It was the first day at my first summer internship, and butterflies were racing in my stomach. I was slowly getting settled in my cubicle when my mentor came up to me to ask if I wanted to get coffee with the rest of the team. I scrambled to join them, and one realization struck me — I was the only woman in the cramped elevator.
My sense of feeling alone is experienced by many other women. Even though the ratio of men to women in entry-level positions is around 50/50, women make up a much smaller percentage of senior employees. Moving up the ladder, less than one in five people looking to move into C-suite positions are women. The percentage drops from 17 percent to 9 percent, 6 percent and 3 percent when looking at more specific financial industries such as investment banking, venture capitalists and private equity or hedge funds, respectively. Moreover, white males — who constitute of 31 percent of entry-level positions — end up representing around 73 percent of the C-suite later on. White women, on the other hand, occupy 30 percent of entry-level positions but then drop to 17 percent of C-suite positions. The effect is opposite. Why?
The wide disparity is a cycle that is never ending. Early in their careers, around 40 percent of men see themselves holding executive level positions while only 26 percent of women envision themselves holding these same positions. The lack of representation may be a vital factor affecting women’s perceptions about their career paths. Women can rarely see other women holding executive level positions, and this pessimistic attitude needs to be reversed.
Change can begin at the very bottom of the ladder. Guidance at the beginning of a woman’s tenure is one of the most important factors to help a woman propel her career in the right direction. According to “Women in the Workplace,” a 2017 study conducted by leanin.org and McKinsey Research, entry-level women view strong communication skills as one of the most important factors in their career. However, senior-level women agree that sponsorship from a senior leader is the most important factor in helping a woman advance her career. Earlier-tenure women tend to receive less encouragement and sponsorship from their managers or people more high up in the workplace compared to their male counterparts. Less women advocate for sponsorship for themselves. This needs to change. More women should be encouraged to voice their opinions and to ask for the same support their male coworkers do.
Mentorship is also a big factor in helping a woman advance in her career. 81 percent of women either have their main support network comprised of majority female or an equal split of females and males. Going down the line, this can actually be a detriment to women since there are less women holding higher level positions to serve as a support system. It’s important for women to have mentors in all stages of their careers. Indra Nooyi, former chief executive officer of PepsiCo and a potential leader to the World Bank herself said, “If I hadn’t had mentors, I wouldn’t be here today. I’m a product of great mentoring, great coaching ... Coaches or mentors are very important.” Mentorship has played a great role in shaping many of our business leaders today, and it will help women reach greater heights.
Furthermore, focusing on mentoring women from college itself can help combat this gender gap in the industry. Walking into company information sessions for various banks, all I ever saw was a sea of men. McCombs is made up of 46 percent females and 54 percent males, so why are more women not present? We can use a clear female majority in the student body to our advantage by having more mentorship programs geared toward women who are seeking them. The Texan Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) Women’s Council is a great place for freshmen to start to gain a peer mentor and a professional mentor. Moreover, more roundtable programs can exist for women to gain guidance from both males and females. This will encourage women to reach out to anyone for mentorship and not narrow down their choices.
Standing in a room full of suits can be intimidating when you are the only woman, but it can also be advantageous. You stand out for being the minority, yes, but this recognition can also help women stand out and demonstrate their abilities in a special light. As a society, we are slowly making the gap smaller. Yet, the pace of change is still not fast enough. As a woman myself, I challenge all the women and men reading this article to reach out to a female underclassmen and tell her, “You are not alone.”
Pancharpula is a finance junior.