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Wall Street: an option or obstacle for young women?

January 24, 2015, 4:00 PM UTC
First Day Of Trading For 2012 At The NYSE
A trader checks her monitor floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York, U.S., on Monday, Jan. 3, 2012. Stocks surged, driving the Standard & Poor's 500 Index to a two-month high, and commodities climbed on signs of increasing manufacturing output around the world. Photographer: Jin Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Jin Lee — Bloomberg via Getty Images

MPW Insider is one of several online communities where the biggest names in business answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How can more women break into Wall Street? is written by Hope Newsome, Chief Compliance Officer at The Newport Group.

I didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming a Chief Compliance Officer at a financial services firm. Honestly, I didn’t even grow up determined to be an investment banker, research analyst, asset manager or anything else finance related. I actually saw myself as a lawyer — which I eventually accomplished because there were plenty of women lawyers in my community (and certainly Clair Huxtable had a significant influence.) However, I also thought about becoming a doctor, a teacher (my mom was a teacher) or a choreographer. Clearly, I was not set on a specific career path. And although serving in the C-suite offers sufficient fulfillment, adequate compensation and an ever-changing and challenging environment, I have often found myself wondering: how did I end up in the area I’m in today? So, faced with the question, “How can more women break into Wall Street?” – I think its crucial to start with the career decision-making process.

And there are only two things that come to mind: taking risk and guidance (or lack thereof):

Push yourself to take risk
When I decided to leave the sales and analyst side of the financial services industry in 2001 I must admit that being uncomfortable with taking risk drove me to seek out a somewhat safer (at least it appeared that way) job. Looking back now, we were in the midst of a financial crisis, the economy was unstable and I didn’t know one woman, at that time, outside of a few colleagues, serving as an investment banker, research analyst or asset manager — even if I did they most certainly were not in a senior level position. It wasn’t until later that I realized my fear of taking risk was actually steering the direction of my decisions.

We are often reminded that women tend to be more risk averse than men. Some of that risk aversion may very well be the reason that some women choose not to seek out careers on Wall Street – for fear of entering a male-dominated industry and questioning the role that Wall Street plays in our economy. We desperately need to flip this dialogue on its head and instead say, “Women, we need you to be a bigger part of our economy to better ensure that diverse ideas are being provided. Those missing ideas may just bring some much needed balance to our markets.”

Find a role model
When I was in the process of deciding whether or not to leave finance, I didn’t have a mentor. And I desperately needed someone to talk to and explain the common struggles that all professionals have early in their careers. I needed someone to help me identify a more long-term approach and teach me how to role with the punches. So, instead of pushing myself to keep going, I decided to forget the idea of becoming an analyst or advisor all together and instead pursue law school. I actually knew of women lawyers, but more importantly, I knew of successful women lawyers.

So ask yourself this – do young women see Wall Street as an option or an obstacle? Are they exposed to enough senior level women on Wall Street? I believe the answer is no. This is why so many women don’t see how significant, impactful and exciting a career on Wall Street can be — they need more role models.

We need to offer Wall Street as an option for young women and remind them to never allow risk aversion to unduly influence a decision — this way we will have more examples of senior level women actually leading on Wall Street. While I wouldn’t change my career path now, I certainly would have appreciated a role model when I was first starting out. I hope I can be that model for someone else.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How can more women break into Wall Street?

How more women can dominate Wall Street by Barbara Byrne, Vice Chairman of Investment Banking at Barclays.