21 March 2023 - To mark International Women’s Day, Sarah Whitehead, Senior Vice President, Communications, Citco (UK) Limited (Citco) spoke with Nicole Wiley, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Development Officer, 100 Women in Finance, to discuss this year's theme of embracing equity – as well as to gather insight into Nicole’s experience of working in the financial industry for over 20 years.
Let's kick off by asking what does this year's theme of embracing equity mean to you?
I think this was one of the hardest questions to think through because it's such a complicated and rich question. For me, the concept of embracing equity comes down to the individual. It became a very personal decision for me, having pursued a 20-plus year corporate career, first at PWC and then at Morgan Stanley, and realizing that I brought a wealth of experience of really living in the trenches.
I experienced so many different perspectives during my career and I realized I had a very unique vantage point, so I wanted to turn that into an opportunity to start connecting with people all over the world, to start bridging a very broad gap. The fact is, there is no easy solution or one size fits all approach to rectifying gender imbalances. We simply need to acknowledge it is going to require a lot of innovation, and a lot of creativity, to tackle this imbalance. This is where embracing equity comes in and one way to look at this is around working with the coalition of the willing. This is about finding those people that recognize the issue, and then finding solutions.
One of the best lessons I received very early on, from one of the best advocates for gender equity I've ever met, was my dad. He always approached life as “let’s do this” – by that he meant not everyone can solve all the problems, but everyone can contribute something. So that is what embrace equity means to me and I want to bring as many people along on that journey as I can.
You’ve been in the role of Chief Operating Officer and Chief Development officer for 100 Women in Finance for nearly six months now. Why did you decide to take this role on and what are your ambitions going forward for the organization?
I worked in the private equity space – and I absolutely love private equity – but I have also been a member of 100 Women in Finance since 2012 and loved their mission and what they were trying to do. Therefore, when the opportunity for the Chief Operating Officer came across my inbox, I couldn't delete the email for about three weeks, and that for me is a very telling signal. Very early on in my career at PWC, one of my first engagements was actually with a nonprofit organization that I still support (albeit not in gender equity). However, I knew at some point in my career I would like to pivot to be in the nonprofit space and to help move social issues forward – so there was a confluence of factors.
Now I represent an organization that is seeking gender diversity, but my ambitions more broadly are diversity, equity and inclusion. Today, we have about 25,000 members globally across 32 locations, which is an amazing number, and there are many more women in finance globally.
However, our job is never done - our goal is about making sure that from the second women could think about being in finance, they realize it is a viable option, and that they receive the support they need all the way through their careers. Finance is a very difficult industry, so our task is about separating the hard part of being in this industry from the hard part of being a female in this industry. To do that we focus on getting the support, the recognition, the peer engagement and the education around this, so people don't take the off ramps along the way unless it's something that serves them and their own ambition.
You’ve worked in finance for over 20 years, more recently as the CEO and head of client engagement of the IAP private market solution team within Morgan Stanley. This was traditionally seen as a male dominated industry, so how have you seen this change over time in regards to women in the workplace? And what do you think needs to be done to make a meaningful impact going forward?
The change has been really remarkable. When I started my career at Morgan Stanley it was around 75% male, and nearly exclusively male at the senior level. It was even higher in the junior ranks, as one might expect – and although we were treated equally, I always wondered ‘how do you advance beyond associate or senior associate?’
In my case, it was having support from female and male colleagues. I had a strong female sponsor and mentor, but the differentiator was also having a very strong male mentor and manager – not just at the senior level, which is essential, but also my middle manager and my direct line manager, who directly mentored and supported me. This diverse network of support is instrumental in addressing gender inequality across the financial industry.
Crucially, this included receiving very hard feedback, always requesting additional challenges, and taking on assignments that were a stretch. As I started to move through the ranks, I in turn wanted to mentor not just women, but also men, because I wanted to normalize young men looking at women as leaders, as their managers – and ultimately normalizing that. It was amazing how well that was received, and of course there were others trying to do the same thing as me, which made it more powerful. So we had buy in from the top, we had buy in from the bottom, and I think normalizing that over time became a game changer.
What will it really take to move the needle on Gender Equity in the workplace and what actions can corporates do now to make a positive step forward?
I think what corporates can do now is recognize it is everyone's job. It is not just the job of human resources, it is not just the job of their ESG or DEI teams, or the leadership teams. It is the job of everyone who works there to move the ball forward, and integrate it into people's performance goals.
It may go well and it may not, but you need to take that risk because that's how people grow. It takes effort to cultivate and develop people, but we need to encourage corporates to in-turn encourage their employees that it is worth the time and effort. So there's corporate level responsibility, individual responsibility, and then just in the small teams that everybody is part of, you need a focus on treating everybody with that respect, accountability and trust them to take responsibility.
So what piece of advice would you give your younger self about promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
I think it's a combination of being aware of where I stand in the social order, but also that I bring a unique skill set that could be helpful. What I would also say to myself at a younger age is if you see something, say something. Find a voice, and make sure you get a chance to do different things. It took me far too long to do this because I was trapped in the mindset of ‘I want to be a nice girl and not rock the boat.’
Everyone must be professional, but there are ways to self-advocate while still staying within those professional boundaries. I would also say when you sit silently for too long, you're not just harming yourself – you're probably also holding other people back who you can be lifted along with you.
So being mindful of that, just be kind and listen to people's experiences. And even if you don't have the answer or have the experience to take on the work task, then chances are you might know another female that is competent to take it on – so you should advocate her corner. It can be as simple as pointing someone in the right direction which can be valuable, so never underestimate how you can help the challenge to embrace equity across the workplace.