Female finance professionals are making an assault on the old boys' network with one of their own, writes Caitlyn Sykes.

Nothing perhaps more blatantly illustrated that the glass ceiling is well and truly intact in 2018 as the recent NZ Herald headline stating "Men called John outnumber women 4-1 among top Kiwi chief executives".

The story was a local take on research carried out by the New York Times Glass Ceiling Index, which included the finding that there were fewer female Republican senators and fewer female Democratic governors than men in those same positions named John.

Despite more women than men now graduating from our universities, women are still woefully under-represented at the highest levels of our firms — among executive teams and on corporate boards.

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However, in New Zealand's finance industry — traditionally a highly male-dominated sector — young women are banding together to reverse such trends.

Begun in 2015, Young Women in Finance (YWF) is a networking group that brings together young women working in a broad range of finance-related roles to hear from experienced and highly successful women in the field, and to learn from each other.

In April for example, Kiwi entrepreneur Victoria Ransom — a former Google Director of Product once listed among Fortune's most powerful women entrepreneurs — sat down for a fireside chat with the group; the following month, it was Spark Chair Justine Smyth sharing her insights.

YWF was founded two-and-a-half years ago by Tammavisa Piumsomboon — at the time an Equities Investment Analyst at the New Zealand Super Fund. Seeing few women working around her, she decided she'd like to create a group that brought together young female finance professionals working across a range of organisations, so they could chat and hear from experienced executives.

The group has since grown to number more than 600, and has attracted members beyond traditional banking and investment firms to encompass those working in fields as diverse as law and insurance.

"There's always been this talk about the 'old boys' network'," says YWF member Alannah Stewart, a Business Performance Analyst at ANZ. "The hope is that someday there will be an equivalent form of support system that will help young women."

Stewart has been with ANZ for just over two years after entering the bank's 2016 graduate programme; she became a YWF member last year and this year joined the group's board.

She sees the benefits of the group as two-fold.

"Listening to these successful leaders speak enables you to broaden your understanding of the industry and see different perspectives," she says. "And then there's the benefit of mingling and networking with your peers.

"It's building your confidence in establishing your professional identity; your confidence in who you are and what you do, and being able to talk to others about that."

Among peers, she says, members can feel safer to ask questions of speakers and, more specifically, safer asking questions related to women's experiences in the finance industry.

Fellow YWF member Roimata Mitchell says when making career plans women have to consider a range of factors that might affect their progression — factors men might not consider, or not to the same extent.

"It's fantastic to hear from women who have had to navigate those factors, alongside all the different challenges of being a woman in the finance industry," says Mitchell. "Some of the women we're hearing from are real pioneers, and that's so inspiring. It demonstrates there's a lot of potential for growth for women in the industry."

Mitchell, a solicitor who formerly worked at NZX in Wellington and is now at the Auckland offices of Chapman Tripp, is also a board member of the Institute of Finance Professionals of New Zealand's (INFINZ) Young Finance Professionals group.

INFINZ — New Zealand's 1500+ member-strong industry body whose mission is to improve the capability and effectiveness of New Zealand's financial and capital markets eco-system — recently formed a partnership with YWF, giving members of the latter group access to a range of INFINZ events and programmes, including mentoring by senior industry professionals.

Mitchell says such moves by the wider industry to support YWF are encouraging. "We want women at university engaged with careers in finance and seeing role models in finance careers, but we also want that to follow through.

"They might be engaged at that early stage, but when they go to industry events where they're surrounded by guys who have that male-dominated industry mentality, all of a sudden you get people dropping off who have a lot to offer," she says.

"The industry has a real obligation to support women and ensure they're well-represented and contributing to their full potential."

For more information about the YWF initiative, please go to website www.infinz.com