Women Encouraged to ‘Opt-In to Finance’ at UVA Darden

By Dave Hendrick

Finance remains a sector of both ample opportunities and unique challenges for women.

According to a panel of University of Virginia Darden School of Business alumnae working in various areas of the industry, many sectors of finance remain male-dominated but concerted efforts to attract and retain women mean the pathways to advancement are more apparent than ever. Finance remains one of the most popular career paths for Darden students, with 25 percent of the Class of 2017 pursuing positions in the financial services field.

The panel, Why Women Should Opt-In to Finance, was presented by Darden student clubs including the Finance Club, Graduate Women in Business Club, Darden Private Equity Club and Darden Capital Management as part of a series of events and programming during One Darden Week.

University of Virginia Investment Management Co. (UVIMCO) Director Caitlin Fitzmaurice (MBA ’11), who noted that her co-head on the venture capital portfolio she manages is also a woman, said the “overt biases” in the industry seem to have dissipated, although individual experiences were widely variable.

Fitzmaurice said she was recognized and appreciated for the approach she brought to her work at UVIMCO.

“Women bring a different perspective and way of approaching things that can be an asset and make you even more important to a team,” Fitzmaurice said.

Given the still comparatively small numbers at major firms, panelists said women have an opportunity to make a direct impact and differentiate themselves. Sasha Kelemen (MBA ’17), an investment banking associate at Goldman Sachs, said her opinion was constantly sought out by fellow associates and partners alike.

“I have been the only woman at the table several times, but have never walked away without sharing my perspective,” she said.

One of the benefits of being a woman in finance is that your perspective and actions often stand out, panelists said.

“Our comments are not easily overlooked,” Kelemen said. “If anything, we enrich the experience and help drive the business forward.”

The panelists said many women have to move beyond a tendency to downplay their accomplishments and gain comfort in touting their abilities. While they advised Darden students to seek out mentors and sponsors — both men and women — ultimately, they suggested women have to speak up for themselves.

The panelists said their jobs were demanding, but well-compensated, and they agreed that the pressures of the position did not preclude the potential of having a family.

The alumnae on the panel also noted the range of positions available within the sector, and Fitzmaurice noted that she works for a nonprofit organization.

“Finance gets a bad rap for supposedly attracting money-hungry, non-ethical people,” Fitzmaurice said. “There are lots of applications that are not about personal financial enrichment, which don’t get talked about a lot.”

With historical ceilings to advancement no longer as evident, panelists saw no natural limit to their careers within the industry.

Kathryn Gaffin (Class of 2018), who serves as vice president of finance and administration for Darden’s Graduate Women in Business club and organized the panel, said the discussion showed that careers in finance for women can be challenging, but the industry has drastically improved from where it was.

“To see a 70-person classroom full of students interested in a ‘Why Women Should Opt In to Finance’ panel is incredible, and even more inspiring is that half of these students are men,” said Gaffin, who plans to pursue a career as an investment banking associate at Evercore after graduation. “To have panelists like these women as role models and men pursuing roles in finance who care about making the business world better for women is exactly what the industry needs to be more accessible to women.”

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About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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