To Be Heard

Aug. 10 By Meenakshi Nawani

Women and Math don’t mix or aren’t supposed to anyway, is what many of us have likely been led to believe. In my seven-year career in the financial services industry, I have encountered many a situations where I palpably felt under-valued as an employee, a lot of times in stark contrast to my male counterparts. While I wouldn’t deny that it was a rewarding career, I certainly had my own set of challenges to face.

The inputs in this article are sourced either from personal experiences or from friends currently working in different facets of financial services. I have found that mostly all of them face typical challenges of an average working woman. It is not uncommon, however, to find that in the finance world, a woman is expected to go that extra mile only to ‘prove her value’ lest she runs the risk of not being taken seriously. Being assertive is often mistaken for being aggressive. For example, in customer facing roles, such as that of an investor center executive, women often complain that clients don’t take them seriously likely because of their gender and are at the receiving end of rude or disrespectful behavior.  This is because of many preconceived notions that immediate colleagues and customers carry. A lot of people tend to think that a woman may not be good enough to perform the job, that she doesn’t have what it takes to get the plot. It’s not difficult to see how inaccurate beliefs about yourself can negatively affect your courage, confidence and assertiveness in the workplace.

Furthermore, it gets increasingly difficult as the ladies try to progress upwards in their careers. I am not even referring to matters like maternity or childcare issues. Those are generic to most industries. Inadvertently, women in financial services are rarely seen as role models; especially in profiles that require working long hours and ask for considerable amount of travel. In fact, women in these roles are often perceived to have poor work life balance. So much so that it can regrettably push newer talent to decide against working toward career progression.

Another possible limitation is that the women may not always be in a position to make themselves available for informal team outings, happy-hours or even an occasional smoke-break. It is usually on these occasions that ‘informal bonds’ are formed. Most women do not prefer to stay late in the office which is also sometimes looked down upon.

Having said that, times have changed especially in the last decade or so. And they continue to change in toward the positive direction. Employers are becoming more empathetic and women are increasingly being encouraged to stay in the workforce and even return after a break. A lot of companies in the industry are taking initiatives to institute family leaves and then encourage women back into employment. It is becoming acceptable for men and women alike to request flexible working hours. Employers are slowly but surely making efforts towards ensuring that having children does not impact on women’s long-term career opportunities for professional development.

My two cents to the young ladies aspiring to make it big in the world of financial services would be to build a support system for themselves, in the office and outside. Connect with the right people who can cheer you up every now & then, and give valuable advice too. So ladies – there is light at the end of the tunnel!