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Inspirational woman leaders in finance

Written by Fmi.Online

Progress towards gender equality in many industries remains slow. While focusing on corporate America, McKinsey’s Workplace 2020 report highlights the disparity experienced by women in workplaces globally. Additionally, the COVID pandemic in 2020 disproportionately impacted women, especially women of color, more than men. This impact was felt through disproportionately higher job losses for women and the additional stress working from home while simultaneously being primarily responsible for children attending their schools virtually. 

Not all industries see the same levels of gender inequality. Women experience higher career success in areas such as medicine, academia, and law. 

The finance industry has not kept pace. A further report in 2018 from McKinsey found that while male and females in finance begin their careers on equal footing, women only account for 19% of the positions that are classified as C-suite.

Here at Fmi, we want to take the opportunity that is International Women’s Day on March 8th to highlight several inspirational women in the finance industry. We wanted our list to be eclectic and unique, with a diverse mix of women. Our challenge was selecting only five role models. All of us here at Fmi, hope this article reminds readers of the importance of gender equality and the benefits diversity as an ideal brings to organizations.

Mary Ma (1952 to 2019)

Going back in time a little, first on our list is Mary Ma, who passed in 2019 aged 66. She was one of the few college graduates during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. After impressing the founder of the computer giant Levono in the late 1980s, she served stints as its CFO, during which time Lenovo become the world’s third-largest computer maker.

After being highly successful at Lenovo, Mary Ma left to become the managing director of private-equity firm TPG Capital. There, she oversaw several hugely successful investments in companies such as Alibaba.

Mary Ma left TPG to start her own China-focused private equity firm, Boyu Capital, in 2011. China’s private equity market was and remains fast-growing, competitive, and lucrative. Ma’s fund went up against some of the most successful private equity firms globally, including Blackstone Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co and her former employer, TPG Capital. As history proves, Ma’s financial acumen and insights underpinned Boyu Capital’s success.

Ma also served as an independent non-executive director of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. During her career, she was selected as one of the world’s most powerful businesswomen by Forbes and Fortune magazines.

Mary Ma will not be on everyone’s list of influential women in finance. However, her success in a turbulent time in Chinese history deserves recognition.

Christine Lagarde – President, European Central Bank

Christine Lagarde has blazed a trail for women during a distinguished career. In 1981 she joined the international law firm Baker & McKenzie in Paris, making partner in 1987, and became the executive committee’s first female member. 

After a series of executive positions within the firm, Christine Lagarde became the first woman to serve as France’s finance minister in 2007. As France’s minister of economic affairs, industry, and employment, she was a top official in one of Europe’s largest economies.

In 2011 she was appointed as the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF has a 190 country membership. It aims to foster global monetary cooperation, promote financial stability, trade, economic growth, and employment. 

In 2019, she left the IMF, after which she assumed the presidency of the European Central Bank. Chirtine Lagarde has often been named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Abby Joseph Cohen – Economist and Financial Analyst, Goldman Sachs & Co.

From humble beginnings, Abby Joseph Cohen was born in Queens, New York, the daughter of emigrants from Poland. As one of the most influential economic analysts in the world, Abby Joseph Cohen is known throughout the financial industry for her bold calls on the U.S. stock market.

Abby Joseph Cohen is an advisory director and senior investment strategist at Goldman Sachs, one of Wall Street’s most revered institutions. Abby joined Goldman Sachs in 1990, was named partner in 1998. This was an incredibly important moment, as at the time very few women had senior roles in any Wall Street firm, especially one as revered as Goldman Sachs. She has since served on the firm’s partnership committee.

Abby Joseph Cohen ranks with Ben Bernanke, Warren Buffett , and Bill Gross on the list of financial voices to which every investor pays attention. She is often seen interviewed and asked for her opinion with the global financial press.

Many people consider Ms. Cohen’s formidable achievements in financial services are eclipsed by those in the philanthropic and community service areas. 

Jane Fraser – CEO Citigroup

Jane Fraser was born in St Andrews, Scotland, and started her career as a mergers and acquisitions analyst at Goldman Sachs in London. After earning her MBA in 1994 from Harvard, she rose to partner in New York and London while raising her young children. She joined Citi in 2004 as Head of Client Strategy in its investment and global banking division. 

In 2015, Jane Fraser became the first foreigner and the first woman to serve as CEO of Citigroup’s Latin American operations. That includes running Citibanamex, a colossal assignment, including oversight of an organization with more than 1,400 retail branches throughout Mexico and over 29 million retail banking consumers.

“If people have a whole life, it makes them far better leaders and far better professionals. You have to have the courage to say, ‘This is my path’ — and the organizations have to support it,” she explained in an interview with LinkedIn.

Fraser believes that having children brought her more down-to-earth and taught her some balance. “You learn that you can’t do everything at the level you are comfortable with,” she explains. “You learn to do things at 80%. That was a game-changer for me.”

In February 2021, she took over as CEO at Citi, becoming the first female CEO of a top-tier investment bank.

Naina Lal Kidwai – Chair of Altico Capital and Max Financial Services

Naina Lall Kidwai was born in 1957. Her passion lay in Mathematics and Accountancy, and so she pursued a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Delhi. In 1982, she gained an MBA from Harvard Business School, becoming its first Indian woman graduate from that school. She is a qualified chartered accountant and was the first woman to guide a foreign bank’s functioning in India. 

Currently the Chair of Max Financial Services, she also serves on executive boards of some of the most well known banks and corporations globally. Names like HSBC, Nestleand Altico Capital Partners,  as well as being Chairwoman for the City of London’s Advisory Council for India. She is also a Global Advisor for Harvard Business School. 

Naina Lal Kidwai has repeatedly featured in many well known publications lists of most influential business people, including Fortune magazine, the Wall Street Journal  and Time Magazine . Kidwai’s passion projects include microfinance and livelihood creation for rural women and the environment.

Naina Lal Kidwai’s life journey is proof that hard work never goes unnoticed, and hard work fruits are sweet. For her praiseworthy work and her significant contribution to India’s banking and finance sector, Naina Lal Kidwai has been awarded Padma Shri. 

All these powerful women have proved gender doesn’t prove that one is better at something over the other. Their inspirational career journeys are proof that finance is not only a place for men but women can be as successful. On this International Women’s Day, let’s support and encourage all the women in our lives to pursue their careers and dream big.

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