Cultivating experiential learning opportunities for women

By: Olena Halkowicz & Michelle Zou
Editors | Financial Markets, Technology & Innovation

Download PDF

Introducing QWI

In anticipation of the Queen’s Women Investors’ (QWI) annual round of hiring for first- and second-year research analysts, we sat down with the outgoing co-chairs of the club, Helen Wong (Limestone ’22) and Tina Huang (QUIC ’22), to talk about its founding story, the women behind it, and QWI’s outlook for the future.

After the conversation, one moment stayed in our minds: When speaking about her own first year in the Commerce program, Tina recalled how she always felt the need to be sure whatever she wanted to say was correct beyond any doubt before speaking up in a discussion. This deeply resonated with us. How many other extraordinary women in our classes have we seen second-guessing their contributions, or qualifying each statement they make out of fear that they will say something worthy of disdain?

This is an experience that countless young women can relate to, and one that QWI wants to combat by giving women in the Commerce program confidence and ownership of their own knowledge. Helen and Tina both spoke to how their own extracurricular activities at Smith were instrumental in preparing them to enter competitive finance careers. However, many women have not felt the same way, as evidenced by the gender discrepancy between finance students at Smith and in the wider finance industry.

In March 2020, CREO Solutions presented a research study sponsored by Burgundy Asset Management and the National Bank of Canada. The study, which took place over the course of 3 months, consisted of over 70 interviews with students and industry professionals, over 200 student survey responses, and data provided by the Career Advancement Centre at Smith. One of the findings was that in September 2018, male students made up 85% of the total number of applicants to QUIC.

Similarly, Bloomberg published a piece in February 2019, highlighting that “women held about 45 percent of all management positions in the finance industry in 2015, a figure that’s stayed flat since 2007. Less than 30 percent of senior-level managers were women”. Figures become bleaker in fund management, where a 2015 report by Morningstar stated that “women exclusively run about 2% of the industry’s assets and open-end funds. By contrast, men exclusively run about 74% of the industry’s assets and 78% of funds.” In venture capital, a 2016 survey by Deloitte and NVCA showed that investment professionals in U.S. venture capital were 79% male, despite a “lack of demographic diversity among venture investing teams … [being] associated with around 20% lower investment performance”. The gender imbalance is the product of a variety of factors, including unconscious biases, the confidence gap, and unequal access to resources and support.

The executive team on QWI aims to do their part in tackling these factors and the underrepresentation of women in finance by expanding education to different asset classes and building a strong community of experiential learning.

QWI’s Founding Story

The mission of Queen’s Women Investors is three-fold. Firstly, the think tank aims to provide a broader picture of financial markets through the continuous exploration of multiple asset classes and related career paths. Secondly, it provides young women with tangible skills for these paths, while cultivating soft skills such as critical thinking, confidence, and curiosity about financial markets. Lastly, it creates a built-in support network for young women interested in finance.

QWI’s strategy in realizing this mission was born from the founders’ own internship experiences. Helen and Tina sought to emulate the environment of morning analyst calls at work, where analysts would take turns discussing their findings in a discussion-heavy, debate-like format. As such, QWI meetings have a strong open forum aspect involving more intensive preparation pre-meeting. Shorter presentation times allow for longer periods of discussion during each meeting. In addition to presentations, QWI explores finance through discussion on readings, including popular business books, as well as workshops, building technical skills.

The focus is on achieving breadth, so as to maximize analyst exposure to different asset classes; however, depth is undoubtedly attainable for those looking for it. QWI also facilitates mentor-mentee relationships between women, enabling young analysts to visualize themselves in their future finance careers. Above all, QWI establishes itself as an idea meritocracy with a flat hierarchy and tight-knit culture. The co-chairs stress the importance that all analysts feel comfortable in voicing their opinions and connecting with mentors of all years, thus allowing each analyst to derive as much growth as possible from their time on QWI.

Sector Visions

Lauren Montgomery’s enthusiasm is contagious as she delves into the topic of alternative assets. Between mentions of cryptocurrency and impact investing, she describes her experience as a woman entering the finance industry and notes the relevance of a club such as QWI in today’s landscape. Her animated speech exudes curiosity and intellect, although it was not her curiosity that granted her these opportunities.

“I was lost at the fact that I had to teach myself this material in order to learn more,” says Lauren. Her statement is reflective of the current barriers in place preventing individuals from pursuing the finance industry. She continues by explaining that curiosity wasn’t enough to open the door, and she had to rely instead on the memorization of certain concepts to be considered a reasonable candidate. These tangible skills, while important, cannot outweigh the intangibles. Passion, curiosity, and a desire to learn are all hallmarks of an analyst. QWI chooses to focus on these intangibles when selecting candidates, as the founders recognize how they contribute to the development of a contrarian mindset.

For Annie Pawliw, QWI offers a space where phrases such as ‘if that makes sense’ or ‘but that’s my understanding with what I know’ can be left at the door. Jacqui Ye, the head of the Macro-Market Fundamentals sector, echoes Annie’s thoughts. “Women get labeled as uptight or bossy if they come off too strong,” and this may be the reason some women choose to soften their speech.

As the head of the Private Equity sector, Annie chooses to focus on the thought-provoking questions. While the curriculum includes an educational aspect of creating research presentations, it also emphasizes trends in specific industries. Research analysts may be asked to examine the rationale behind a merger or acquisition. Overall, the basis will revolve around learning by doing.

Jacqui underlines the importance of economic fundamentals within the finance landscape. This is an area that is not covered by many in the Queen’s community, even though fiscal or monetary policy is rarely understood in full. Her sector combines external case studies with internal materials to encourage a comprehensive understanding.

Chloe Hung is the Research Head of the Venture Capital sector. For her sector, she wishes to incorporate an analyst training program that will give members an overview of each asset class. She also plans to include hands-on experience evaluating startups.

Belinda Xu notes that the club promotes a sort of sense of urgency, prompting women to leap out of their comfort zones and tour an industry that is less-than-friendly. The conversation is lively as she discusses the stock market and emphasizes its interdependence. “It seems so isolated, but it is so ubiquitous and dependent on other things,” which allows for an endless possibility of learning. Her sector, Public Equities, will be driven by the interests of the Research Analysts.

When asked about why QWI is an important addition to the Queen’s community, Belinda highlights the club’s emphasis on confidence. She stresses that women are a lot less likely to apply to a role because they don’t feel qualified. These women don’t lack qualifications, and Belinda hopes QWI will allow women to find comfort in the uncomfortable as a means of bridging that confidence gap.

Forward-Looking Statements

Almost unanimously, the Research Heads agree that QWI offers inclusivity and diversity of thought, offering a place to “ask the scary questions.” The group does not serve the purpose of adding a line to your resume or offering extensive networking opportunities. Instead, it serves the purpose of satiating one’s curiosity. It serves the purpose of allowing women to fearlessly explore the finance industry in a no-stakes environment. As Swetha Akkur (COMM ‘24) and Kate Sinclair (COMM ‘23) take over as co-chairs this upcoming year, QWI will continue to foster this safe, curiosity-driven atmosphere going forward.

For the future advocates of diversity in business, QWI will serve the purpose of being the first. A foundation will be built upon the progress made by co-founders Helen Wong and Tina Huang, a foundation that will surely encompass curiosity.