The University of Michigan Central Student Government hosted a panel discussion on the finance sector and gender, continuing a series that highlights women working in traditionally male-dominated fields. Five panelists spoke to a group of about 30 students Thursday evening about working in finance in the #MeToo era and overcoming obstacles women still face in the field.
LSA sophomore Amanda Kaplan, CSG vice chair of Finance, said she hoped the panel would enable young women to seek out mentors and make connections with women who have worked for notable organizations. Kaplan also said she reached out to Debotri Dhar, lecturer in the Women’s Studies Department, to moderate the panel because she wanted to include history and feminist theory in the discussion.
“As a woman, as someone new to the finance committee and as someone applying to minor in Ross, these are all things I’m interested in and I wanted to figure out a way to bring out the women’s studies, women’s narrative of a finance-dominated field,” Kaplan said. “We really want the students to be able to engage with the panelists and create those relationships so that they feel more comfortable and empowered when they choose to enter the field.”
Panelists discussed the importance of diversity in finding innovative solutions to problems and the struggles many women face when balancing work and childcare. Though all panelists said bridging the gender gap in finance is beneficial for their companies, they also noted how filling a gender “quota” doesn’t fully solve the issue. Panelist Irena Alagic, a fixed income strategist at J.P. Morgan Chase, said diversity should go beyond gender to include different backgrounds and worldviews.
“We’re not playing a numbers game here,” Alagic said. “If you have a whole bunch of people in the room who all grew up the same way, who think the same way, who have the same set of beliefs that guide their principles, you’re most likely not going to come up with the most efficient decision.”
Disparities extend back to academic communities here on campus as well. A study published last year found women are underrepresented in senior positions in the University’s economics department.
Many of the panelists also noted how the #MeToo movement, which has affected women in many different fields, has changed the discourse surrounding the gender disparity in finance. Panelist Charlene Reardon, the senior financial life adviser at Telemus Capital, LLC, said the issues exposed by the movement are not new but instead stem from a history of inequality.
“The #MeToo movement, I don’t think that in and of itself, has changed anything really significantly in the world of finance that I work in,” Reardon said. “It’s been an evolution, not a revolution.”
Business junior Sonakshi Agarwal said she liked how the panelists represented large companies, such as J.P. Morgan, and smaller ones, such as Telemus. Agarwal also said her experiences as an international student made her aware of how events in the United States impact other nations around the world.
“I come from India, and there is a big gender disparity there,” Agarwal said. “I would say I’ve been lucky enough not to experience it myself, but I have witnessed it and I have seen it in so many instances — workplace and even social life. I understand why it’s good that modern society is talking about it and if more developed nations like the United States are talking about it, the effects are going to trickle down to the rest of the world.”