In celebration of Women’s History Month, Withum’s Women in Financial Services Team is spotlighting some dynamic female leaders in the industry. With dedication, hard work, and collaboration, these women continue to break barriers, ensuring that they and those who come after them have a rightful seat at the table.
An overarching theme among women leaders is the importance of advocating for other women and celebrating each other’s accomplishments. In general, women are less likely to laud their own successes, but doing so for others can be less intimidating and, in some cases, more powerful, helping propel women even further. For women to get more opportunities, they need to feel empowered at all stages of their careers as well as feel the support and gain recognition from other women on their teams. It is not about competition but rather about collaboration and continuing the momentum to rise higher collectively.
We reached out to some of these amazing women who shared their stories, advice, and experiences in hopes of helping guide the next generation of women in financial services.
How can women better support women to be successful?
- "Step one is to realize that we are on the same team. There have been several times during the tenure of my career whereby women felt threatened by the success of other women. It is necessary to cultivate an environment whereby we support one another, celebrate each other's successes, and provide support when things get difficult. If possible, try to mentor one or two young professionals each year. Your wisdom and experience are more valuable than you think." - Donna M. Little, Chief Financial Officer, Long Ridge Equity Partners, LLC
- "There are a few things women can do to help other women be successful. First, we believe it is so important to advocate for women who are still early in their careers. Advocating for them and their growth within organizations is critical. We are also big believers in supporting our female peers by helping amplify their voices, being a support system through the tough times, and being advocates in the boardroom when it counts."
– Shruti Shah, Venture Partner, Impressionism Capital, and Sydney Thomas, Founding Partner, Impressionism Capital
- "At a macro level: To better support other women to be successful, women need to lean into their true and authentic way of being.That is our superpower.Yet, many of us have been groomed in business to think, manage, behave, and strategize in the traditional male way.We can benefit from the lessons, but also need to reclaim our unique contributions and tendencies as women - our skill sets - and reject the notion that they are weaknesses. It is time for everyone’s sense of how to “be” in business to evolve along with the many other ways the world is changing - technological shifts, cultural norm changes, climate change, and more.Women need to unlearn the notions of scarcity and competition that have been embedded in us by a patriarchal society. There isn’t just one seat at the table, you are good enough (likely better!), and your perspectives matter – in fact, they're urgently necessary. Also, we need to rally around each other and say each other's names in rooms where opportunity exists - the more we elevate each other, the less the system can limit what we can achieve!"
"In more practical terms: First and foremost, write the checks in the obvious and less obvious ways: buy the product, host a dinner to make connections, nominate her for the fellowship, and invest in her company or fund. Be a bridge. Create spaces where other women can be their true, whole selves, where they can be vulnerable, where they can beta test ideas and notions without fear, and where they can fill their well with positivity.Yet, we also need to ensure we provide language and culture training to ensure a seamless transition of these learnings back to that other space where the world mostly operates. It’s another form of code-switching. Be a hype woman.Amplify, celebrate, and find joy in the success of other women.Their success is wonderful for them, for you, and for all of us. Operate from the mindset that we’re increasing the pie, not sharing a tiny slice." - Azin Radsan van Alebeek, Naseem Sayani, and La Keisha Landrum Pierre, Co-Founders and General Partners, Emmeline Ventures
What can we learn from the successes of previous generations of women in the financial services industry?
- "It might seem impossible to have it all: a family, a successful career, free time, etc. However, you are stronger than you think, and with hard work, determination, and the support of other women in the industry, it is possible. Have patience and be open to change." - Donna M. Little, Chief Financial Officer, Long Ridge Equity Partners, LLC
- "There are a handful of incredible women that have navigated the male-dominated financial services industry, and many of them had to fight for their one seat at the table. It is because of these women that many more of us can have a seat at the table. As the industry continues to change, it will be women who lead the way." – Shruti Shah, Venture Partner, Impressionism Capital, and Sydney Thomas, Founding Partner, Impressionism Capital
- Hard work, perseverance, and belief in oneself can win. It takes a toll.Feminine traits such as empathy, human connection, and leading with intention versus control are superpowers, not weaknesses. Own your womanhood, there’s real power in it when you own your own expression (e.g., Sallie Krawcheck, Diane von Furstenberg, Anne Wojcicki).- Azin Radsan van Alebeek, Naseem Sayani, and La Keisha Landrum Pierre, Co-Founders and General Partners, Emmeline Ventures
What advice would you give to the next generation of women?
- "Set boundaries and remember to take care of yourself. While I do not think that planning your life out at 25 is necessarily the answer, nor is it likely feasible, try to have some long-term goals that mean a lot to you as time goes by quickly. These can change each year, but taking the time to prioritize your goals and expectations will make you cognizant of whether you are being complacent or progressing personally and professionally like you had hoped. Finally, take chances and go for something that challenges you. My best successes are attributed to taking a chance that seemed scary at the time." - Donna M. Little, Chief Financial Officer, Long Ridge Equity Partners, LLC
- "Show up as your authentic self. You do not have to hide or change yourself to fit a mold." – Shruti Shah, Venture Partner, Impressionism Capital, and Sydney Thomas, Founding Partner, Impressionism Capital
- "Start thinking about your wealth generation options now. Many of us are the start of wealth generation for our families, and, by way of how we’re often raised, we’re conditioned to believe talking about money is bad or “for the boys.” We’re here to tell you that It isn’t. Share salary information with your female friends and colleagues. Talk about the raise you did or did not get. Talk about your investment ideas - the options you know and those you don’t know. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to look uninformed – everyone around you has the same questions. Write some checks. Take some risks."
"It’s draconian, but today’s systems of power rely on women not asking questions and assuming that the best information will always come to us - it won’t. Ask questions, trust your gut, and find financial partners in life (pause and think about that) and in the services that you use that you can genuinely engage in and problem-solve with.The world is limitless, you just need to step into it."- Azin Radsan van Alebeek, Naseem Sayani, and La Keisha Landrum Pierre, Co-Founders and General Partners, Emmeline Ventures
Who are some women you admire in the industry, and how did they make an impact?
- "Kesha Cash is someone we admire. Her leadership has paved the way for other Black woman-led funds, like ours, in the industry." – Shruti Shah, Venture Partner, Impressionism Capital, and Sydney Thomas, Founding Partner, Impressionism Capital
- "RBG - Of course. Sallie Krawcheck. She honed her skill set and excelled at leadership, and when the system didn’t work for her, she built a new system." - Azin Radsan van Alebeek, Naseem Sayani, and La Keisha Landrum Pierre, Co-Founders and General Partners, Emmeline Ventures
Favorite quote or mantra?
- "The most common way people give up their power is thinking they don't have any" - Alice Walker
– Shruti Shah, Venture Partner, Impressionism Capital and Sydney Thomas, Founding Partner, Impressionism Capital
- Some of Emmeline Ventures' favorite quotes:
Can you share some tips for women aspiring to leadership roles?
- "Trust your instincts - you’re probably very right. Don’t let the system tell you you are wrong or not in the right place – That’s a system problem, not a you problem. Respond to and act on good feedback from people you trust. Do the thing now. Don’t wait." - Azin Radsan van Alebeek, Naseem Sayani, and La Keisha Landrum Pierre, Co-Founders and General Partners, Emmeline Ventures
How has your unique female perspective shaped your experience as a woman in the industry?
- "Venture capital is not an easy place to be a woman, but there is so much opportunity for women to lead in venture capital by shaping where capital flows. As women, we want to support other female entrepreneurs so that we can begin to reshape the ecosystem as a whole." – Shruti Shah, Venture Partner, Impressionism Capital, and Sydney Thomas, Founding Partner, Impressionism Capital
- "First, realizing I had a unique perspective was an aha moment. During my consulting life, perhaps later than I should have, I realized that my gender was an asset, not a liability. As more of my clients were also female, I realized there were relationships I could build that my male colleagues couldn’t. There were conversations I could have about travel, vacation, shoes, designers, and toddlers that my male counterparts simply couldn’t. Of course, we talked about work, but lifestyle, fitness, fashion, great schools, these were our “golf course,” and I had an advantage in talking about it. I learned not to be shy about these topics and not to avoid them because they might make me look "weak" (there's that system problem mentioned earlier) – these were the conversations that helped women find and engage with each other, and I needed to lean into this more."
"This serves me well in venture as it helps me engage with founders in more authentic ways, and with the right end game in mind. Women conduct business in fundamentally different ways than men. We meet each other as humans, we ask hard questions to help others grow, not to pump our egos, and we open up our networks graciously to build ecosystems and create connections versus holding our cards close. The core tenets of community and collaboration are center stage, and yes, we will all still make money." - Naseem Sayani, Co-Founder and General Partner, Emmeline Ventures
About Withum’s Women in Financial Services Team
Withum’s Women in Financial Services Team brings together female business leaders and thriving young women committed to enhancing innovation, developing new relationships, creating opportunities, and strengthening the network and community of female executives.
The group serves as a platform to mentor, learn and grow from like-minded successful women in financial services. In the dynamic business landscape of private equity, venture capital, SPACs, hedge funds, and cryptocurrency, Withum’s Women in Financial Services Team offers a wealth of knowledge and experience.