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Op-ed: Even after pivotal victories, the fight for women’s advancement in finance isn’t finished

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Key Points
  • Though women have ascended to many of the top posts in government and different industries, progress still needs to be made in the world of finance.
  • Women who have broken ceilings in their careers must commit to helping new entrants reach even greater heights.

As I reflect on my experience as a woman in the investment industry, I'd like to share a recent conversation I had with a student at Nichols College, a small private college in my home state.

A male student asked me what my biggest challenge was in getting to where I am today in my career and my immediate response was, "Well, besides being a woman…"

Don't get me wrong. Women are unstoppable.

We have overcome explicit and implicit discrimination, we've risen to (almost all) of the top spots in government and industry and we've done it all while being held to long-standing social expectations of women as homemakers and primary caregivers.

We can point to the progress of our mothers and grandmothers and the women with whom we've stood shoulder to shoulder as proof of our resilience.

Yet, on an individual level, finding a seat at the table as a woman in the investment industry still feels like an uphill battle.

Becoming a strong female leader

Shannon Saccocia is Facetiming with one of her children.
Shannon Saccocia

Early in my career, my aspirations were, in all honesty, somewhat limited by my own perception of what was possible. At conferences and analyst meetings, there were few women in the room and those present were never the guests of honor.

While I value the time and feedback offered by my mentors over the years, most of them were men and mentorship is an insufficient substitute for visualization and affinity.

With the limited number of women my network, it was difficult to apply their career models to the career I wanted to build. Instead, I attempted to fit into a mold that had worked for others. This led to frustration and disillusionment with the path I was on.

The turning point for me came when I realized I needed to accept that the model for women in this industry is still a work in progress and acknowledge how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to help shape that model.

Being able to craft and live out my vision of what it means to be a strong female leader is liberating, particularly because I know that having women at the table delivers better results for employees, clients and shareholders.

The work isn't finished

Shannon Saccocia and her family
Shannon Saccocia

Women have been told for decades whenever we break through a ceiling that we should be happy to be there. Nevertheless, it's never been more critical to keep our foot on the gas, particularly as so many women have found themselves out of the workforce during the last year.

Young women today shouldn't feel like they have to be breaking barriers in 20 years – we should be focusing on that now.

Admittedly, there is still much more work to do.

One silver lining of the pandemic for me is that I have spent more time thinking about how I can do more to help women who seek to join me on this journey and how much I would have benefited from that help 20 years ago.

Sharing my story, broadening my network and encouraging the men and women around me to hold me accountable in my pursuit to provide opportunities to women in my firm and throughout our collective community is just a start.

We owe it to the investment industry to talk more about the positive impact women have in the corporate world and how our strengths help make businesses more effective.

The challenges are real and it's important we continue to fight for equality in all aspects of our lives.

But let's make sure we share with young women why we're fighting these battles in the first place and commit to helping them reach even greater heights than we can imagine.