'I was very sceptical about my future in this industry. I did not see myself being successful in an industry where only the 'wolves' survived'.
A few years ago, when I started pursuing my Bachelor's Degree in Financial Economics at Coventry University, I was very sceptical about my future in this industry. For some reason, I did not feel like it was the right decision because I could not fully picture myself being successful in an industry where only ´´wolves´´ survived. I remember asking myself this exact question: is the industry really open to people like me, a young black Equatorial Guinean who was not even able to manage her own finances? I also did not like the idea of women being expected to change their true essence and personality, to behave and dress up in the least feminine way possible in order to earn the respect of their bosses or their colleagues. Essentially, I did not know or understand much about the industry, which I think has been the case of many.
In my case, the lack of mentors or exposure to institutions that could potentially help me solve this puzzle ended up making me feel more frustrated, until months later, when in an attempt to find some answers, I invested in a Trading and Financial Markets simulation. The problem with this simulation was that, although my team and I performed well, it made me realise that there were key aspects of the work environment that I needed to consider. Like being overlooked by my male counterparts, who seem to be more experienced, quite aggressively judgemental and lacking the teamwork spirit that I consider so important in any fields. Overall, it gave me the impression that maybe I was forcing myself into a field that was not designed for people like me.
However, during my internship at the Ministry of Finance of Equatorial Guinea, which involved working closely with international financial organisations such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank, as well as attending finance-related meetings and conferences, I realised that there were actually a lot of women in charge in the industry; women from all walks of life. As a matter of fact, most of the keynote speakers were female, spanning from Finance Ministers, to Bank Governors and Chairmen, Portfolio Managers, and Fin-tech start up founders, which really opened my eyes to the numerous possibilities that are available to any women with the sufficient preparation and willingness to work hard.
Of course, there are still many challenges and issues to tackle, including having more females and more women of colour at senior leadership positions in the industry, or adjusting the gender gap; little changes that could make a huge difference in this industry in terms of inclusivity. But in general, I believe that the industry is open to women, and to women like me. Fortunately, with the rise of ESG and sustainable investing, there are even more opportunities, especially for those who might not want to go into the more corporate and commercial side of the industry. I have also learnt that the more you can master not just the technical skills but the soft skills as well, including leadership, team-working, networking and the ability to communicate effectively, the greater your chances will be.
Before, I was one of the people who believed that it was important to hold a certain degree or to have a certain skill-set and personality type to be able to fit into this industry, but through many of the panel discussions I have been attending, and through the mentoring I am receiving from GAIN, I have increased my level of knowledge and engagement. Companies like GAIN and City Hive are the real change makers, and this work is part of the solid foundation that is already preparing and sustaining the next generation of female investors. I believe all of this is evidence of the progress that is already being made.
In the last 2 months, I have found out that there are actually even more females in finance than I thought, and these are women who are fortunately holding the door for the next generation. But to come back to our initial question, as to whether or not the industry is open to women like me, and to diversity? I believe it all comes down to oneself, to our beliefs and mindset, because this influences everything else, from the way we see ourselves, the way we perceive things, to the way we show up to reach the opportunities available.
This is not only a matter of it being open to us or not, but rather a matter of who is willing to go the extra mile and take ownership? Who is confident enough to go after it? Because as clichéd as it might sound, if we want to see any change, we have to be it, we have to create it, and we have to inspire it.