OpinionMar 10 2023

'Forging a path in financial services as a woman of colour'

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'Forging a path in financial services as a woman of colour'
Women need to forge their own path in financial services. (Photo: Cottonbro via Pexels)

The world of finance is well known for having very few women, especially women of colour.

While representation has certainly improved from when I first started at Goldman Sachs in the late 1990s, women are still struggling to break through the proverbial glass ceiling. 

A recent McKinsey/LeanIn.Org study found that while more than 50 per cent of entry level employees in financial services firms are women, the percentage declines with increasing seniority, particularly for women of colour.

Here are some key insights that I’ve gained over my 25-year career in the financial services industry to assist aspiring female and minority professionals.

Build a strong network

Many firms now sponsor women’s and other affinity groups, which is a sign of progress. It’s important to develop your own professional network early on in your career, not just with senior people but also your peers.

Perhaps because women had to work that much harder at building relationships in the workplace, those of us who made it through the many battles together feel a great sense of loyalty and responsibility for helping each other out.

Women need to actively advocate for themselves.

Having mentors and sponsors is particularly critical in larger organisations. That’s because you are limited in your knowledge and access to information; if you’re not in the “room where it happens,” you need someone on your side who is.

I had the opportunity to take on many different roles at Goldman because I had managers and sponsors who put my name in the hat and advocated for me when new opportunities came up.

Mentors also provide candid feedback so that you can see your blind spots and address weaknesses (real and perceived). My mentor and mentee relationships have extended well beyond our time working together and, best of all, have evolved into lifelong friendships. 

Be your biggest advocate

A major challenge to being a woman in finance is that there are so many stereotypes.

When you're an analyst, there are both overt and unconscious biases toward women: that women aren’t a natural fit for certain roles, that we aren’t as quantitative, tough, or ambitious.

You need to prove them wrong through your work, especially when you're more junior.  

You should take more risks, whether it’s moving to another city or trying tasks that you’re not very good at.

Even as a more senior woman, colleagues assume that you’re one of those nice, friendly people who isn’t a 'fighter'. Or that you aren’t as career-driven – especially if you have children or a spouse who works.

As a result, women need to actively advocate for themselves and be more vocal about wanting to get bigger jobs, promotions, and pay raises.

Take on risks

I would advise young women professionals to not wait to take on difficult challenges.

If you're going to fail, you might as well fail earlier on in your career when the opportunity cost is a lot lower. You should take more risks, whether it’s moving to another city or trying tasks that you’re not very good at.

Don’t be afraid to explore and try different jobs. In the end, you will have a much richer experience and greater longevity because you have the ability to succeed in a variety of areas.