Beyond the Numbers

A revived club gives women in finance a step up.
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What’s too often missing from the upper rungs of financial firms? The answer: women.

Less than a quarter of senior staff at the world’s biggest banks are women, says the Financial Times. Just nine per cent of senior venture-capital jobs are held by women, according to a Harvard study.

How to boost those numbers? Corporate gender diversity efforts are a step in the right direction. Encouraging more women to work in finance also helps.

But another crucial step is to ensure that women studying finance, and those in junior roles, can see a clear path up.

The last is among the goals of Smith Women in Finance (SWIF). The club is led by students in the Master of Finance–Toronto program, with alumni help. Activities include networking events, mentorship and an annual case competition.

How do these efforts help women in finance? A SWIF networking event in November at SmithToronto was a prime example. Students from a variety of programs were able to mingle with senior bank and finance-firm leaders (both men and women). During a panel session, several executives talked candidly about their jobs and how they moved up the corporate ladder.

“We want to show women what’s possible in a career in finance,” says SWIF chair Yulia Shin, MFin’19, Financial Planning Associate at BMO.

SWIF began in 2013 as the Women of MFin. After a hiatus, the club was revived in 2017 under its new name, says Emily Saunders, Associate Director of the MFin–Toronto program. SWIF has also worked with Women in Capital Markets, an organization that promotes gender diversity.

A key SWIF activity is mentorship, says Neisely Eugene, MFin’18, past cochair. Each year, MFin students can be paired with experienced finance-sector alumni. Mentors provide objective advice and guidance, and they can answer career questions, says Eugene, Management Associate at TD Bank in Toronto.

Elaine El Zeghayar, MFin’12, signed up as a mentor for two students in 2017. She was able to help in several ways. One mentee, for instance, felt she wasn’t especially good at job interviews. “So every time we met, I would ask her human resources questions, and she became more comfortable with these,” says El Zeghayar, Senior Analyst at TD Commercial National Accounts.

At the early stages of their finance careers, women are mostly seeking to develop their skills and establish a network. “As a mentor,” El Zeghayar says, “my job is to give them confidence, to show that although they might not have years of experience yet, they can still accomplish a lot.”