A global association of professionals, 100 Women in Finance “started life” in 2001 as 100 women in hedge funds in New York, explained Amanda Pullinger, CEO. In 2016, the organisation rebranded to “women in finance” to be more inclusive of members who were in sectors other than hedge funds. It now has more than 20,000 members and 32 locations across five continents. Its three most recent locations are in Africa--Pullinger was in Nigeria a few weeks ago for the launch of the newest location. “I feel like we truly are global now,” said Pullinger.
100 Women in Finance does have some 30 staff members “dotted around the world,” but it’s the volunteers--women and men who work in the financial industry--who really lead the organisation’s programming and put on events, explained Pullinger.
100 Women in Finance really gives that insight and support that you would need to get to the next stage in your career
One of these events, called “Breaking the mould,” was held in Luxembourg on 10 May and featured women in “non-traditional” professions, such as Michelin-starred chef Léa Linster, Calista Direct Investors’ managing director Rajaa Mekouar, and Nato Support and Procurement Agency’s chief of finance division Varvara Tseliou. Pullinger and Alexandra Milongo--senior business development manager at Zeidler Group and part of Luxembourg’s 100 Women in Finance working group--headed off to the event after our interview.
The organisation has over 600 volunteers, and it’s important that people in the industry are the ones who lead the programming in different locations, highlighted Pullinger. They’re the ones who are the most familiar with the latest topics in their field and the key challenges.
Support at all stages of a career
100 Women in Finance is committed to connecting women--locally and globally--as well as supporting women at all career stages. “It can be just when you’re starting off, or when you have four, five years of experience,” said Milongo. “100 Women in Finance really gives that insight and support that you would need to get to the next stage in your career.”
The association organises online and in-person events that allow members to network and learn about the industry, explained Milongo. But it also offers the opportunity to build relationships in the financial sector, to connect with others or find mentors and get advice.
We have to invest in ourselves as women in order to be visible in ways that matter
Changing social stigmas and cultural norms linked to, for example, women in the workforce, money management or childcare, doesn’t happen overnight, said Pullinger. “But what we can do for women who are in finance is to help them find their people, help them find a small group of women with whom they can share experiences.”
Increasing visibility, changing perceptions
“We have to invest in ourselves as women in order to be visible in ways that matter,” said Pullinger. “Part of what we’re trying to do is to empower women. When you look up the meaning of empower, it means giving someone permission, giving them a seat at the table, giving them access to opportunity. It’s not that women don’t have the skillset or the expertise. It is that they haven’t traditionally been given a seat at the table. And we want to change that.”
We have to change the perception of what an expert looks like
“It’s really critical for women to be seen as the expert,” Pullinger emphasised. “If we’re going to change the percentage of women who are portfolio managers, we have to change the perception of what an expert looks like.”
To do so, it’s key to provide women with opportunities. “We have male speakers, but we also are very deliberate about ensuring that we are raising visibility for women, talking about what they are expert at,” said Pullinger. And that, in turn, “will inspire the next generation of women who can now see that it’s possible for someone like them to be in that role, and understand what that role is.”
Three pillars: education, peer engagement, impact
100 Women in Finance has three main pillars: education, peer engagement and pre-career impact. The first pillar focuses on education, such as the conferences organised by the association.
Peer engagement refers to the opportunities that individuals have to “find their people,” explained Pullinger, and consists of smaller group activities. There are groups for women at each stage of their career--from early career to senior practitioners--helping them to connect and have conversations that are both professional and personal. “It’s about building relationships, building friendships, frankly.”
We’re not going to change the demographics overnight
The third pillar--impact--involves changing perceptions. “We’re not going to change the demographics overnight,” said Pullinger. “What we really need to do is change perceptions about our industry with the next generation.”
The organisation offers free student membership to any female university student in the world, giving them access to global programmes, such as Jumpstart and Launchme. Jumpstart, for instance, explains the basics of the financial industry, highlights women who currently work in the financial sector, and supports students in getting internships.
Luxembourg location in the works
New “locations” for 100 Women in Finance often develop and grow organically, said Pullinger. One might expect that everyone knows everyone here in Luxembourg, as it’s such a small country, but it’s not the case. “It actually even more important when you have this transient group, to create that community,” she said. “I think that’s why it’s really taken off so quickly here.”
The process of becoming an official location starts with an introductory dinner, which can lead to a working group, a commitment to attend meetings, a discussion around organising an education event and actually hosting events, explained Pullinger.
A “presence” gets built up, people and firms become more interested in the organisation, and ultimately what happens is that a new location is presented to 100 Women in Finance’s global board for approval, which, for the grand duchy, should “hopefully” happen sometime in the near future.
But “official location or not,” what’s important is to empower women in the financial sector in Luxembourg. The events are a safe space for women to open up and talk about the struggles that they face, and also help “create and facilitate discussion,” said Milongo. But they are also places to build friendships: Milongo and Pullinger have both made very good friends--and even some of their best friends--through 100 Women in Finance.