fault. The popular entertainment industry’s choice of negative hedge fund and private equity narratives and character portrayals has not made women feel particularly welcome. 

I am determined to show her that the financial industry is a worthy choice and is in particular need of women’s leadership.

First, I note that any job should allow one to meet her expenses. For most university graduates, this includes student loan payments that can’t be ignored. Finance jobs tend to pay well, allowing for financial independence and freedom to make choices about advanced degrees, career and family.

Furthermore, my niece’s assumption about the finance industry’s friendliness to women is outdated and likely reflects negative stereotypes from popular media. Virtually every major financial company has evolved to be inclusive and flexible for all employees. Corporate and industry peer networks, such as 100 Women in Finance, further enrich career satisfaction and progress.

More importantly, the industry can give women the career they say they want — meaningful work that impacts people’s lives. For example, as a child my niece was treated at the Dallas Children’s Hospital for a chronic health condition. This hospital could serve my niece and other children in need thanks to income generated by its well-managed investment portfolio, which supports the hospital’s operations, research, and clinical care. This portfolio is run by a woman, Christie Hamilton.

Another example of the impact finance creates is found in Susan Oh, who runs a risk management investment strategy for the Pennsylvania Public Schools Employee Retirement System Plan. Her work directly ensures that teachers and school employees receive secure retirement income.

Finally, many women stand out for pioneering work in applying environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles to investing. The massive power of deposits into retirement funds, college savings accounts, and insurance premiums reward companies with a strong commitment to sustainability, equity, and, importantly, profitability.

The heart of my message to young women is this. The finance industry is where many of today’s biggest decisions are made about what tomorrow will look like. Finance leaders have great power and responsibility to design the blueprint for our collective well-being and future prosperity.

Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?

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