This March, Withum’s Women in Financial Services group is celebrating Women’s History Month by spotlighting some of our female leaders in the world of entrepreneurship including emerging fund managers, venture capital, private equity, startups and SPACs.
According to PitchBook, in 2021, female founders had a standout year for venture capital exits and women founders in the United States tallied a record number of public listings and acquisitions. Funding in the United States for female-founded or co-founded companies has been trending up in recent years, and 2021 saw the creation of more all women-led funds and companies, an increase in incubators for female founders and additions of female investors. With this overall upward trend in funding for female founders and female founded startups, it has been an exciting time to be a female in this space.
For many female leaders, the goal is to inspire and uplift the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. We connected with some of these women and are sharing their advice, challenges, lessons, hopes and opportunities for the current and upcoming generation of women in financial services.
What piece of advice would you give to a woman professional starting out in financial services, looking to start a company, or looking to lead a company? What do you wish you knew when you were starting out that you would share with an emerging professional now?
- “Embrace your difference and chart your own path. In building your business or throughout the course of your career, many well-intentioned people will attempt to encourage you to pursue the conventional path and others will often put you in a box. Resist both. Don’t obey traditionalcareeradvice, don’t be afraid of upsetting the established order and don’tconform to appease others. Thinking differently is the ultimate competitive advantageand force multiplier — it will help you create the map to navigate the unknown and do work that creates the most meaning.” – Stephanie Dorsey, Founding Partner, E2JDJ VC
- “Pay it forward! I’ve found helping others achieve their goals helps keep me motivated to pursue my own. You never know when that person you connected with and provided support to will come back into your life later and have an opportunity to help you with something. Paying it forward is a great way to continue to meet people and learn from them too.” – Allie Held, Head of Operations, Alt
- “You know more than you think you do! Women tend to feel more discomfort and anxiety than men in the workplace – or what has historically beenpathologizedas“imposter syndrome”. I learned with time that my experiences and knowledge set were more relevant than I believed them to be, and whenIneeded to fill in gapsIlooked to my network for resources. When making the transition from a corporate law firm to a venture capital firm I said“yes” toevery meetingI had the bandwidth for, looking to each as a learning experience.” – Caroline Kassie, General Partner, Metrodora Ventures
- “Find your tribe or build your own tribe. Being a woman entrepreneur takes a village and you need a support system as early as possible. Be it your friends and family, coach, partner, cofounders, mentors or investors, don’t be afraid to seek help.Financial services, just like most other industries, were started without women in mind. The closer you look at the system the more ridiculous it can look. Don’t be discouraged; this is our opportunity to rebuild and invent for people like us. Examine the world around you and really think about what role you want to play in it!” – Pocket Sun, Managing Partner, Sogal Ventures
What is the most common challenge you see Women in Financial Services facing and what did you do to overcome that? Can you share any lessons learned from pitfalls along the way?
- “The most common challenge I see with women in the workplace has to do with speaking up and advocating for themselves. Most of the women forget that they are fully qualified to be at their place of work, so they should express their opinions, demonstrate their knowledge, and not be afraid to show their authority on matters. While this may be difficult at first, I think it is important to remind yourself that if you were hired, there was a reason for it so your opinions are valued just as much as anyone else’s. Taking this further, women tend not to advocate for themselves and believe their work will speak for themselves. Sadly, this is seldom the case and people need to be respectfully reminded of your accomplishments so that you get what you deserve. The best way to achieve this is by taking stock of your accomplishments quarterly or at some other frequency and sending them to your superiors as a “status update/posting” type notification. Then ahead of annual reviews, you can summarize these accomplishments and come prepared for any discussions around performance, compensation and promotions.” –Alaukita “Kita” Shah, Vice President of Opportunistic Investing, Rockefeller Capital Management
- “One of the big challenges can be balancing career and family. By the age of 29 I was already a mom of three and had spent 8 years in investment banking and earning an MBA in finance, so I know about the challenges of doing both at the same time. It’s critical to realize that you are entitled to have a life in addition to work. Don’t be intimidated by a male dominated environment. Be confident and set boundaries for yourself. If you work in an area that is male dominated (I was frequently the only woman and only person of color on my team and sometimes in the whole department!) realize that you can use your differences to your advantage. I learned this from one of the MDs at the bank I worked for right out of college. She stood out from the others because of her amazing feminine energy (always accented with a brightly colored scarf around her neck) and used it to command attention in a room full of men. Being a woman is a gift, so make sure you recognize that we have unique ways of thinking and problem solving that can be a huge asset in the business world.” – Erica Duignan, Founding Partner, Reign Ventures
- “I beat myself up a lot through my career that I wasn’t being a great parent or that home distractions were getting in the way of being a great worker when at the office. I ultimately found the right balance by finding trusted and reliable childcare and the right support model at home so that I could be effective in the office and setting boundaries when home so that I’m not distracted by work when it’s time to focus on my family. It’s tricky finding the right balance but ultimately I got there and didn’t always feel like I wasn’t doing a good job anywhere. Accept that it will never be perfect, but do the best you can – that’s all you can do. Today my three daughters look up to me and understand and appreciate the sacrifices I’ve made along the way – there is no greater feeling than that!” – Kimberly Terjanian, CFO, Centerbridge Partners, L.P.
In honor of Women’s History Month, can you share any hopes or thoughts in general about the progression of women in FS?
- “I think there has never been a better time to be a woman in financial services, but my deepest hope is that the industry continues to do better by women and minorities generally. While there is still so much that could be improved, it has been extremely gratifying to see the changes that have swept the industry since I began my career. Young women going into finance can be more confident than ever before that no position is too high for them to attain.” – Victoria Grace, CEO, Queens Gambit Growth Capital
- “The women before me ate nails for lunch. They thought there was only one seat at the table. My hope is that women pull up women and keep putting extra seats at the table. The more we pay it forward, the more change will happen.” – Hope Taitz, CEO and interim CFO, Aequi Acquisition Corp.
Thank you to all who participated by sharing these wonderful insights!There is undeniable growth in female-founded companies, and they’re expected to gain even more momentum in the coming years. In Withum’s Women in Financial Services group, our goal is to strengthen and support women in the financial services space through developing new relationships, creating opportunities, widening networks and encouraging a stronger sense of community of women in business.