Tooba Ali '17 had always wanted a career in management or business. She thought accounting would be a good field to enter — despite her interest in finance.
"I had never met another woman who was a finance major, so I just assumed accounting would be the right track," Ali said.
Attending one of the first meetings of Bucknell's Women in Finance club changed that.
"Hearing these women talk about finance and seeing them taking the risk to be in this male-dominated field made me think, 'All right, I'm going to choose a major that can involve finance as my career path,' " said Ali, who majors in accounting & financial management.
The Women in Finance club emerged from two ideas that came together in the fall of 2015. The first, according to Michael Johnson-Cramer, interim dean of Bucknell's School of Management, had to do with the Student Managed Investment Fund (SMIF) course, in which fourth-year students actively manage about $1.5 million of the University's endowment. The course participants were predominantly male, Johnson-Cramer said, with only a few women applying each year.
"The small group of female students involved in the SMIF looked around and asked what it would take to diversify the population of students competing for roles in the fund," he said.
At about the same time, a group of female alumnae spoke at the Career Development Center about their careers and experiences in the financial sector. The session highlighted gender imbalance in "both undergraduate finance programs and in the workplace," Johnson-Cramer said, which in turn prompted conversations about what Bucknell could do to champion women in finance.
"We were seeing that in upper-level management classes in the school, there were very few women," said Missy Gutkowski, assistant director of experiential programs at the School of Management. "In financial services careers, the numbers are similar, and even smaller when you get to the highest levels of management."
The club, which has about 50 members, meets once a week to discuss finance-related news, their own experiences in class and how to interview for jobs, as well as to educate interested students in the differences between accounting and finance and what kind of careers they can pursue. The group also has taken day trips to New York City to visit with alumnae at prestigious companies like Bank of America and Stifel and learn more about the day-to-day work of careers in the field.
They also invite speakers, like alumnae and potential employers, which are excellent opportunities for networking — something that Morgan Newman '09 believes is crucial to women working in finance.
"It's still very much a male-dominated field, especially when you're not looking at positions that are administrative or support desk," said Newman, who operates her own firm within Morgan Stanley that specializes in financial education and literacy for women. "That's why it's so important to have a female support network in this industry.
"This club helps teach you how to network and how to talk to people," she added. "I'm always a fan of any additional learning, and the club helps to provide that in an environment that's very different than a classroom."
Emily Dafilou '16 agrees, noting that the networking opportunities offered by the club helped her get a job at Merrill Lynch after graduation.
"I reached out to Jennie Sowers ['98] after she spoke to Women in Finance," Dafilou said. "I initially contacted her because I had landed an interview with the company in a different department than hers, but she's now the financial adviser that I work directly for."
Ali knows she will be entering a male-dominated field, but being a part of a club devoted to supporting women in finance has increased her comfort level with the world of finance.
"This group has been responsible for boosting my confidence in working in this field," she said. "It's helped my confidence in being able to go to an employer and say, 'Hi, I'm just as good as any of these other guys. I can tell you my story as well as they can.' "
Melissa MacPherson '19, who serves on the club's executive board, agrees, noting that Women in Finance is "an outlet for women to feel they're in a comfortable space."
The club also helped MacPherson solidify her plans to enter the financial field when she graduates. After attending a meeting and taking part in one of the club's field trips, she saw that working in finance brings together multiple disciplines.
"I saw that finance really intertwines history, political science and economics — all of my main interests," said MacPherson, who majors in economics and French. "It was really exciting to me to read the news and understand what's going on, or to see a major event that's happening and see how that affects the markets."
As the club looks ahead to its third year, members hope to expand the group in both size and scope, according to MacPherson. They have speakers and alumni from firms like Public Finance & Asset Management and Hamilton Lane Private Equity scheduled to meet with the club, as well as day trips to New York.
The club also recently sponsored the Women in Leadership in Finance Summit, a two-day event held April 13-14 that included speakers, panel discussions and a screening of the movie Equity, a thriller that focuses on female investment bankers and was written and directed by women.
In addition to fostering interest in finance among female students who already have an interest in the field, MacPherson believes the club reflects Bucknell's interdisciplinary approach to education by encouraging students from outside the School of Management — like herself — to join.
"We even have some engineers and other science majors that are part of the group as well," she said. "We've worked hard to make female students aware that you don't have to be an accounting major in management school to be interested in finance."