You, being a multi-talented woman working in the finance industry, might be thinking that the most challenges in your professional life lie in the outside world. Generally speaking, women are still underrepresented in the financial sector, especially in top positions. So, you might believe that the limitations to your career growth come from the fact that this is a strongly male dominated industry. Here I would like to challenge you however and ask you to look further than that externalized assumption. It is a common mechanism to externalize challenges we face to cope with, but unfortunately, they do not really help to resolve challenges often, as we cannot control external factors.

I am not saying this assumption is fully wrong, but I would like to encourage you to spend some time looking into the challenges you battle on a daily basis inside your head in order to internalize the issue and find ways to overcome and find your growth opportunities. 

I know what I am talking about, as before changing my career, I have been working in the financial sector for quite some years. And many of my coaching clients and friends work in finance. In the last weeks I ran a research and contacted women to also get their viewpoint on the issue. Based on that input, I have noticed couple of similar trends / challenges which I wanted to share with you. 

External challenges

  • Women are not identified as high potential as early and as often as men.
  • Breaking out of the “nice girl” box and raising your voice in meetings without being perceived as “emotional” or a “bitch””.
  • Women are still expected to be the primary caregivers and asking for flexible work schedules is perceived as negative in performance reviews.
  • Few women at the top positions – being lonely and often not understood.

Looking at the above challenges I see a mix of ‘old gender based-stereotypes’ that we hoped to have resolved by now, definitely in the Western world, but are still chasing us. However, participating in various events related to female leadership I see that things are changing – maybe too slowly for some of us, but they are. 

Things that we DO have full control over are related to our internal challenges.  So instead of externalizing the issue and start complaining about the organizations, men on top etc. I would like to focus on what we can do ourselves NOW. So, hold on tight here we go. 

Internal challenges

I know we are all unique and I know that often generalizations can be hurtful, still many women in finance tend to be the ones who had better grades in class than men, back at school. We were often smartest and praised for our achievements. 

And this would surprisingly be often the source of the future challenges. 

Thanks to the praise for our recognized qualities instead of behavior, we started to develop something which is called the ‘fixed mindset’. Due to the fact that we were often being told that we are so smart, we got attached to this part of our identity, and started to avoid anything that would jeopardize us from being seen as the smart person. As a consequence, we would stop asking questions, start doubting ourselves and strive for perfection in everything we do. 

We would also stop asking for help as people might think we are not so knowledgeable after all. And slowly but surely, we created this invisible trap for ourselves that we would not know how to later escape. 

Challenge #1 – not being visible / not putting yourself forward

Being praised not only for good grades but also for working hard and being in general ‘a good girl’, is in general a recipe for an early burn-out. Not for a quick promotion as you might think. 

In other words, working hard and hoping that someone will see your efforts and promote you and your work accordingly is a risky tactic. 

A famous internal Hewlett Packard survey showed that women would only apply for a job or accept a new project if they met 100% of the requirements according to themselves, where men on the other hand would apply if they feel they met 60%. 

That shows that we women would put ourselves forward ONLY when we feel we are 100% knowledgeable, and we have all the experience, skills etc. Meaning – NEVER. 

How to overcome this challenge?

The key to success lies in transforming your mindset from a fixed one to growth one. Applying a growth mindset means that you are not defined by how smart you think you are. In the center of applying the growth mindset lies – love for learning and trying out new things, basically putting yourself out there. Failing in things is the only path towards growth.

Another aspect of it, is to start taking the credit for the great work and the value you add to the organization. Although team effort is important and your boss reputation as well, it is important that you first of all start recognizing your own work but also start to show it in a way that others can see it. 

When the work done is a success, we often tend to say, “oh, it was the team’s effort”, or “we did it”. We women are inclusive which is great, but it is also important to talk in the ‘I’ form and not shy away from the spotlights. 

Challenge #2 – hiding behind your introverted nature

What pushes us often into finance is our great analytical mind that loves to think, connect the dots, solve problems, but also often (not always) means that we love to be by ourselves, left alone – in other words, being introvert. 

And let me get it clear, there is nothing wrong about being introverted, yet living in the world that ‘won’t shut up’, it is also important to know when to grab your chances and crawl out of your shell. 

How to overcome this challenge?

If you want to be happy and successful in your career it means you need people around to support you and help you to reach your goals.

If your introversion means that you do not like big crowds and do not like to network, that’s perfectly fine, as long as you do make an effort to arrange various one-on-one conversations with people that you might not even know, but who could help you on your way forward. Don’t forget that being introvert doesn’t mean that you are antisocial, it simply means you ‘charge your batteries’ when you are alone. 

You know yourself best so think for yourself of ways you can stay connected with others in a way that will challenge you but not burn you out. 

Remember we can only grow, once we operate outside of our comfort zone. 

Challenge #3 – being too focused on the content of your job

This point relates also to the previous ones, being serious about your job is definitely important, but your job is not only about its content. To build successful and fulfilling career there are couple of components to it. You need to:

  1. Be good in what you do 
  2. Love what you do 
  3. Continuously develop yourself in what you do
  4. Be recognized for the value you deliver
  5. Have a ‘cheer club’ to support you

How to overcome this challenge?

So you see, that focusing only on the content of your job is only one of the elements. I assume, hopefully correct, that you really enjoy what you do, as this makes the other points so much easier. In order to thrive in your career, it is not only the matter to do what you have already learnt, in such fast-paced world as we live now, we need to learn continuously. 

Building your ‘cheer club’ and being recognized for the value you deliver is inevitable if you want to get promoted. What do I mean by a ‘cheer club’? I mean people within and outside the organization who can help you along the way. 

Think of people like a coach – who through questions lets you discover your own strengths and blind spots, mentor who can share their experiences and advise on how to tackle business-related or political issues and finally promotor, but also someone high in the organization that can ‘pull the strings’. 

Challenge #4 – striving for perfection / imposter syndrome

Flowing out of conviction that we built as little girls – that we need to be THE BEST in whatever we do, we start striving for perfection in all the things we deliver, even the tiny-winy bits. I am definitely ‘guilty’ of that. I remember how in my past job as auditor I would go a couple of times over an email rewriting it and rewriting it, simply terrified I would make a mistake. 

The other issue we women often struggle with is the imposter syndrome. No matter how many books you read, courses you do, studies you complete, you still think ‘Do I know enough?’ 

How to overcome this challenge?

I know based on my own experience that this challenge is not that quick to overcome, as we tend to develop ‘addiction for perfection’. What helped me personally and clients I work with are two simple things:

  • Imprinting in your head new mantra ‘Done is better than perfect.’ How much time have I lost on perfecting something, which I know now was a pure waist of my time, energy and money? So how do you actually do it, look at the second point.
  • Focus on the 80% you need to get right and let go off the remaining 20% – for example if you look at your presentation, focus on what IS truly important – the content. Sure, it is important that it looks good, but even you yourself probably deep down inside know when you are really overdoing it, will the size of the font really matter, or the picture that goes with it? 

Challenge #5 – not being clear about your career path

Last point, although I am sure not the last challenge, I want to bring forward today is your career path. Do you have clarity for yourself how YOU see your next career steps? And if you know that, do you also know what is needed to realize that path? What do you need to learn? Who can help you along the way? 

People around us are busy, you can of course hope that the HR department or your manager will figure something out for you, but first of all they might simply not have time for that and secondly even if they do will they come up with the plan you will like. 

How to overcome this challenge?

Simply ask yourself where you see yourself in 1, 3 and 5 years. Sure, this might change, and it is not carved in stone, but having a flexible plan is definitely better than having none. Reflect on the past 5-10 years, what have you learnt about yourself, the people and the environment you want to be in. Take time to write down lessons learnt and make a plan based on those. 

We women definitely do not have an easy job to do especially when combining career with family life. But we gain nothing by complaining and gain everything if we take charge of our own life and career. We can do so much more then we think. 

Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash