When Business Administration senior Denise Hensley first walked into her fixed income securities markets class, nothing stood out to her. The class was just another stepping stone in her career path, one that led to a Master’s, and possible a PhD, in economics. It was not until she came in late one day that she noticed something was off— out of the 35 students in that class, there were only seven other women.
This picture, this atmosphere of a multitude of male students and few female ones, is not only seen in college finance classes.
In 1970, women made up 38 percent of the United States workforce. From the 1980s to the 1990s, and now all the way to 2015, this percentage has slowly risen from 43 to 45 to finally 47 percent . With females making up roughly half of the U.S. workforce, it would only be fair to assume that women are redefining the structure of a myriad of industries. But in many fields, and particularly finance, the gender gap still exists.
With the many routes on which one can embark in the realm of business, finance is one from which many women steer clear. Partners at Oliver Wyman’s financial services practice Astrid Jaekel, Ph.D., and Elizabeth St-Onge reported in an article for Harvard Business Review in 2016 that women represent 20 percent of executive committee roles and 22 percent of board positions at financial services companies. Similarly, a mere 12 percent of the chief executive officers at major American financial firms are female. One year later, such a discrepancy is still seen at numerous financial corporations.
Financial Consultant Partner for Charles Schwab in Napa, California Ashley Biernier reflects on her experience in entering this industry and her obstacles in showcasing her skills.
“I was ready for the challenge; however, I did go into it thinking I was going to have to work a little harder to prove myself. At Schwab, I don’t feel that way. In my first five years in the industry, I did feel that way. I was a research associate, and there are barely any women in that [role] and [a lot of] older men who don’t take you seriously. My hardest challenge at Schwab is the clients. They see a young, female, blonde,” Biernier said.
Biernier studied business with a concentration in finance at Sonoma State University.
As women aiming to make a name for themselves in the industry of finance, both Biernier and Hensley are well aware of the atmosphere of their chosen fields; nevertheless, their male counterparts are too cognizant of the environment in which they work. Financial consultant for Charles Schwab at the Santa Rosa branch Zack Swad comments that he has seen the staggering gender imbalance in his field, but counters that he believes that this disparity is headed for change.
“I think historically men have been in these types of [finance] roles, similar to doctors and accountants and lawyers, but I think that the trend is changing. Women are becoming more predominant in the industry over time,” Swad said.
Neither Biernier, nor Hensley, have allowed the gender gap to hinder their passions of working in the finance industry. They have recognized it and are working to redefine it as they pioneer their own respective careers in this industry. Graduating in the spring of 2018 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration and minor in Economics, Hensley has a role secured at Workday, Inc.. Likewise, Biernier plans to persevere in her current position as a Financial Consultant Partner and become a Financial Consultant, earning her Certified Financial Planner (CFP) certification and acquiring a client base of her own. These women have not let the stigma around women in finance prevent them from blazing their own paths in the industry.