I’ve spent nearly two decades working in trading and sales trading roles in investment banks, and am senior enough to survey the landscape dispassionately. If you’re a young woman starting-out in finance, this is what I’ve learned.
Firstly, I see a lot more women in two areas of our securities business: in sales and in technology. Women have always been in sales, but there are far more in technology now than there have ever been before. Technology is no longer perceived as such a male subject at university. A critical mass of female technologists in banking is building, and these helps the female developers coming behind them.
I still see plenty of women in sales too. Sales is an area where women can really leverage their interpersonal skills, and can go onto very senior careers. Some of the best senior saleswomen in the industry are exceptional networkers – they organize parties, they organize lunches; in normal circumstances they are breakfasting and lunching with clients four or five times a week. They’re the glue that keeps the industry together, and they can play this role well into their 50s. – I know one woman whose historic relationships are so strong that she even finds her clients new roles when they want to swap jobs.
Where I still don’t see women so much is in trading. I think his is because progressing in trading can be incredibly hard. Even now, I have pretty much only ever directly managed men.
The trading floor can be a very difficult place to be if you’re a woman. We hire young women into trading roles and they leave a few years later. I can understand why. I’ve always had imposter syndrome myself, and not without reason: I’ve had experiences where I’ve been sitting at the far end of a row and visitors have walked past eight male colleagues to ask me were someone sits because they think I’m a secretary. I’ve regularly had comments on the way I’m dressed (too casual if I’m not in a suit, “stop the papers, you’re in a dress,” if I wear a dress). As a woman on the trading floor, you are what you wear.
In trading, unlike sales, it’s also harder to get ahead through relationships. As a trader, you’re tethered to your desk: it’s about your p&l. That can be liberating, but it can also be tough.
A lot of women leave after a few years because it can be a struggle to get promoted. If you want to move beyond the junior levels of a bank – to get past director level, you will need to build up a bank of internal sponsors who will vouch for your abilities. Because most senior people in finance are men, those sponsors will also be male. If you’re a woman who’s been focused on excelling within a role, it can be a struggle to find 10 managing directors (MDs) globally who will sponsor you; you just don’t have that natural network. The guys seem much better at it: they’re a lot more aggressive about talking to the MDs in other regions about the clients they’ve been dealing with.
By comparison, women keep their heads down and they perform within their roles. I’m a naturally quiet person. I’m pretty timid outside work, but in work I’ve had to learn to be direct, which can be interpreted as being a bitch. I’ve also had to learn to put up with insinuations that I’ve only been promoted because I’m a woman. It’s never direct, but the implication is clear. They’ll say things like, “It’s great you could promoted, we need more diversity on the team.” This does wonders for my imposter syndrome too.
As a managing director, I want to encourage other women into the industry. But I want them to come in with their eyes open, and to stay. It’s not easy here, but it’s worth it, particularly financially.
Photo by STIL on Unsplash
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