Women’s History Month

Women's History Month

This Women’s History Month, we celebrate the incredible contributions women have made throughout history.
As part of our celebration, throughout March 2019 we highlighted some of the inspiring and empowered women who work right here at EquiLend. Read on to hear more from some of EquiLend’s female staff.

Trish Barry

Director of the Business Analyst, Clearing and Middle Office Group

Alexa Lemstra

Director and Head of EquiLend Canada

Nicole Giffuni

Director of Business Management, Finance and Human Resources

Nancy Allen

Director and Product Owner of DataLend

Who are the women who inspire you the most, and why?

My mother was probably my biggest influence, but not because she was in the workforce. She was born in 1939 so she was brought up to be a housewife, but that’s why she inspired me. She always wanted more for her kids.

When she was just 16 she left Scotland and came to America by herself. She did this because she wanted more for her family. She didn’t want her kids to work in a factory when they grew up. Not that there is anything wrong with working in a factory, but she wanted more and worked very hard to get it.

When I was a young child she told me: “You will go to college; you will have a career; you don’t have a choice”. I remember that very well. She got a little plaque for me that said, “Don’t tell your daughter to marry a doctor or lawyer. Tell her she could be one”. That plaque hung in my bedroom all the way through the time that I left for college.

The other women in my family were also big influences on my life. Most of these women were reliant on husbands, and they taught me at a young age that I didn’t want to rely on anyone else. I saw too many cases where things did not work out in a relationship, and if one partner (typically the woman) did not have any income he/she was left to hope that his or her ex did the right thing, but they don’t always. I saw a lot of that growing up, so I worked very hard to get success for myself.

Mothers- Since my daughter was born, I’ve realized the important role that mothers play. I am impressed by everything that both working and stay-at-home moms do. I’m particularly impressed by moms of children with disabilities; it is a high-calling.

My grandmothers- Both sets of my grandparents are immigrants. They immigrated to Canada from The Netherlands in the 1950s with young families, not knowing any people or the language. They did not have an easy time or many opportunities when they arrived.  They were sponsored by local farmers for manual labour and lived in poor conditions. I often think about their courage, values, and resilience.

I am inspired every day by my daughter.  She is not even three years old, but she has already shown me that she is strong, determined and fearless.  She knows what she wants and she pushes for it (she is a toddler after all).  Young kids are unapologetic about who they are, they haven’t yet been shaped by societal norms into thinking that they should be a certain way.  She reminds me of the importance of being true to yourself and not being afraid to push through barriers.  She inspires me to be better, not only as a woman, but as a human being.

My great-grandmother Ellen Henry made the trip from Ireland to Boston on her own at the age of 20 with $10 in her pocket. She ended up in Salem, Massachusetts where she found work as a Nanny for the children of a prominent Doctor, while still using her talent at lace making which she had studied in Ireland. After meeting her husband at a farewell party for some friends returning to Ireland, she married and made New York her home, raising six children who inherited her strong sense of moral values, hard work and perseverance.  Her daughter, my Grandmother, worked for the FBI during World War II and raised seven children while working in my grandfather’s law practice. I admire my Great Grandmother for her courage, love of family and independence; values she passed down to the next generations of women.

I also enjoy reading about women who have helped to shape our nation. Abigail Adams was a favorite from my elementary school days when I first learned she was the second First Lady of the United States and mother of our 6th president John Quincy Adams. As I advanced in my education, I had the privilege of reading original letters written by Abigail to her husband John during the revolution. She was one of the first advocates of women’s right to education, women’s property rights and abolition of slavery. She supported America’s independence and instructed her husband to “Remember the Ladies” when he was drafting the New Code of Laws as part of the second Continental Congress.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Take more calculated risks. Just like you would tell anybody not to stay in a bad relationship, don’t stay in a bad work environment. Don’t put up with a manager who is not going to help you grow. There are other managers out there. You can move, and are not stuck. Basically, don’t settle and go after what you want.

When you are young, the “now” feels so important but brace yourself for a long ride. It is not just about next week or next year. Understand that life is a long ride with lots of ups and downs. Calm down and persevere.

In terms of practical advice, I would tell myself to take golf lessons and computer science classes. It would be an asset for me to golf with skill, both personally and professionally. In regards to computer science, being able to combine both technical and business skills would be a huge asset.

Take more risks. I am a rule follower. I felt like coming out of college I had to follow a traditional path, make conservative choices, and focus a lot on security. Now I would tell myself to take more risks.

Networking and senior sponsorship are critical to career success. As I worked my way up through the industry, I learned over time that simply working hard and being a strong performer will only take you so far in your career. Maintaining a strong network of peers is extremely important and will help you better solve problems, identify new opportunities and better understand the future direction of the industry. It is also important to find a senior sponsor regardless of your current level. A sponsor will be in a position to advocate for you and guide you through your time in an organization or the broader industry.

How do you think we can inspire/ encourage interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) among young females?

I thought of my daughter for this question. She is 13 and she wants nothing to do with my career path. She wants to be a gymnast. I think in order to get young females interested in STEM you need to make it interesting for them. We need to find a way to incorporate STEM teachings into the things that interest young females now- music, gymnastics, tennis, fashion, anything. I don’t know how possible this is but it would be great to have stars like Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift support a project where kids design a website for their fan club. If there was any remote chance that my daughter might meet Ariana Grande she would design a website and it would be good because it is a goal that would excite her. Once kids interact with technology they might find out that they like it. I don’t think the young ones think of it as a creative job. They think of it more like an office job.

Why do you think it’s important to involve more women in the FinTech industry?

In general, women are problem solvers and time managers. They have to be. When women start to raise a family, they need to have these skills. Otherwise, it is just not going to work because not only do moms have to manage their own lives but the lives of their family members as well. My experience with my own family and that of my extended family is that mothers are always the central hub. A lot of these skills are useful in the workplace as well.

Because there is no reason that women shouldn’t be in the FinTech industry! Diversity is difficult but uniformity is limiting.

I believe that the most successful companies leverage different perspectives at all levels of the organization. Gender is only one of the ways that companies can get different perspectives, but with roughly half the population being female I think it is one of the most obvious ways. As an industry, we are doing a better job at recruiting women out of college, but we need ensure that they move up in their organizations as well. A lot of companies have equal representation of females in the junior level, but the disparity at the most senior level remains.

As highlighted by the leaders of Women in Securities Finance (roundtable in the next edition of The Purple) we have seen study after study showing that diversity brings better returns to businesses. The Harvard Business School article entitled “Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter” cites a global analysis of 2,400 companies conducted by Credit Suisse, which found that organizations with at least one female board member yielded higher return on equity and higher net income growth than those that did not have any women on the board. 

The theme of International Women’s Day 2019 is #BalanceforBetter. What do you think the FinTech community can do to promote a more gender-balanced world?

That’s a tough one. Primarily because of what we just talked about. Families rely on moms so much that it is hard to get a balance of work and life. I feel it myself. My young son cries because the rest of the moms are at the science fair, but I am not. It is hard. Having a flexible manager makes a big difference. I have been fortunate since joining EquiLend. If I needed to take an hour off to run and see something like that, I’ve been able to. Not all places are like that. Little things like that make it easier.

We need to change culture right at the beginning with how parents and schools teach their children, both daughters and sons, about the roles they play and the skills they can develop.  We have to highlight technology professions so that they are promoted as viable careers when students are looking at options. With the emphasis and dependence of technology in every segment of our lives, I hope it is inevitable that technology skills focus will happen for both genders.

Our family is very much influenced by the STEM subjects with me in FinTech and my husband as a civil engineer.  We both think that women offer a lot to our professions, so it is important to us to encourage our daughter to be creative and involved in STEM.

I don’t think you can talk about balance without recognizing that many employees have family responsibilities, which is an important part of their lives.  Success at incorporating diversity is going to have to acknowledge diversity requires flexibility for people to be successful in both their professional and personal roles.

More paternity/secondary caregiver leave.  A lot of companies/governments are moving in this direction from a policy perspective, but I think there is still a stigma around fathers taking extended leave, even if they are allowed to.  Shared responsibility at home will go a long way toward helping women to stay in the work force if they would like to.

Provide women with leadership opportunities and a forum to showcase their talent. Strong female role models will attract and inspire younger women to join an organization.

As we’re celebrating International Women’s Month, what advice would you give to any women reading this?

For women that are beginning a career in technology – I strongly recommend completing several internships. They should also be in different fields of technology so that you can see what you really like.

Speak up. As a broad generalization, women do not speak their opinions.  We need to contribute more.

Ask for more money.  We all know that we have an institutional problem where women get paid less than men for doing the same work.  There are things that are being done to correct this issue, so I am hopeful that it will be corrected eventually, but that won’t help you to get paid more in your job today.  For that to happen, you have to take action. Speak up and ask for what you are worth.

Be confident in your abilities and do not be intimidated if you are the only woman in the room. For the younger women (and men!), it is important to be open to new opportunities – new roles, new departments, even new countries. Never stop growing, learning and diversifying your skill set. Although I spent almost all of my career in securities finance, I have continuously challenged myself by moving from a product role, to sales and relationship management, to trading and finally to technology. Be a leader and step into leadership roles when you can.