Women in Securities Finance: stronger together

Women in Securities Finance: stronger together

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This interview is part of the ISF Americas Securities Finance Guide 2022 edition, and was also featured in the Summer 2022 Magazine.

What is WISF working on to support the securities finance industry acknowledge the role and impact of women in the industry?

Betsy Coyne: WISF hosted the opening keynote event at the IMN International Securities Finance & Collateral Management conference in Arizona in May. The discussion (and podcast for WISF Perspectives podcast series) featured behaviour change communication expert, Morgan Hillenbrand, who shared methods for advancing gender equality in male-dominated industries. WISF members continue to participate in podcasts, which are all available via the WISF website and all major podcast services. Past topics include leading remotely, effective leadership, and self-advocacy.

We also publish a quarterly newsletter that highlights our events, accomplishments, and member updates and promote all this content to augment the networking opportunities of WISF and increase visibility of women in our industry.

I should also highlight the educational initiatives of our members. On International Women’s Day in March, WISF and Vanguard participated in a discussion with high school students local to Vanguard’s headquarters to discuss careers in the mutual fund and securities finance industry with a focus on the importance of distinguishing between excellence and perfection.

What kind of impact have you seen the pandemic have on how women work in the securities finance space?

Mary Jane Schuessler: I often hear how working from home has been a game changer for the work/life balance, especially when you have children in the mix. However, I am also hearing some nervousness about the future. There are many questions WISF is attempting to help answer through research, sharing of past successes, growing network initiatives, and general support.

Looking back at the past couple of years, what are lessons that you/your members have learnt?

Harpreet Bains: Realistically, it might be years before the full ramifications of the pandemic on our professional and personal lives are properly understood. A key lesson for me personally is more greatly appreciating the importance of leading with empathy and trust. Covid has helped shine a light on the role that empathy plays in effective leadership. Hopefully, this is something that will continue to be valued by workplace cultures even beyond the pandemic.

BC: One of the lessons I learned was that I had not previously grown, nurtured or leveraged my network as much as I should have. I always focused on my job and my team, neglecting my personal development and exposure. I had been fortunate to have mentors who encouraged me to make time for networking, but personal development was always less comfortable to do. WISF helped me to move outside my comfort zone, encouraged me to focus on my personal development and reminded me about the importance of leveraging my trusted resources.

How do you build effective networks in a sector which has also seen elements of remote working being introduced?

HB: The benefits of hybrid working have been spoken about at length, but this does not mean the end of the office. It’s very important that women - and everyone - do not lose sight of the importance of teamwork, physical interaction and networking. To do this successfully means learning to network more smartly.

It may seem that there are plethora of events and gatherings taking place and trying to manage for these within a hybrid working pattern may be proving difficult, but reality is that you don’t have to go to every event. In fact, ‘over networking’ can actually have a detrimental effect. Be selective and opt for those that will be of most value to you.

Finally, consider expanding your digital footprint and getting to know people on social media. Reading lengthy articles and papers can be challenge if you’re time poor but short posts on LinkedIn can be more manageable, easier to engage with, and open up opportunities to connect with someone new and like-minded that you might otherwise not have reached through traditional methods.

What are you hearing from you members in terms of challenges they are facing but also opportunities they are seeing?

MJS: I often get asked how one can get involved especially when it comes to leading an event or a chapter. This is something we have discussed across all the chapter leads: the need for succession planning and bringing those into the fold who want to take on more than just attending events. Although women within the financial services sector have made enormous headway, we continue to hear from our members about challenges - especially when it comes to senior leadership roles.

As chapter leads, we try and build events and activities around building your own brand and confidence to be well positioned for these roles.

HB: There is no doubt that the pandemic has brought about positive change for women in the workplace and helped dismantle some long-held barriers. The scaling up of flexible working practices has potential to be a real game changer, particularly helping unlock professional opportunities for women who juggle work and caring responsibilities. The challenge now is how to focus on retaining these changes into the future and working towards stamping out cultural stigma that might mean these policies exist only on paper as opposed to fully embraced (across a spectrum of roles) in practice.

Another positive change that WISF members feel upbeat about is the fact that diversity, equity and inclusion has clearly gained more executive accountability in recent years. Within individual organisations it has moved from being an additional aspect of someone’s job to being the sole responsibility of an executive who sees to it that it is an important part of the conversation at all levels of the organisation. Across the securities finance industry, there is now much wider awareness of gender parity. This is good, because if we want to move the dial it begins with industry leaders recognising that there is a problem that needs to be fixed. The challenge is now making sure that we can collectively move this from well-intentioned discussions and one-off unconscious bias training to measurable impact and outcomes that serve to improve the experience for marginalised employees. We also need to remain mindful that diversity goes beyond gender.

It is encouraging to see that the importance and need to bring different ethnicities and backgrounds into the conversation is growing.

Overall female representation in the industry is still not where we want it to be, but the black and ethnic footprint is even lower. We often hear that it is a pipeline problem but it is now time to unpack why that is the case and what specifically is hindering the entry of diverse talent into our hiring pipeline and/or impacting retention rates. We have an opportunity to break away from the long-standing narrative of being a white, male dominated industry to one that is more aspirational for the newer generations. This will include evidencing that we are taking steps towards levelling up and creating a fairer and more equitable workplace for all, and not just talking about it.

What is on the agenda in terms of projects and initiatives for WISF in 2022?

MJS: The Toronto chapter typically holds two events though the year with a focus on networking and building your own personal brand. With the impact of Covid in the past two years we added an additional community outreach event with the goal of supporting women in need. This year we partnered with a charity, Yellow Brick House, which assists women and children trying to escape violent situations. The Toronto chapter raised over C$7,000 for the charity and spent most of a Saturday at the women’s shelter doing yard work and building a garden. The event was extremely rewarding and we hope to continue this as a yearly tradition. Our event ahead of the Canadian securities lending conference was the first in-person event for many and again we focused on networking given we have had many new members join not only WISF but the wider industry.

HB: For the London chapter, our main priority this year is to focus on helping our members grow their connections. Having launched immediately before the pandemic, the networking component of our mission was the harder piece to manage as we grappled with ongoing lockdowns. That said it created an opportunity to rethink traditional networking and transform the way we make connections, using a hybrid of virtual technologies and/or in-person. At the start of 2022 - following a successful pilot at the end of 2021 - we formally launched Grow Your Network, an initiative aimed at connecting our members on a one-to-one basis for short icebreaker introductions, making sure that we intentionally leveraged the breadth of diversity across the London chapter (gender, experience, grade, experience) when constructing the pairings. We expect this initiative to run several rounds this year and subject to feedback, we aim to sustain it into 2023 hopefully with the continued assistance of members wanting to get more involved in WISF delivery.

We are also very excited about the ISLA conference in Vienna, where the Women in Securities Finance London Chapter hosted its first in-person networking event. In creating a spirit of sharing and inclusivity, the invite was open to all conference delegates - women and men - and was an opportunity to cross paths with someone new in an informal setting

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