Women empowerment in the financial industry

By Akane Nakahara, MIFFT2024

Undoubtedly, many women are actively contributing to the global financial sector. In London Business School’s Masters in Finance program, there is a diverse group of women with different finance backgrounds. The female ratio for the class of 2024 is at a record high of 36%.

However, it’s likely that every woman, at some point, has wondered, “Can I keep working in the finance industry for the long term?”

How to survive in the hard-working industry?

The finance industry, depending on the company, usually demands long working hours and a high commitment to the company (which includes on-site work, potential relocations, and not much room for remote work). There’s also a performance-driven environment with the possibility of ruthless downsizing. Particularly in front-office roles like investment banking, private equity funds, and hedge funds, known for their high salaries, sustaining the same work style as you age becomes challenging. If you go through pregnancy or childbirth, handling sudden late-night tasks and inflexible work hours becomes even more difficult to manage. Having worked in an investment team for three years, I felt that the industry was a male-dominated society and struggled to figure out my career path without clear role models.

Women leaders in the financial industry

On the other hand, in fields like wealth management, pension funds, investor relations, securities exchanges, and sustainability, women leaders are emerging one after another. Two years ago, I switched to a department dealing with bond issuance and Investor Relationship Management. What surprised me was the abundance of women in front-line roles related to bonds. Not only bond issuers, but also bond portfolio managers at asset management companies and pension funds, and sustainability bond officers at securities companies always included women. They were not being treated specially because they were women, and the women working there were building solid professional careers. To be frank, these fields generally offer a better work-life balance compared to traditional finance roles, making them more sustainable for the long term. Yet, they still play a vital and indispensable role in the financial ecosystem. As someone aiming to build a career in the front lines of finance, discovering such an environment was surprising.

Breaking Barriers

Looking at Japan, it’s still challenging for women to naturally work in front-line finance roles. Apart from the culture of long working hours, there’s a persistent bias against working women (such as the idea that women can shine more in middle-office roles). Also, men expressing such views is still allowed, which is a significant barrier. Two years ago, during an interview for a study abroad sponsorship, I was asked by my company’s HR department, “Have you ever strongly considered your gender in your daily work?” At that time, having just executed finance for companies in distress due to COVID, I was deeply upset by such a disrespectful question. If I were a man, they probably wouldn’t have asked that. Gender diversity in Japan remains low among executive positions, and the country doesn’t have overall gender equality. Improving this situation requires not only the efforts of individual women but a collective effort to change biased societal views, with men accepting these changes.

Precious opportunities in LBS

At London Business School, I had the opportunity to meet many powerful and talented women with a background in finance. Many of them came to business school to advance their careers, inspiring me with their determination to aim higher. The network formed with these women is fantastic, providing mutual encouragement even across borders. Connecting with women leaders through LBS’s Women in Business Club and the fact of studying at a global top school for finance boosted my confidence. Now, when I go back to Japan, I want to actively contribute to women empowerment through pursing my proficient and confident career in the financial industry, making it normal for women to lead in finance, and maybe make a small difference.   

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