Making It in a Male-Dominated Industry: Tales from a Woman in Finance

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Photo: Courtesy of Marten Bjork

Does being overlooked, unacknowledged, or mistaken for someone’s assistant on countless occasions ring a bell? For many young women, “making it” in the professional world means learning how to excel in male-dominated industries where “boys’ clubs” still prevail.  

I still remember my first day working on a trading floor, blissfully unaware of the gender dynamics. I was the second female hire in the front office; only two more would join a team of approximately 100 men. Keen to impress, I was proud to hear an announcement that I had achieved the highest number of calls ever made by my team. Indeed, things started out great, but as I began to express my ambitions of climbing the corporate ladder, my belief in meritocracy quickly dissipated.  

Like many other women, I had to overcome sexism to shine in this cutthroat industry

Like many other women, I had to overcome sexism to shine in this cutthroat industry. I missed out on phases that I had been promised in my career because I was told I “wasn’t ready”, “couldn’t be trusted”, and was “a liability” while I watched my male colleagues get promoted. I was even once told by someone whom I considered my mentor, “There’s no point in you looking for a job elsewhere as they probably won’t hire you anyway.” That was a swift, hard kick to my ego, and my confidence plummeted. 

While trying to find my place in this male-dominated world, I was talked down to by both more experienced employees and clients, who would call me “love”, “darling”, and “sweetie”. I learned to distinguish between discrimination that was due to my lack of experience and discrimination that was due to the fact that I am a woman. I quickly realized that opportunities weren’t going to be handed to me. If I wanted to grow, I had to be proactive. So, I continuously asked my manager for a clear path, increased responsibility, and more chances to network.

As I took the floor, I heard wolf-whistling and fist-thumping as they waited with bated breath to hear my speech.

As women, we have to do that. Expressing anger likely won’t result in the outcomes we desire as being too emotional could be interpreted as a weakness. I believe that the smartest move for women is to transform the anger and frustration that stems from sexism into productivity by taking care of ourselves and going after what we truly want. Finally, after two years (and a change in management), I got the promotion and title I had been chasing.  

When you work in such a patriarchal culture, preparation is crucial. People expect you to fail, so it’s up to you to prove them wrong. I was beyond nervous when I received news that, for a whole week, I was expected to write — and deliver — the morning market report, as well as give my opinion on future forecasts over a microphone in front of the entire company. I spent hours studying market news and data, making notes of the slang terms used by forex traders, reviewing historical rates, and more. As I took the floor, I heard wolf-whistling and fist-thumping as they waited with bated breath to hear my speech. Despite my nervousness, I knew that I had no choice but to nail it. This experience freed me from caring about what other people thought, and I’ve been able to harness those feelings and apply them to other situations in my life, such as public speaking. 

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Photo: Courtesy of Filip Bunkens

Although we still have a long way to go, women around the world are getting more recognition and opportunities today. From Peggy Whitson becoming the first woman to command the International Space Station and breaking the US record for the most cumulative time in space to Spain’s new Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, making history by appointing a majority-female cabinet to the long-standing ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia was lifted, powerful, history-shifting moments for women are happening around the world. 

While sexism is still alive and well in many industries, I am hopeful that change is on the horizon.

Additionally, organizations are beginning to realize the importance of women in the workplace, with companies reporting a commitment to gender diversity. Some of the key initiatives I’ve seen include Vodafone’s groundbreaking global maternity policy that was launched in 2015, giving women across 30 countries a minimum of 16 weeks of fully paid maternity leave; Heineken offering flexible work arrangements so that women and men can effectively balance their work and home lives; and 20 key players in the oil and gas industry signing Closing the Gender Gap — A Call to Action.

While sexism is still alive and well in many industries, I am hopeful that change is on the horizon, change that will level the playing field for good. As women, we must remember to honor our accomplishments, even if they are not properly acknowledged by our peers. Every one of us carries the potential to make a difference in our world and, by standing our ground, we show those who undermine us that discrimination cannot discourage us; it simply inspires us to work even harder for what we deserve.  I wholeheartedly believe that only when both sexes are treated with respect and appreciation will our world truly evolve. 


Daryl Hulse is a wealth associate at Sarwa.coan online financial advising platform.