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On Wednesday April 27th, the Bocconi Students Women in Finance, in association with the Bocconi Students Investment Club, the Bocconi Students M&A Circle and the Bocconi Students Private Equity Club presented its first public event “Women in Finance”.

We had the honour of hosting four extremely successful women who have pursued a brilliant career in the financial industry: Simona Maellare, Global Co-Head of Financial Sponsors at UBS, Emanuela Cisini, Executive Director at Morgan Stanley, Claudia Cattaneo, Executive Director at JP Morgan and Stefania Boroli, Investment Manager at IDEA Capital Funds SGR.

During the event the speakers gave to the audience an insight of what a career in finance could actually mean for a woman, which were the main obstacles and stereotypes they had to face, and who and what inspired them throughout their careers.

The discussion started with an opinion from each of the panellists on whether and how the role of women in finance has changed over the past years in the financial industry.

All of the speakers argued that indeed there have been some changes.  For instance, Ms. Cattaneo started her career at Credito Italiano in Italy as the only woman in the office. When moving to London to work for Lehman Brothers, she was interviewed by 15 people, of whom only one was a woman, specifically sent to talk to her in order to make her feel comfortable, given that they were going to be the only two women working on the trading floor.   Ms. Cisini went through a similar experience:  three months after the crisis hit, she moved to Dubai to work in the investment banking sector, which, for cultural reasons was still very conservative with regard to the role of women in the workplace. Most of the speakers agreed, however, that in the aftermath of the crisis, banks started looking for different skill sets and a more sustainable model: this meant diversity, greater openness to different perspectives, increased awareness and the promotion of women in finance. While in the past banks faced the issue of having just to comply with more “moral” rules, it is now commonly acknowledged that having more women means better performance because they offer a unique and different perspective.  However, Ms. Boroli, who has been working recently in a niche Italian private equity fund, mentioned that positive discrimination in smaller working environments such as hers might become a problem: in these cases, the best solution would be to implement sensible regulations to address the issue without losing efficiency and without overstepping meritocracy in the name of gender equality.

During the discussion our panellists were also asked whether they had received any mentorship and, if so, what they had learnt from it.  Ms. Boroli, co-founder of Mentors4u, a mentorship project dedicated to top-performing students interested in a career in finance, was very keen on the topic. She actually did not have female mentors, but she stressed, together with Ms. Cattaneo, the importance of the support of family and friends and the quality of the education children are given, which forms the basis of each person. One important lesson that both Ms. Maellare and Ms. Cattaneo were taught by their mentors is to never lose your own identity and to avoid trying being someone you are not. Honesty and self-appreciation are fundamental for a successful and satisfying career.

When asked how they managed to find a balance between work and family, most of our panellists confirmed that there is still a lot of prejudice: women in finance are not, as Ms. Cattaneo said, “married with finance”, even if finding a balance with life can sometimes represent a challenge. Ms. Maellare, on the other hand, argued that young women should kick off their careers first and try to be top performers. It indeed comes natural that at the very start of one’s career the scale weighs in favour of work, but most of the times big companies allow top performing employees to choose whatever suits best their professional and non-professional priorities. This represents an incentive for women to work hard at junior levels, so that they can quickly gain flexibility and reach early senior positions, when they can finally start building a family. Of course, she noticed, an employee cannot demand more flexibility while holding a job that does not allow it at the same time.

In conclusion, it is undeniable that women have to fight harder in order to reach their objectives in the finance industry, due to a series of stereotypes that still need to be overcome. For this reason, our panellists gave to the audience some tips to help young women re-evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. Ms. Maellare stressed the importance of being humble, hardworking and open-minded. Ms. Cattaneo focused on the drive to learn, to adapt and to show true passion: “do not rely on the fact that you have done the most of it, while there is much more to do”. The final comment came from Ms. Cisini: “remember that the price of inaction is greater than the price of making a mistake”.

As a final advice from WiF for all female Bocconi students and as the main takeaway of the panel discussion: go out there and put your skills and abilities to the test, be active and determined, and follow your ambitions. Prove to the people who still believe that finance and banking are ‘a man’s business’ that as long as you have passion, determination and abilities, you will reach all your objectives and final goals, no matter what your gender is.