Women in finance speak out for greater inclusion

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In the financial services industry, as seniority level increases, diversity declines. This Women’s Month, InvestSoc – a UCT student society – and UCT’s African Institute of Financial Markets and Risk Management (AIFMRM) convened a panel discussion of some leading women in the financial services industry to unpack the truth behind the numbers and explore what can be done.

The financial services industry has a reputation for being male-dominated. According to Catalyst, a global non-profit that helps organisations accelerate progress for women at work, women held just 12% of CFO roles globally in 2018. “Female talent remains one of the most underutilised business resources,” write the authors of the 2017 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report. In the finance industry, this is especially true.

At a recent UCT event, some leading women in the industry convened for a frank discussion about the opportunities in the industry and the challenges it poses for women. They also offered advice to aspiring finance professionals on how to overcome the obstacles they may encounter.

Five key themes emerged:

1. You can’t aspire to be what you’ve never seen

Having successful women as role models in the industry is essential. Kaluba Chikonde, a current AIFMRM student, expressed it as, “you can’t aspire to be what you’ve never seen.” Chikonde is inspired by the tech space and enjoys coding and programming. She decided to give herself a competitive edge by studying the MPhil specialising in Financial Technology this year. It is important that women who have succeeded in the industry step forward and speak out about the opportunities to signal to others that they can get there too, she believes.

Many women may not be aware that their particular skills are highly sought-after in the industry. Role models can show the way again. Jessica Endekovski, who studied mechanical engineering before completing an MPhil specialising in Mathematical Finance at AIFMRM, noted that there are many transferable skills from all sorts of degrees that are valuable in financial services. “Engineering gave me the mathematical skill and the ability to think on my feet and find solutions to difficult problems,” she said.

2. Impostor syndrome is real

Many women reportedly suffer from impostor syndrome, which leads them to doubt their abilities and accomplishments. While there are real organisational barriers facing women, impostor syndrome is a significant limitation that is within our power to address, said Chikonde. To be aware of and overcome it, she suggested engaging with other women, listening to their stories and setting goals for themselves. Forewarned is forearmed. Endekovski agreed that success comes from deliberately building your confidence, “growing a little bit every day and overcoming daunting tasks.”

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