Creating an environment of success for women in finance and technology: 9 amazing women share their stories

It is not a secret that there is a lack of gender diversity in the finance and technology workforce. This lack of diversity is obvious to even a casual observer despite recent efforts to engage more women in educational and career pathways within the finance and technology fields.

In operating across these industries, we’ve had the privilege of working alongside many highly successful women in the finance and technology sectors. These women are the wonderful role-models for any woman who wants to succeed in these competitive but rewarding industries. We have taken the time to chat with several of these women to uncover their stories and identify what they see as the most important learnings from their own careers and what they think still needs to happen to improve gender diversity in the workplaces.

Natalie Bayfield
Lecturer, MPhil Real Estate Finance, University of Cambridge
Chairwomen, Bayfield Training

What’s the number one attribute that helped you get where you are in your career?
“Drive. It’s an innate thing and I don’t know where it comes from. If I did, I would probably look for another way of satisfying it, other than running a company. Starting and running a business isn’t easy. You must maintain faith and believe in what you are doing every step of the way.”

What are the top three things organisations can do to support women’s progress in the workforce?
“Always make sure women are represented, in almost everything the company does… The more they are represented more women will learn the confidence to put themselves forward and, I believe, the issue will then eventually begin to fix itself.”

“Actively encourage Dad’s to go their kid’s sports day, even if it’s in the afternoon. They want to go; they just need permission sometimes to value their family above work. Men are victims of cultural legacies as well as women and you can’t fix it for one gender and not the other.”

“Make sure women have the same access to training. In 20 years, I have literally taught tens-of-thousands of delegates and students around the world… A very optimistic estimate of my audience overall is 20 per cent women… It’s hardly surprising that there are not more women financial modellers if they’re not being trained.”

It is often said that men and women have different leadership styles. What has been your experience?
“I don’t agree with this. Leadership is leadership. However, I do think men and women work differently… Leadership on the other hand is all about confidence and vision. Gender is irrelevant. Think of any woman you admire. If she started championing a cause you cared deeply about, would you follow her?”


Maria Shevchenko
Senior Level Data and Analytics Executive at S&P Global Marketing Intelligence
Vice President, EMEA Investment Banking Product & Market Development

What’s the number one attribute that helped you get where you are in your career?
“I believe it was staying true to myself and dedication. I knew that I wanted to succeed in my life (or at least to try to) and I realised fairly early that the only way I could do it is by being myself.”

“I am a woman and I act like one irrespective of the industry I work in. This does not mean that I am lesser in any way but it does mean that I am different… know I can bring a lot to the table, I am smart, I am dedicated and I truly believe that diverse opinions lead to better outcomes.”

What are the top three challenges you have had to overcome to achieve success in your career? And how did you overcome them?
“Being seen equal to men… I am as knowledgeable, hardworking, quick to pick things up as they are. I am not perfect but I am equal.  The only way I have been able to overcome this challenge is by quality of my work and the expertise I bring to the table.”

“Doubting in my own abilities – thus limiting my own progress…I realised that I am setting my own limitations at work by being more cautious, humble, risk averse… I had to dig deeper to acknowledge this and then to actively change it.”

It is often said that men and women have different leadership styles. What has been your experience?
“Yes I would agree with this statement. In my experience, I see the difference. While many attributes are the same, I find that we women are much more empathetic and risk averse. We tend to spend a little more time on the people factor… Decision-wise, I have noticed that we typically think things through, especially when dealing with more complex situations to ensure that we are taking decisions rationally based on facts and not emotions.”


Danielle Stein Fairhurst
Principal, Financial Modelling Specialist at Plum Solutions

What are the top three challenges you have had to overcome to achieve success in your career? And how did you overcome them?
“Working with multiple clients… Managing my workflow can be a huge challenge and prioritising is something I’ve had to become good at over the past few years.”

“I wouldn’t call my beautiful children “challenges” by any stretch, but fitting my work around my home life was always a really big motivator for me in starting the business. It was tricky at first because I’ve always done a lot of travelling which I absolutely love – but somehow we make it work and I wouldn’t have it any other way!”

What are the top three things organisations can do to support women’s progress in the workforce?
“Many women opt out of the workforce entirely because of this whole “all or nothing” approach to maternity leave and going back to work… When it’s time to go back, most women (understandably) aren’t prepared to go back to the crazy hours they were doing before and they feel they have no choice but to quit entirely. If companies can somehow make it acceptable to transition to fewer hours, it will allow more parents to feel they have a choice, so keeping them in the workforce.”

“In banking, in particular, this culture of long hours, sending emails at crazy hours or sleeping under the desk as a badge of honour is enough to make many women run a mile. I’m a big fan of hard work, and putting in the hours is certainly a great way to get ahead which is fine for a short time in your life but this kind of behaviour should not become so ingrained in the culture that parents feel they have no place in the organisation. Fortunately, this is starting to change and I see many managers setting a great example for their staff by leaving the office at a reasonable hour.”

“Companies can promote equality by supporting both men and women in the workplace by setting an expectation that new fathers take equal time off work as new mothers. If the mother returns to work, it should be expected and completely normal that the father takes some time off or works reduced hours to support the transition. And it’s totally ok for them to work part-time – same as it is for women!”

What is the best advice you would give to a female entering the workforce today in your industry? 
“I’d give the same advice to any financial modeller starting out, whether they are male or female… Speak out! If you’re in a meeting and you can contribute in any way, then speak up and make your presence known. The corporate world (in fact our western society as a whole) rewards those with extroverted tendencies and financial modellers are often detail-orientated people who tend, in general, to be more reticent… If you’re new to the company and a little unsure of yourself then I know you’d probably much rather sit in the corner and talk to your Excel formulae, but getting out there and having your voice heard is an important career move.”


Marta Izquierdo
Director of Public Affairs and Institutional Relations – Europe at U-TAD, Ilion Animation Studios and Pyro Mobile

What’s the number one attribute that helped you get where you are in your career?
“Initiative, constancy and self-education. I know these are three attributes but by having initiative is how I went for the other two… Having initiative will make you become someone that is not afraid of leaving the “comfortable zone” where we all love to stay, and learn a lot.”

What are the top three challenges you have had to overcome to achieve success in your career? And how did you overcome them?
“My biggest challenge was to fund my own business, and after 10 years, close it having to change completely my professional orientation. I started in the audio-visual sector, producing TV documentaries, advertisements and multiplatform solutions… With the Spanish crisis, we closed and I had to reorient my life – with initiative and self-confidence in my abilities as a manager, good communicator, and being able to acquire new knowledge by myself. I started to manage a cluster of companies in the audio-visual and digital sector and began a very interesting career that introduced me to the digital and high tech/innovation world in a role is normally occupied by men.”

It is often said that men and women have different leadership styles. What has been your experience?
“I really think it depends on the person not on the gender, but I believe women are more open to what their team says.”


Olga Bennet
Financial Modelling Analyst at Transport for London

What are the top three things organisations can do to support women’s progress in the workforce?
“Leading by example and setting a culture where every idea is judged on its merit, not its source.”

“Supporting part-time and flexible working for a time can be an absolute life-line for women staying in work and progressing their career.”

“Mixed interview panels have been proven to even out unconscious bias and correct the ratio of men to women.”

What is the best advice you would give to a female entering the workforce today in your industry? 
“This is going to sound anti-feminist, but if we want our ideas to do the talking, we need to take away any barriers that people may have in considering our ideas at face value. If you want to be taken seriously, consciously consider and manage your image – the way you dress, the way you speak, the time you get to the office, the ‘trivial’ topics of conversation at the water fountains all make a bigger difference than you might think and pave the way for your ideas to be taken seriously (or not). And know your stuff!”


Dr. Felienne Hermans
Assistant Professor at Delft University of Technology
Organizer of Joy of Coding
Founder of Infotron BV

What’s the number one attribute that helped you get where you are in your career?
“Enthusiasm!”

What are the top three things organisations can do to support women’s progress in the workforce?
“Diversity “scan”: hire a professional to see how well you are doing.”

“Inclusiveness training.”

“Promote/hire based on clear checklists and not gut feeling or potential; there are bias traps!”


Hilary Smart
Manager at Operis
2013 Financial Modeling World Champion (www.modeloff.com)

What’s the number one attribute that helped you get where you are in your career?
“Technical capability – I studied mathematics at university and without a strong numerical background I wouldn’t have got off the ground.  Having said this, as I have become more senior other (more traditionally “feminine”) attributes have become increasingly important, such as the ability to juggle multiple projects and the emotional intelligence to deal well with more junior employees and clients.”

What are the top three challenges you have had to overcome to achieve success in your career? And how did you overcome them?
“I have a tendency to underestimate and/or understate my capabilities. Winning a world championship has helped to cure me of this (a little!).”

What are the top three things organisations can do to support women’s progress in the workforce?
“Try to recognise any institutional biases (e.g. old boys’ networks, tendency to hire people who “fit in” (where this is code for “the same as people we already have”)) and correct for these as much as possible.”

“Provide good support for both men and women who are parents.  Be open to flexible working arrangements, particularly for the few years when individuals are parenting young children and might otherwise withdraw from the workforce.”

“Help to mentor women who show potential (perhaps whilst still at university, if this is possible.)”


Tiki Cheung
Vice President, Valuations & Business Modelling at EY

What are the top three challenges you have had to overcome to achieve success in your career? And how did you overcome them?
“Self-doubt – wondering whether I am really capable of achieving my goals or if I’m even qualified to do so… I have learned to accept that I don’t need to be perfect or completely ready before I take on a new challenge or role – overcoming the uncertainty makes accomplishing a goal that much more rewarding.”

“Trying to please everyone – early on in my career I found it very difficult to say no to requests at work and would spread myself too thin… I tried to be more open and candid with the people I worked with regarding my workload and commitments. I realized there are often simple solutions that are being overlooked and that others can be quite flexible when you try to speak up and ask for what you really need.”

“Not asking for things – When there were interesting assignments, I used to hope that the engagement manager would just inherently know that I wanted to work on a file or that I was very qualified to lead the project. A mentor of mine challenged me to say no to things that I had done for years and to seek out new opportunities that would allow me to grow and gain experience. I realized that, while I may not just have work handed to me, there’s still absolutely no harm in asking. This way, at least someone knows you’re keen and interested, and will remember that the next time an opportunity comes up.”

What is the best advice you would give to a female entering the workforce today in your industry?
“Get involved – organizations often have committees and programs that offer women the opportunity to build leadership skills and make valuable connections to expand both internal and external networks.”


Emilie Ferrieu
Senior Associate, Business Modelling Services at PwC

What are the top three challenges you have had to overcome to achieve success in your career? And how did you overcome them?
“Learning to manage expectations and drawing the line with the demands of bosses and fellow co-workers. In my industry, work never stops and there is always something to do so it is important to speak up and set your own terms to prevent frustration or burnout… actively communicate and set realistic and attainable goals that lead to better outcomes and satisfied bosses.”

“Earning credibility was also difficult as a female in a predominantly male industry… leaders will often first consider the employees who are most like them for career-advancing opportunities instead of objectively recognizing work quality. I understand this reality, but have earned my credibility over time through my hard work as well as actively working to find common ground with the people with whom I work.”

What is the best advice you would give to a female entering the workforce today in your industry? 
“To not be afraid to ask for what you want and be assertive. Whether you would like more responsibilities, to be promoted, or get a raise, don’t just assume you will automatically get it because you have been working hard. It takes a while to prove yourself but it is your responsibility to be vocal about what you think you deserve. Be confident in your abilities and keep your expectations clear to everyone.”

In summary, it is hard not to notice that many of these successful women highlight the importance of speaking out, of making themselves known within their organisations. Even though this was often personally challenging to these women, they nevertheless viewed it as essential to overcome what they perceived to be ingrained gender biases that favoured the status quo. They talked about asking for things, speaking up in meetings and showing you are keen rather than assuming that hard work and technical ability will be enough to deliver success. What was perhaps surprising is that so many women highlighted the importance of organisations supporting both men and women to be effective in the parenting role, particularly when children are young, as a means of keeping good minds in the workforce. Many of these women had not personally solved the thorny issue of work-life balance but it is encouraging to see these successful women speak out against the unrealistic hours and culture that continue to persist in some sections of the finance and technology sectors.

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