Throwing away the map: how women working in finance are reshaping traditional preconceptions

08 March 2019

Amanda Pullinger is frustrated by the media’s focus on the lack of women in finance.

“Only 7% of the world’s fund managers are women but that doesn’t mean we should keep focusing on the 93% that aren’t.”

Speaking at the Barclays Overseas Services Women’s Day Event, the CEO of 100 Women in Finance suggested the real challenge is making that 7% more visible to other aspiring young female fund managers.

“We need the next generation to see that it is possible to take a senior position in finance,” Amanda says. “This also means reiterating the value that women continue to add to business.”

I’ve seen young girls’ eyes light up when a portfolio manager explained to them the positive impact they can have on ordinary people lives

Amanda Pullinger

Boasting a global membership of more than 15,000 professionals, 100 Women in Finance provides peer-to-peer engagement, philanthropic and educational initiatives for professional women of all ages. However, Amanda believes that the hardest challenge is often demystifying the world of finance and changing preconceptions.

“Right now this industry is perceived as being overcomplicated, selfish and self serving,” she says. “But I’ve seen young girls’ eyes light up when a portfolio manager explained to them the positive impact they can have on ordinary people lives.”

Like other successful female CEOs, Amanda understands the commercial value of diversity in the board room. In a study conducted by Quantopian in 2017, companies run by female CEOs in the Fortune 1000 saw three times the returns as S&P 500 enterprises being led predominantly by men. The implication is that diversity amongst teams encourages a diversity of ideas which promotes innovation and business growth.

Shaun Phillips, Head of Overseas Services at Barclays, acknowledges the importance of International Women’s Day in driving this diversity across social, political or economic sectors: “I think it’s important for us to celebrate women’s achievements,” Shaun says, “but also continue to ask what role we can all play in creating an environment that encourages a diversity of thought.”

The question was central to a lot of the discussions taking place at the International Women’s Day event this year and one that continues to provoke debate, not least because the role of the male ambassador is often misunderstood.

Male ambassadors are essential

“We need men engaged in this conversation,” Amanda suggests. “In all walks of life, we are all more convinced by people who look like us. Like it or not men still hold a lot of the power, so we need men to be on the diversity panels at these conferences, not women”

Amanda believes the hurdle here is that women can often be reticent to push themselves forward.

“As women, we tend to want a map of exactly where we’re going with our career,” Amanda says.”But the reality is that the destination may change and how do you adjust to that?”

Use a compass, not a map

Describing the risks of advancing your career as being more akin to finding your way with a compass instead of a map, Amanda encourages women to take more risks: “It’s actually very difficult to make a mistake in your career,” she says. “In this day and age you don’t have to work for the same company your whole life and actually it’s a good thing to have experience across different environments.”

But if orienteering without a map might sound difficult to some, the idea of taking more of a collaborative approach to building a dynamic career in finance was difficult to disagree with: “I think we can all play a critical role in supporting the next generation,” Shaun believes.

“We have to realise that we’re not going to make any changes in this industry until we proactively look for ways to encourage diversity at every level of the business.”