Female finance students blaze new paths for industry representation and inclusion
Women in the finance sector are sparse—especially at the top. In a field that has been historically dominated by men, the higher up one goes on the leadership ladder, the fewer women there are. In financial services, 46% of employees are women, but women comprise only 15% of executive positions. Women hold just 9% and 6% of senior roles in venture capital and private equity, and 11% of senior management roles in hedge funds. Only 8% of CFOs from 1,000 of the largest U.S. corporations across eight industries are women, and a mere 23% of board directors at major financial services firms globally are female.
While the percentage of women in finance has historically tended to be very low, the Reiman School of Finance at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business has made strides, increasing both female faculty and students to about 25%. Conrad Ciccotello, director of the Reiman School, researches board gender diversity. In his working paper, “Gender and Geography in the Boardroom: What Really Matters for Board Decisions?,” Ciccotello and his co-authors found that female board directors’ residences cluster close to several large cities, meaning that female directors travel over three times as far on average to attend meetings at firm headquarters as their male counterparts do.
“Geography is one factor in a complex web of challenges to shifting the representation, opportunity and inclusion of women leaders in finance,” Ciccotello said. “Increasing the breadth and depth of women leaders in finance begins by increasing the number of women from all over the country who study finance in college.”
An increasing number of women studying finance at DU—Daniels’ largest undergraduate major—realize that “Female talent remains one of the most underutilized business resources,” and they aren’t having it. An industry-defying 60% of DU Finance Club board positions are held by women. The qualitative story behind the numbers is clear: the next generation of finance leadership is female.
Take the Finance Club’s president, Milena Rogers, who is joining the investment banking division at Goldman Sachs after graduating this June. She runs the student organization that develops Daniels’ finance infrastructure, positions the College among elite institutions, educates and develops members’ financial skills, and places its members at leading financial institutions through professional networking. Her first order of business was to increase female involvement on the executive board.
Rogers’ father gave her a book on investing when she was in middle school. “I became really interested in how markets work, especially with how interconnected they are with everything else going on in the world,” she said. “I think as more and more women and other diverse individuals enter the finance industry there will be a lot of permanent change, which will be very beneficial for the field overall. I think advocating for yourself and others is a powerful tool that will help drive this change.”
Sophia Mellsop is president of DU’s Undergraduate Women in Business club (WiB)—a values-based organization for personal growth, leadership development and networking with female professionals in the business community.
She has a wealth management internship lined up this summer at PNC Bank in Washington, D.C., and eventually hopes to empower women to achieve their professional goals through her own consulting business.
“What makes pursuing a career in finance exciting as well as daunting is knowing that I am part of the industry’s transformation,” Mellsop said. “Companies are realizing the value of diversity (not just gender diversity) as it enhances decision-making, encourages creativity and can even lead to greater profitability. However, I still think there is a lot of change that needs to occur. Having leadership that is both diverse and supports diversity is integral in transforming the industry.”
Meanwhile, Ruchita Raghunandan—an international student from Mysuru, India—is among the very few second-year students already taking classes within the finance major. She is the events chair for the Finance Club and director of diversity for Women in Business—a new position where she collaborates across minoritized student alliance clubs to offer funding and marketing support to increase their recognition on campus.
“Ruchita is crushing it as a sophomore,” said Ann Bowar, Reiman’s events and external engagement manager. “We see her as a role model for the proactive approach our students need to take, especially earlier in their time at Reiman.”
Raghunandan completed a data analytics internship last summer. This summer, she has a corporate finance and audit internship lined up. Eventually, she sees herself as a CFO at a global company—a job she knows will require breaking glass ceilings.
At first, she got a weird look when she told her peers that she was a finance major. One day, she asked her close friend about it, who told her, “Well, it’s because you’re in a major that is full of white boys.”
When she first arrived in the U.S. for college, Raghunandan said she wasn’t aware of many racial dynamics, but knew that males tend to dominate many business industries. Luckily, her mother taught her confidence from a young age, advising her to, “Do what you’re supposed to do, be strong and have a strong voice out there.”
“What I see happening, and what I would like to see grow on a larger scale, is true recognition being given to women,” Raghunandan said. “Recognition is not supposed to be differentiated just because we’re women. We should have recognition because of our intellect, because of our experience.”
A high school exchange program in France opened Raghunandan’s eyes to business, economics and finance. “It’s a growing industry. It’s dynamic,” she said. “We all make financial decisions at all points in our lives. I want to be a help to others.”
Amanda Martinez was interested in environmental sustainability, so her peers encouraged her to become the first director of sustainability for Women in Business. The following year, she was elected president and led the club through 2020. She said it was “the most valuable part about being at DU and within the Daniels College of Business.”
“WiB has given me the opportunity to meet some of the most inspiring, ambitious and brilliant women in all of Daniels and beyond. Being a part of such a strong community of women has provided me with mentors, as well as the opportunity to give back to the next generation of women in business, especially in the finance industry.”
Martinez is joining Deloitte in government and public services consulting after graduating later this year. Eventually, she hopes to use her business acumen to help bring value to the market through a startup. She reiterates the need for improvement in women in upper financial management positions.
“To allow women to ‘break the glass ceiling’ and beyond, there needs to be more sponsorship, not just mentorship, and a community of women that they can count on and go to for support,” Martinez said. “If there was a community like WiB at every company, I think some of the challenges that women face in these male-dominated industries would be alleviated and it would provide confidence and connections to help women climb the corporate ladder.”
Emma Walker is vice president of Women in Business. She will work as a summer analyst at Goldman Sachs on their Client Portfolio Solutions team under their Consumer and Investment Management Division in Salt Lake City, Utah, this summer.
“Thanks to WiB and Finance Club events, I have gotten to hear from very successful females in finance and I have an outstanding female mentor,” Walker said. “I feel as though there is a shift toward female inclusion and recognition in the finance industry. Just recently, Citibank named the first female CEO of a Wall Street bank. Although females may remain as the minority in finance, I think things are changing.”
All five students are members of both the Women in Business student organization and the Finance Club, and are also involved in extracurriculars, including Greek Life, the Daniels Student Journal, professional ballet and theater productions, case competitions, the Pioneer Leadership Program and the University Honors Program.
“There is no doubt that the women who I have been lucky to get to know will go on to do amazing things in their respective industries and are the next generation of leaders in the business world,” Martinez said. “[They have] shown me the strength in women pursuing a finance track. They work 10 times as hard as anyone else I know and will truly do incredible things in the finance industry.”