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WiS working group to help women over hurdles in ABS

By Steven Gilmore
16 Sep 2015

Women in Securitization, a Structured Finance Industry Group initiative, laid out key methods for women to overcome the challenges they face at a packed panel discussion on Wednesday.

WiS, founded less than a year ago, has identified five key challenges that women face – structural obstacles, work/life balance, institutional and individual mindsets and gender bias, said Patricia Evans, vice president at Wilmington Trust and a member of WiS. To help combat these issues WiS focuses on education, networking, mentoring and sponsorship, and outreach and industry engagement.

The panellists were unanimous in the value of mentors and sponsors – both male and female – for women in securitisation. Amanda Magliaro, managing director at Citi, spoke of the “shocking number” of decisions that are “made about you and your career when you’re not in the room”.

Magliaro credited her career path to people advocating for her in just those situations, and made a clear distinction between advocate and mentor.

“A mentor is there to give you advice when you’re around,” she said. “An advocate is someone to who will advocate for you when you’re not.”

The advent of mobile devices, meanwhile, has been instrumental in providing a route to some semblance of work/life balance for women, attendees heard. The ability to work remotely was the “key reason I could achieve work/life balance when my kids were growing up,” said Anna Liza Harris, a partner at Katten Muchin Rosenman. The confidence to take advantage of the same flexibility in working hours available to men was also an important part of maintaining this balance, said panellists.

Teresa Davidson, vice president, Legal & General Counsel at Volvo Financial Services, emphasised that women had to “read company culture” to ascertain what was and was not acceptable in this regard.

“Don’t be hesitant to ask,” she said, “because they won’t [offer to] tell you.”

The question of company culture returned to the important issue of knowing one's priorities, said Wilmington Trust’s Evans.

“Don’t join a company that doesn’t have those policies,” she said. “Be realistic about where you’re tracking to.” 

The wide range of careers available across securitization means there is also room for women to choose between industries as well as individual firms. For women who work on a trading floor, working from home is not an option. Lawyers, however, may have more flexibility, said panellists. 

"At the end of the day you have decide what works for you," said Magliaro.

But this does not mean that women in companies that are not offering the right policies and programmes cannot change their respective firms for the better. 

Citi’s Magliaro spoke approvingly of the Women Leading Citi and the Women's Leadership Development Program at her company. Katten Muchin Rosenman’s Harris noted her firm’s use of a career coach who can help keep women on maternity leave in contact with developments and facilitate her return.  

“If your firm doesn’t have these initiatives be a game changer,” said Evans. “If these are initiatives you feel strongly about talk to people in your firm. You need to be your own best advocate, and you can also advocate for others.” 

Despite the benefits of mentors, sponsors and in-firm programmes, several panellists echoed the point that, as Harris put it, "the primary advocate for your career is you."

"Don’t wait for a mentor to be assigned to you," she said. "Look around and find the person doing the work you want to do."

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By Steven Gilmore
16 Sep 2015