Microaggressions I’ve Navigated as a Woman in Finance

Apr 18, 2023

What narrative do you tell yourself when you experience microaggressions? This blog post might change it.

As a woman in finance, I’ve had my fair share of head-scratching moments with the opposite sex. Considering industry demographics, there’s been no shortage of opportunity. Even in 2023, women make up only 15% of all financial advisors.

My social media videos are attracting more views, which is super exciting, but with the attention comes comments from people watching for the wrong reasons. Unsurprisingly, the comments – mostly from men – question my credibility or pick at my appearance. Their words have bubbled this topic to the top of my mind.

This blog post tells three stories of microaggressions I’ve navigated as a woman in finance. There were plenty of cringier tales in my memory bank, but I went with these because it would’ve been easy to dismiss them as no big deal. At the time, I did.

You’ll notice none are three-alarm fires, and in way, that’s exactly why they’re a problem. They also tend to occur when I was advocating for myself or pursuing a professional milestone.

Women in male-dominated industries routinely experience everyday slights just like these that aren’t blatantly hostile, but their cumulative weight undermines our confidence, authority, and even our status at work. Their effect goes unnoticed, sometimes even by the recipient, until she finds herself writing a blog post about them years later. 😂

Here are my stories and how I frame them differently now.

“I didn’t expect that from you.”

During my senior year of college at Pitt (#H2P), I applied to a financial analyst program for a large insurance company in Pittsburgh. I was invited to the interview version of speed-dating, along with about two dozen other candidates, most of which were guys. 

To my surprise, shortly after we arrived, the company asked us to take a logical reasoning test. It wasn’t finance-specific. Instead, it tested critical thinking and problem solving ability to (allegedly) measure aptitude for the role. We’d learn later that week how we scored.

A recruiter called me a few days later to deliver the news. I was invited to the next round of interviews!

He also told me I had one of the best scores in the cohort on their pop quiz. This was followed by the remark that he, “didn’t expect that from me.” His tone implied he intended it as a genuine compliment, not realizing how backhanded it was. I’m sure I even thanked him.

Hanging up the phone, initially, I was excited by the prospect of a second-round interview. Still, his comment stuck with me and felt like a red flag. What was it that made me the dark horse on a logical reasoning test?

After some reflection, I decided I wasn’t going to find out. I declined the next interview, closing a potential door in my future. His comment made me feel like I’d be an oddball at this company as a woman in finance, especially if I was successful.

Related Video: Sonya Dreizler – Young women in finance, you belong here.

The CFA Level 1 Exam Incident

When I was 22 and fresh out of college, I had the audacity to pursue the CFA Charter. The CFA is like the final boss of all finance designations. Only 14% of candidates ever make it through a series of three exams required to achieve it.

After studying for months, I traveled alone from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia to sit for the Level 1 exam. I joined a sea of hundreds of 20-something white guys in the Philadelphia Convention Center on a Saturday morning. The energy in this place was frenetic.

The exam was broken up into halves – morning and afternoon – lasting about 2.5 hours each. Flustered, I emerged from the fugue state that was the morning session of the exam, convinced I’d done irreparable damage to my score. I marched defeatedly to Reading Terminal Market where I drowned my sorrows in a hearty piece of lasagna. The pigeons didn’t even approach me.

After lunch, we filed back in for the afternoon session. Shortly after I sat down, a guy from a few rows ahead spun around to strike up a conversation. He was a white guy with flowy hair in a baby blue button up, young but older than me. (Yes, you know the look.) He asked how I thought the morning went. Surely, he wanted to commiserate. 

I told him what I thought: that the morning portion was impossibly hard, and I didn’t like my prospects. Anxiety and dejection were on my sleeve. Yet, quickly, he made it clear that his experience was different than mine. He thought the morning was a breeze. (Btw, all exams were identical.😑) 

This was a heavy blow. I’d come to the exam alone, making this conversation my only relative benchmark. As the afternoon exam booklets were distributed, I wondered what type of idiot I was to think I could pass this exam.

Then, something that flabbergasts me to this day happened. About 25 minutes into the second session, Chatty Cathy gets up, flips his booklet shut, and sails out of the convention center. He never returns.

He wasn’t finished early because the exam was a layup for him. It was impossible to read through 90 questions in 25 minutes, let alone answer them. He quit because he had zero chance of passing.

I still don’t understand the motive behind delivering a soul-crushing morning exam review to the young girl a few rows back. Was he trying to make himself feel better at my expense? Did he think it was funny? 

I got the last laugh. It may have been by the skin of my teeth, but I passed that exam.💃

The Honest Mistake

In my late twenties, I was promoted to manage a team of a dozen financial planners, some of which were men who’d been in the workforce much longer than me. Considering the size of the team and that this was my first formal foray into management, I was in uncharted territory. 

Being new, I made an effort to get to know everyone and listen to their ideas. After being flagged down impromptu by a team member several times, I asked him to put time on my calendar so we could talk further. In response, he asked me to follow him to his desk, which seemed like a strange request at the time, but I went with it.

Once there, he reassured me scheduling meetings through our company Outlook Calendar was easy enough. He’d teach me! 🤦‍♀️

In his mind, the only possible reason I’d burden him with the administrative task of scheduling our meeting was because I didn’t know how to do it myself. Not because I was his manager. Not because he repeatedly Shanghaiied my time to jockey for his ideas. He was confident enough in his read on the situation to deliver a tutoring session.

Once it occurred to me what he was doing, bluntly, I made the situation clear to him. Then, he genuinely apologized for his unintentional slight, bringing us to the point in the story where two camps tend to branch off.

In one camp, one might think because it was an honest mistake, and he meant no harm, he should get a pass. In the other camp, the fact that he was so earnest is the most problematic detail of this entire story. Few times as a woman in finance have I seen a bias so openly and genuinely displayed.

Microaggressions are a sign you’re doing something right as a woman in finance.

If you’re a woman in finance finding yourself on the receiving end of microaggressions, know it’s not just you. Don’t fall victim to the illusion that you’re the consistent variable. The reality is they’re happening to all women, like constantly, but we don’t mention them. They’re emotionally exhausting and reputationally risky to address, so we often let them pass duty-free.

Microaggressions are demeaning and have always left me with an icky feeling, even if I knew the other person was off-base. Only now can I separate myself enough from these events to see them for what they really are.

They’ve consistently struck when I was doing something bold, like making career moves or advocating for myself. Knowing that, let’s flip the script on my three stories. 

  • “I didn’t expect that from you.”:  I stood out at a job interview.
  • The CFA Level 1 Exam Incident:  I was brave enough to pursue an exceptionally tough designation.
  • The Honest Mistake:  I was managing men decades older than me because I earned a promotion. 

The narrative you tell yourself matters. It’s during periods of personal growth like these 👆 when we tend to feel the most vulnerable.

Think back to some of your own experiences. Can you reframe any?

The next time someone delivers a remark that makes you cringe, instead of wondering what you were doing wrong, start looking for what you were doing right.

If you have stories like these, please share them with me!

Madi 💛

Related Post: Why I Quit My Six-Figure Finance Job

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which investments may be appropriate for you, consult with your financial advisor.


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