Wall Street, otherwise known as “the Boy’s Club.” For those who are only familiar with the market through pop-culture, the scene is dominated by men (Wolf of Wall Street? The Big Short?). Unfortunately, those who work in finance know that the rumors ring true.
Currently, women account for only 18 percent of finance jobs, which is surprisingly even less than the tech industry! And yet, evidence shows that women tend to be comparable—if not better—investors than men.
A study by Fidelity Investments found that women not only save more on average than men, but they also tend to get better returns on their investments, with men earning a 6.0 percent rate of return and women earning 6.4 percent.
The fact is, women are good with money. Yet, for some reason or another, they aren’t having the same impact on the financial industry as men are. Women are just as capable of forging impactful finance careers as men are, but they face nuanced challenges.
If you’re ready to go into finance, here are ten tips to get started.
1 Focus on your skills, not your job title.
There’s an understanding in finance that money is “fungible.” In other words, no money is different than any other money, and $10 is $10, whether it comes in quarters or a single bill. This helps everyone remember that money is just a tool and unit of wealth measurement.
The same thought process can be applied to the skills acquired at a job. For instance, let’s say you work as an executive secretary. Your skills might include excellent organization, communication, and time management. These are skills that are vital to being a secretary, however, they aren’t only for secretaries! They could be applied to positions in data analytics, business forecasting, and portfolio management. So next time you’re polishing up your resume, focus on the skills you’ve mastered rather than the job titles you’ve had. You might be surprised which direction your experience and skills are pointing you in.
2 Build confidence.
There are innumerable self-help books that proclaim that to succeed, all one has to do is “be confident!” And yes, be confident! Walk into every meeting knowing you’re supposed to be there.
As with everything in finance, however, the strength is in the numbers. Being confident at the bar might be as simple as putting on a smile and giving yourself a pep talk on the way over. But in finance, your success and worth to your company is much more measurable. You do a disservice to yourself by categorizing insecurity as a personality problem, because that holds you back from tackling the issue head-on. Thus, take the time to build confidence instead of trying to wish it into existence. Write down what you believe to be your five greatest strengths in one column and your five greatest weaknesses in another. If you have a mentor or advisor, then ask them if they could do the same. Compare notes, and get to work on both. This is a reminder of all of the hard work you’ve already put in that got you to where you are today. It’s also a reminder that anything you feel insecure about is improvable.
3 Focus on the home runs.
Because women tend to be more judged than men in finance, it’s natural for them to focus on all tiny details, such as whether to wear a pencil skirt or a pant suit. Such details are important, but they are not promotable. A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that women were notably more likely to volunteer to take on “non-promotable” tasks at work. These are tasks important for the functioning of the company but never mentioned in an annual review, such as planning events, writing reports, and serving on committees. In other words, non-promotable tasks are the housework of the office! As tempting as it is to jump in and volunteer when no one else will, first always think to yourself, “Is this something I’ll get proper credit for?” If the answer is no, then wait. You have bigger fish to fry!
4 Interview, interview, interview.
Looking for a new position? Interview elsewhere, of course. Love your current position and wouldn’t dream of leaving? Interview anyway!
Interviewing at other companies nowadays isn’t just about getting a new job; it serves multiple purposes.
First, you will build strong conversation and negotiation skills with every interview. For most women, interviewing is a time of major stress, and the stress itself can cause you to not perform your best. You should never wait until you absolutely have to do well in the interview before practicing. If you interview every two to three months when you’re already comfortable where you’re at, then you’ll feel much more prepared for that big interview where you really, really want the job.
Second, you have an excellent opportunity to network with other professionals in the industry. Even if you don’t get the job you apply for, your interviewer might just like you so much that when the next position comes along, they offer it to you first.
And finally, interviewing gives you a reasonable idea of your market value without having to find out the hard way. If another employer offers you a 20 percent raise, then that may be your signal to start looking for greener pastures.
There are many fancy designations in the finance world, which can seem overwhelming. What’s the difference between a CFA and a CFP? What about a CFS or CIC? Why is one of my coworkers stressed about her “Series 7”? Try to familiarize yourself with the most common specializations, but, even more importantly, you should strive to obtain one of them. Many bright-eyed graduates step into their first career in finance with visions of automatic success and wealth. The truth is that “finance” is a broad category, and on its own can lead to a boring career (and equally boring salary!).
In reality, the vision some have of powerful executives doesn’t come from finance but from expertise. It’s simple: People will pay you to do what they themselves can’t. An added bonus? Most employers will offer to pay for these designations! After exploring different areas of expertise, schedule a meeting with your boss to discuss whether the company can support you in your pursuit of a specialization. You will most likely get your supplies paid for and you’ll also reinforce your hard work and dedication to your manager.
6 Embrace technology.
The world of finance has been the catalyst and vanguard for technology for decades. Within the last 20 years or so, the process of depositing checks, for instance, has gone from seeing a teller at the bank, to depositing checks into an ATM, to simply snapping a picture on your phone. Amazing! Finance and technology are intertwined, constantly growing off of the successes of one another.
The next time you have a technology-related problem, challenge yourself to try to solve the problem on your own before calling IT. You may not immediately get the answer you’re looking for, but you’ll become more comfortable with the devices you use and functions they can perform. You have a wealth of information and assistance at your fingertips, and the better you get to know it now, the better use you’ll be able to make of it later down the line.
7 Become a mentor.
I know what you’re thinking. “I’m the junior at my company—don’t I need to have my own mentor before trying to mentor others?” Yes, you should try to find your own mentor as well. But by determining to become a mentor early on, you can push yourself into learning more about your industry and practice your leadership skills in the interim. Start small: Educate a coworker about your latest project or invite the intern to lunch. The best way to learn is by teaching!
8 Build your community.
You’ve been told your whole life that you should be loyal to your company. Here’s a new idea: Instead of being loyal to the company, be loyal to the people. The people who inspire you, the people who challenge you, and the people who you know will always have your back. This mindset goes beyond networking. It’s not about building the biggest LinkedIn pool possible, but rather about cultivating rich relationships with colleagues who value the same things that you do. These are people who you’ll stay in contact with regardless of which company and field you’re currently working in. To begin, notice when a colleague reaches a work milestone and find a way to congratulate them in a meaningful way. Years from now, they may not remember what you said to them, but they’ll recall how you made them feel.
It’s no secret that finance is a boy’s club. But one problem is that women often think that it’s lack of experience, which holds them back from higher pay. At my next annual review, after I’ve had some time to establish myself, I’ll negotiate a raise.
Unfortunately, this sentiment betrays the sneaky assumption that pay is entirely based on merit! But studies show that merit alone does not determine your salary. One recent study by the Economic Policy Institute found that men consistently earned more than women in their very first job out of college, even when they had comparable work experience! Sadly, this shows that if you aren’t negotiating for yourself at the first job offer then you’re already too late. In the world of finance, this can easily become a weapon against you for another reason: Employers will think that if you can’t even negotiate for your own interests, then how will you negotiate for theirs? So, at your next review, ask. Negotiation skills are good for you and your company.
10 Time the market.
You’ve finished your first year or two as an analyst or advisor. You remember that first time you saw a spreadsheet and panicked at the sheer amount of information. But now, you can absorb all you need to know at a glance. Feels good, right? Now it’s time to apply your knowledge to your most personal investment: yourself. At this point, no one knows better than you whether to start at a new company, take on bigger roles, or do your own thing entirely. So, go out and do it! Remember, the best investment you’ll ever make is in yourself.