Women In Finance: How To Succeed In A Male-Dominated Industry

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Studies by several organizations around the world, be it the European Commission or McKinsey & Co., have highlighted the real bottom line benefits of having women executives at the helm of companies.

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Unfortunately, these findings and the hard facts that substantiate them have not quite been embraced by the wider corporate world.  Women –particularly in the financial industry– remain vastly underrepresented at every level: only 17.6% of executive positions in finance are held by women, and if we drill even deeper into the hedge fund industry, as of 2015, less than 2% of hedge funds are run or owned by women.

But this significant gender divide, however, need not stop women in their determination to succeed in this fast-paced, dynamic industry. As a woman who continues to enjoy a rewarding career in the financial sector, here are a few pointers I have learnt along the way that will help women succeed in a male-dominated industry:

1. Strength, structure and certainty. The financial industry is an exceptionally results driven industry with little room for lost time, and as a woman, you need to not only prove yourself, but be relatively outspoken about it too– something many women are not comfortable doing. Being structured in your work, organized, technically strong, and ensuring you’re assertive goes a long way to earning the respect and recognition for a job well done.

2. Patience, perseverance and positivity. Maintaining a positive attitude and focus, together with equal doses of perseverance and patience, will stand you in good stead. One step forward is one step closer to getting ahead.

3. Contact building. Networking after work is a big part of building contacts in many corporate industries, not least the financial sector. This is often done in environments that aren’t particularly female-friendly, but breaking into this is a must. I shied away from this initially, then embraced it and started to actually enjoy it!

4. Motivation and mentorship. As resilient as you might think you are, going it alone up the career ladder is hard, and even more so as a woman in finance. One of the most valuable things to secure is a mentor– someone who has succeeded in the system, understands the challenges, and can guide you through some of the idiosyncrasies of the industry, as a result of their own experience and lessons learned. A mentor can also push you a little harder than you might have pushed yourself– mentorship is not about being a shoulder to cry on, it’s also about recognizing the challenges, highlighting the opportunities, and nurturing confidence in a mentee. 

It was only later in my career that I started to receive mentoring– I found it had a positive effect on my attitude at work, which helped produce great results. I wish I had decided to be mentored earlier on in my career, as I’m sure that would have fast-tracked my career progression.

Mentoring is a responsibility for any successful career woman, and this is why I joined three colleagues in establishing REACH, the first structured mentoring program in the Middle East for young women professionals. We want to make a meaningful contribution to the development of women in our region, and we’re exciting to see the progress being made by both the mentors and mentees involved in the program. Mentorship can help professionals go from good to great, and while this applies to any industry, in the financial sector, it is even more important.

Related: Tips For Women In Business (From Women In Business)

Racha Alkhawaja

Written By

Racha Alkhawaja is the Head of Institutional Coverage at Menacorp Financial Services LLC. Racha has over 18 years of experience in developing and selling financial services and products to institutional customers in European and Middle Eastern markets. Racha’s strategic skills are coupled with excellent relationships in the region across various sectors, which have helped her build the Fidessa brand in the Middle East, strategically positioning its products in the region. In 2012, she brokered a strategic deal with the Egyptian Stock Exchange for a connectivity project, generating healthy profits.

Racha is a driven, highly educated and professional executive in the financial field with international multi-asset experience. Results oriented, with a mathematical mindset, Racha has a wealth of experience as she held positions in Tier 1 international banks and institutions in London, which include the likes of Lehman Brothers, State Street and Bloomberg. Racha joined Bloomberg in 1999 and was at the cutting edge of the electronic trading world where she joined Tradebook at its inception, increasing revenues 15 times by effectively growing existing client business and generating new sales. That led to Racha running a successful hedge fund book generating over US$8 million in commission yearly.

Racha holds an MBA from Imperial College, London, specializing in Finance and a BSC in Mathematics from UCL, London.