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.
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.