The time is now for women in the finance industry

Valērija Lieģe, first-ever female member of the Oaklins Executive Committee and a partner at Oaklins’ team in Latvia, was interviewed by Forbes about women in the workforce.

With Valērija on our Executive Committee board, we wish to highlight the many great women we have within Oaklins, and contribute to making a finance career an attractive choice, in a content series called Ambition tops gender. In this article, we summarize the main points discussed in the Forbes article and give a few initial insights on what it’s like to be a woman at Oaklins.

Forbes interview

Equality in Latvia

According to the World Bank, Latvia is in the privileged situation of being one of the six countries worldwide that have achieved legal equality between men and women in employment and business. Because Latvian culture is open to women leaders, its labor market is much more resilient and better able to tackle the future shortages of qualified personnel than countries with gender gaps in the workplace.

Women in a “masculine” industry like finance

The average proportion of women in management positions in various organizations around the world is around 30%, but there are also distinctly “masculine” industries. For example, according to Financial News, only 5% of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. To make matters worse, only one third of financial students think that finding a respectful work-life balance in this industry is possible.

Valērija has been working in investment banking for many years and has her own thoughts on the subject.

Over the next 10 years, the global financial market will face a shortage of about 40 million highly qualified workers. The good news is that women's full participation in the labor market could make up for this shortfall. In addition, research shows that female representation in corporate management teams not only provides better growth rates (15% better than the industry average), but also a more balanced decision-making process. Nine out of 10 clients indicate that they want to see women on their team of financial advisors, because they believe that it results in better teamwork and a higher success rate. Valērija Lieģe, Partner, Oaklins, Latvia

At the same time, however, women are more likely to get stuck in lower-level positions and less likely to be able to develop careers at the same growth rate as men, as they often take on the primary responsibility for family life and children. The higher the level of management, the lower the proportion of women — at middle-management level, the number of men is already significantly higher than that of women, but it is almost impossible to find female candidates for senior management positions.

Clearly, the investment banking industry needs to change and provide a work environment and culture where women don’t need to, or feel the need to, sacrifice their non-working lives for career advancement. A healthy balance is, and should be, possible.

On the flip side, we also need to recognize that career development is in our own hands — in our willingness to develop our skills and knowledge and to devote time to what we do. It’s always easier to blame external circumstances. We need to accept that after a period of absence from the labor market, for example to focus on parenting, we need to do our bit to remain competitive.

According to Janki Lalani Gandhi, a superstar in the financial industry, the most important trait for any woman who wants to have a successful career in finance to develop is endurance. For Janki, the driving factor for success is her true love for her job, her willingness to devote time and attention to it, and not focusing on pay as her main motivation. "Success is not all about money, but an opportunity to become what we want," Gandhi says. It is a universal road map for anyone who wants to stay in their career.

Ambition and an appetite for challenge

As highly respected financial professional Karen Penney, Western Union vice president of payment products, has pointedly observed, women's key disadvantage at crucial moments in their careers is their inability to push themselves forward and take on challenges we are not sure we can realize. The desire to succeed and self-confidence are important components in career progression and are, in fact, more important than whether we already know everything we need to know. Not being afraid to say “yes I can” is a big step forward.

Consequently, in order to achieve a higher proportion of women in management positions, it is first and foremost important that there should be more ambitious women in the workplace as a whole, able to reconcile the challenges of work and private life. Businesses, on the other hand, need to be respectful of the different working models (e.g. project-based and telecommuting), transparent about equal growth opportunities, develop an organizational culture that focuses on how people perform versus how much time they spend in the office and be open to new, alternative work-environment models. It requires a great deal of trust from employers. However, the benefits that can be achieved are more than worth considering, as we are all witnesses to the fact that the old model is no longer working — although that is an entirely different discussion.

Being a woman at Oaklins

The culture at Oaklins is about achieving extraordinary things and being passionate about the work that we do. We believe in cultivating a go-get mentality, and we help people thrive in challenging situations. At the same time, we always place integrity at the center of everything we do.

Over the years, we’ve seen a significant rise in the percentage of women holding C-level positions at Oaklins. The figure currently stands at 11%, which is significantly higher than the 5% mentioned by Financial News, but there is room for growth. That is a challenge we are happy take on in our Ambition tops gender content series, with tips and hints for women aspiring to a career in M&A.

You will be hearing from women at Oaklins who were, and are, ambitious — women who found their own ways to deal with challenging moments, with the aim of pushing others forward and helping them overcome disadvantages at crucial moments in their careers.

About Oaklins

Oaklins is the world’s most experienced mid-market M&A advisor, with over 850 professionals globally and dedicated industry teams in more than 45 countries. We have closed 1,700 transactions in the past five years.

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