When it comes to gender diversity in the futures and derivatives industry, perception is reality.
That was the key takeaway at a special panel discussion at FIA's Futures & Options Expo in Chicago on Wednesday, Oct. 17.
The six highly successful women who participated in FIA's "Shattering the Glass Ceiling" panel all shared personal stories of professional growth and success, proving there are indeed paths to leadership in the industry right now. But they all conceded that each of their professional journeys were driven by self-confidence, risk-taking and mentorship that helped them reach their full potential -- factors that helped them overcome the doubts that can hold some women back.
"We have a perception vs. reality problem" in the futures industry, said Alli Brennan, chief of staff at market data and financial software firm CQG. "It's not significantly harder but it's perceived to be harder."
These perceptions were on display in an audience poll conducted by FIA at the event, where more than 80% of audience respondents said the path to success was harder for women in the derivatives industry than in other professions. All six panelists expressed surprised at the results.
A complicating factor is historical gender norms where "girls were just raised to be quiet and polite," said Kim Taylor, a board member at market surveillance and risk management software firm Eventus Systems, and the former president of clearing and post-trade services at CME Group. That fear of making waves coupled with the notion that the industry isn't as welcoming can frustrate women.
"Hopefully people are not raising another generation of girls differently than boys," Taylor said, and instead are instilling them at an early age with the confidence to be assertive and take risks.
The panel noted that so-called "top-down" initiatives aimed at increasing women in leadership, such as a recent law in California that would require companies headquartered in the state to have at least one female board member by 2019, can get the conversation started. That's always a good thing in an industry that still has room for improvement, said Julie Holzrichter, chief operating officer of CME Group. But "bottom-up" approaches, including activist shareholder efforts and customer demands for disclosure on pay as well as raining young women on the language and tools for success very early on, are what can really transform the derivatives industry in the long run.
"We're not getting to our young women early enough and talking to them about different careers they can choose," Holzrichter said. "There's a stigma that certain professions are more male than female and by the time they get to college and have to declare a major it's too late."
All the women on the panel were quick to point out these efforts to reshape senior management aren't just good for the individual women, but good for derivatives companies and the industry as a whole. The panel pointed to the outperformance of publicly traded corporations that exhibit progressive environmental, social and corporate governance characteristics -- as evidenced by the SPDR SSGA Gender Diversity ETF (SHE) from State Street Global Advisors, which has doubled the gains of the broader stock market since its 2016 inception.
That success isn't achieved by simply paying lip service to diversity via quotas or by teaching young women to change their behavior so they "act like little men" simply to get hired or promoted, said Kim Taylor of Eventus.
"What you want to bring to a board or a management team is a diversity of views -- different perspectives, different voices," she said. "You always get a better outcome when you bring more perspective to problem solving."
"FIA inclusion of the diversity topic at our global events in recent years reflects the industry's wider interest," said Allison Lurton, senior vice president and general counsel at FIA, who chaired the panel at Expo. "I hope no one in this room interprets the data we have discussed and the strides we have made as enough. The industry clearly still has room for improvement, but the accomplished women on this panel in clearing, trading and data are paving the way to a more successful and vibrant derivatives industry."
FIA is the leading global trade organization for the futures, options and centrally cleared derivatives markets.
In its 34th year, FIA's Annual Futures & Options Expo took place at the Chicago Hilton from Oct. 16 to 18 and featured speakers from across the derivatives industry as well as key government regulators.