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Business schools push to help more women get into finance

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that of Kathy Matsui new global venture capital fund made headlines last month to be the first of its kind in Japan to focus on environmental, social and governance principles.

But the news was important for another reason as well. Matsui, who left investment bank Goldman Sachs in Japan last year and is known for coining the term “womenomics,” is a female head of an all-female management team – a rarity in the industry. male-dominated financial institution.

Business schools are trying to change that. To increase the low number of women in financial leadership positions, some schools are working to help dismantle barriers to their advancement. They try a range of approaches, from designing new curricula to on-campus and old-fashioned networks.

For many, the first challenge is to persuade young women that careers in this field are welcoming and rewarding. “Much of this stems from misinformation about what the world of finance really is,” says Haley Parrin, a recent graduate of UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. She was the first female president of the school Investment Banking Club, which helps MBA students prepare for work in finance.

A wide range of skills: Jobs in the finance industry are often mistakenly seen as hard calculations, says Haley Parrin

She argues that jobs in industry are often mistaken for numbers when, in fact, the job requires strategic thinking. Parrin worked in business analysis and consulting before starting his MBA course.

“What happens above and beyond [number-crunching] is far more important than having the right numbers, ”said Parrin, who will join investment bank Morgan Stanley in July. “This skill set is something a lot of women have to offer but don’t know how to apply to the world of financial services.”

Katherine Jollon Colsher, Executive Director of Girls who invest, a nonprofit that works to increase the number of women in executive positions in asset management, agrees. “It’s a job that is not often understood,” she says. “People talk about being a lawyer, doctor or teacher, but less about being a portfolio manager. “

Girls who invest
A change of outlook: students participate in the Girls Who Invest program, which aims to encourage women to access asset management roles

But as perceptions change, the idea of ​​male-only boardrooms and single female analysts persists in the popular imagination, says Kathy Harvey, associate dean for degree programs at Said Business School of the University of Oxford. “It takes many years to change the culture and the expectations.

She argues that business schools, as educators of potential financial leaders, are well positioned to accelerate a change in culture and expectations. Part of their role is to give young women a space to study their future careers with “a sense of confidence and a feeling that they can really go where they want”.

Jennifer Bethel, a finance professor at Babson College in the United States, says schools can also help “normalize” the presence of women in finance. About 50 percent of Babson’s finance professors are women, she adds. “Thirty years ago you didn’t have female finance professors and now you have a lot,” she says.

Even a small change – she calls it a “one inch deep” change – can make a difference. One example she gives is a protagonist in a case study with a female name. “It’s a step forward,” she said. “But then it is a question of finding [real cases on] businesses owned and managed by women.

Business schools can also use former students working in finance to bring other senior women from the industry into their classes.

Said’s private equity electives tried to do just that, Harvey says. “[It] changes the atmosphere in the room and the nature of expectations.

An uphill battle

In the UK, women hold 17 percent management positions in the financial services industry, a proportion that has barely changed since 2005, according to the Financial Conduct Authority, the industry regulator. In the United States, according to The morning star research, at the end of 2019, only 14% of fund managers were women – a figure that had not changed since 2000.

These measures seem to be bearing fruit: the proportion of female school graduates entering financial functions has increased from 37% in the 2018-2019 class to 47% in the 2019-2020 class.

However, Bethel argues that raising awareness of finance as a promising career for women should start while they are still teenagers in school.

She quotes the Financial wellness program, a community service program run by the Babson Finance Association. Its members – two-thirds of whom are women, she says – teach basic personal finance skills in schools in disadvantaged communities.

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“You have these amazing women in front of these high school kids,” says Bethel, who is also a co-founder of the Babson Financial Literacy Project. “Creating this channel is essential, so they can imagine what [the finance sector] is, ”she said.

At the same time, the rise of investments focused on ESG is helping to attract and increase the number of female financial executives.

Between 2015 and 2020, for example, 44% of the senior ESG positions Acre Resources, an executive search consultancy, helped fill went to women.

“Women are already connected to sustainability – and now there’s a financial lens to that,” says Bethel.

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