International Women’s Day is March 8. It’s a day that resonates with me personally as a terrific opportunity to reflect on my own career journey, as well as honor those women who have blazed a trail for current and future generations of female leaders.
When I was beginning my career in North Carolina, there were very few women in senior positions who could serve as role models, and mentoring programs were nonexistent. For me, this meant the path to success was not only paved with hard work, but also with establishing a reputation as a capable leader that transcended my gender.
Helping to drive me forward was a powerful piece of advice I received in my early years, when I arrived at a small regional bank and at first was led to believe that the only way to advance was to act like a man. This one individual pulled me aside and said, “No, you don’t need to do that. It’s OK to be you. You can be a high performer, you can be successful, and you can be a woman.”
An Evolving Industry
Over the past decades, I’ve seen significant changes in the financial services industry. Today, there are an increasing number of women in management positions, more female financial advisors, strong mentorship initiatives, terrific internship opportunities, and a growing focus on promoting equality and empowerment. Morgan Stanley even has a “Return to Work” program to encourage women who have taken a career break to explore opportunities in Wealth Management.
There is still a long way to go, but it’s invigorating to see young women in business leaning in and playing a more active and involved role. And the industry has certainly come to celebrate fresh thinking and diversity in ways some thought impossible.
Charting a Course for Tomorrow
I believe that it is my obligation and true privilege to pave the way for the female leaders coming behind us. I have demonstrated my commitment through participating in mentorship programs, serving on nonprofit boards, and participating in community programs that support the advancement and empowerment of women and girls. Likewise, I would encourage other senior women leaders to utilize their platform and influence in a manner that enables the next generation to follow in their footsteps.
My advice to the next generation of women is to keep an open mind when it comes to new opportunities and learn from those around you. Whether you want to be in financial services, law, technology, a teacher, or scientist, the ability to step outside your comfort zone and believe in yourself will serve you well moving forward.
Finally, don’t let anything get in the way of following your dream. I knew from my sophomore year of college that finance was my calling, despite the fact that it was such a male-dominated field at the time. As long as you are confident and determined, no obstacle is too large to tackle.
International Women’s Day is a day for celebrating. It’s amazing to think how far we have come, and I’m excited to envision all that we can accomplish.
Linda Stephans is a Managing Director and Institutional Consulting Director with Graystone Consulting, a business of Morgan Stanley in Chicago. The information contained in this column is not a solicitation to purchase or sell investments.