This past summer I had the amazing opportunity to work at one of the biggest investment management firms in Boston. My dad works in investing, and all my life I admired his passion for his work and loved to hear his fascinating stories about the finance world. Naturally, I was thrilled to finally experience first hand what investing was really like. Unfortunately, I also experienced first hand the extreme lack of women in the finance industry and the impact that had on the few women that do work there.
I remember walking into my first morning meeting and realizing that out of the thirty-five or so people in the room, I was the only girl. I immediately felt a little self-conscious—especially in my colorful pencil dress. I realized that the vast majority of the female employees at the firm were secretaries. This feeling of not quite fitting in never really went away. Certain men were awkward around me, but completely normal around the male interns. I found that if I wanted to be taken seriously, I had to tone down my girly, giggly personality, as well as my outfits. It almost felt like at times I had to be someone I was not in order to be seen professionally, which was hard. If I let my bubbly side out even a little, it was seen as flirting and would lead to even more awkwardness, or worse, disrespect—and being labeled as “that girl”. I was irritated that I couldn’t be simultaneously feminine and professional. It was as if I had to imitate how men typically act in order to be seen professionally.
At times I was frustrated and wanted to blame the men of the office for treating me differently because I was female. However, I later realized that it wasn’t really their fault; they were conditioned to be that way due to the lack of females in the industry as a whole. Men in finance aren’t used to dealing with women in finance because they don’t have too much professional experience with them. If more women were to join the finance industry, this problem would be solved. This lead me to wonder, why aren’t there more women in the finance industry? I decided to ask this very question to the head of HR, who happened to be female. She said that most women want to start a family and raise their kids, which is nearly impossible to do while working in finance. She said it is hard to come back and pick up where you left off after taking a few years to raise children—they often have to start from scratch, thus most women give up and downgrade to a less demanding career after raising kids. This made me really frustrated, because I too want to raise my children one day, but I don’t want to throw away everything I worked. Why do women have to choose, why can’t we have both?
All in all, I’m still very grateful for my experience last summer. I learned so much and worked with some extremely talented people. There were even a few high-ranking and highly respected women in the firm that deeply inspired me. They taught me that women can eventually be taken as just as seriously as men in the office, it’s just that sometimes they have to work a little harder to get to that point and prove their capability. I’m not saying that all the male employees treated me differently; in fact many of them treated me completely normal. I was just much more aware of my gender than I would liked to have been in a career where one’s gender should be irrelevant.