Breaking the Glass How Stout’s Female Leaders Have Excelled

Breaking the Glass How Stout’s Female Leaders Have Excelled

Stout’s Christina Carroll, Michele Riley, and Nadine Pizarro discuss how the financial sector has evolved in terms of equity and where businesses can improve.

April 02, 2020

Research has found time and again that women in leadership positions deliver substantial benefits to business growth and success. This evidence is being realized across all industries, particularly in the finance world. Sharing their insights about their roles in this regard are three tenured Stout professionals:

  • Christina Carroll, Board Member and Managing Director, Valuation Advisory
  • Michele Riley, Managing Director, Dispute Consulting
  • Nadine Pizarro, Director, Marketing

They recently offered their thoughts on their careers in the financial services industry, demographic changes in the sector, and improvements that could provide more equity in the playing field.

Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance sector?

Carroll: I first grew interested in finance in a Capital Markets class in college at UCLA because I wanted to understand how to beat the stock market. Originally, I wanted to become an asset manager, but I was concerned that in the long run asset managers couldn’t beat the market, and jobs in asset management were scarce out of school. I tried the next best thing to investing in publicly traded markets: valuation of private companies and securities and, eventually, transactions and investment banking.

Riley: I majored in physics as an undergraduate and worked in science for a number of years after college. I have always liked solving problems and wanted a career that would offer problems of different varieties to solve. I decided to get an MBA and concentrate in finance. It was during my graduate work that I saw the parallels between finance and accounting being the language of business and math being the language of science. It was also during my graduate work that I first learned about intellectual property through a class I took on technology transfer from public research institutions to the private sector. I very much enjoy solving problems of funding, profitability, and sustainability of businesses and products. Through my work I get to meet inventors who were able to discern, very early on, the need for fundamental technologies that we now consider commonplace. The process by which such groundbreaking inventions are monetized is fascinating to study.

Pizarro: I’ve always been interested in understanding the underlying motivation of what drives people to behave a certain way, especially when it comes to money. There’s so much to understand about people’s relationship with money – how they feel about it, how they interact with it, and what’s behind “why we buy.” Our relationship with money is emotional and, as a result, irrational. The subject of behavioral economics has always been fascinating to me, and there’s no better place to learn about human behavior than in the finance industry.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Carroll: Merger and acquisition (M&A) transaction levels remain high, and we continue to see strong transaction activity in other areas such as recapitalizations and spin-offs, and some distressed M&A in pockets such as retail, energy and assisted living. Some of the most interesting projects are when companies or investors aren’t sure what direction to go, so we work with them first on determining what the company or division is worth. Then we lay out the spectrum of alternatives they have open to them. Ultimately, we help clients develop a transaction strategy and execute it, which helps clients solve problems or realize opportunities to monetize or grow their business. I have a few of these types of projects going on right now, which is always interesting and fun.

Riley: From my perspective at the intersection of finance and intellectual property (IP), we see IP being used more frequently to securitize investments, which can fund activities at an earlier stage of the business cycle instead of waiting for the lengthy process of commercialization to come to fruition. Seeing investors make the decision to invest in a company that may still be in an early stage but has valuable IP is very rewarding because it spurs a cycle of continued innovation. Litigation funding is another area that is generating projects that are interesting because these funders allow parties that may not previously have had capital access to participate in the legal process.

Pizarro: There’s so much opportunity to transform marketing in the finance industry, from changing public opinion and perception of the industry to becoming relevant, tangible, and authentic to how we engage customers. At Stout, we are focused on all of that. Our brand is built on the strength of our people and, in turn, what that means for our culture as well as our clients. In a very short amount of time, we have rebranded our company, relaunched our website, and are now focused on driving engagement with our core audiences and increasing our brand presence in the industry with our new Stout Ambassador, PGA golfer Sam Ryder. Anything we can do to help people understand that we are there to help them make more informed decisions is going to be impactful. It’s a really exciting time to work in financial marketing.

Wall Street and finance used to be an “all-white boys club.” This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?

Carroll: I think there has been some change in corporate America with more women represented in the C-suite and more women being added to public company boards. But I haven’t seen much change candidly in most segments of Wall Street and finance. Senior levels of private equity, hedge funds, investment banking ,and asset management seem to have the lowest representation of women and minorities within the finance world, especially at the partner level. Nearly 70% of private equity and venture firms are all male and only 11% are of partners are female. Women also account for less than 17% of senior leaders in investment banking. I was fortunate to overcome the odds with a lot of hard work and the help of some male leaders that were gender-blind.

Riley: Large companies such as Wal-Mart, Toyota, and Cargill have led the way in not just talking about, but actually implementing the practice of making diversity in hiring, in terms of both race and gender, a first priority. These types of large participants in the global marketplace can greatly influence the behaviors of their vendors, and it is just this type of influence that is leading to the more recent upticks in diversity that we’ve seen. In the years to come, I hope these demand side-driven changes continue to shape the look of our banking and financial institutions because they are welcome changes that have been too long in the making.

Pizarro: I think there’s a realization that women and men are fundamentally different, and that’s a strength, not a weakness. But, up until that point, the advice for working women has always been to conform to men and act like “one of the guys,” whether that’s dressing in a pants suit, learning how to golf, or speaking out more in a meeting.

There have been a couple of pivotal moments over the last 10 years that have really shifted how the industry, as a whole, views women and the value they bring to the table. The first pivotal moment is the 2008 financial crisis. Many experts look back on that time and feel that there was too much groupthink and risk-taking at the senior levels on Wall Street and that things may have turned out differently if there had been more women at the top to provide different perspectives. That year really served as a wake-up call to the industry that diversification at the top was needed. The second moment happened about five years when some research was published to support the idea that more diverse leadership teams outperform male-dominated ones. As we all know, the finance industry is driven by numbers, and I think that research reinforced the idea that more diversification is needed and is better for business.

Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to a report from CNBC,[1] less than 17% of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what three things can be done by a) individuals b) companies, or c) society to support this movement going forward?

Carroll: One, hire at least 50% females at the junior levels. Part of the gender issue starts in imbalance at the junior analyst level.

Two, mentor females in the same way male professionals are mentored. If women don’t get the opportunities early on, they don’t develop skills at the same rate as men.

Three, women often leave at the mid-level of careers, frequently when they start families. Companies that are more flexible and work with women in transition build a lot of loyalty. Careers are long and children are small for a short time (one of my mentors told me this, and I never forgot it).

Riley: There is a huge talent hole that swallows women up after they have children and leave the workforce “for only a few years.” Many women never come back into the workforce from this foray into full-time caregiving. Here’s how we can help them come back.

One, society needs to ensure men have the same parental leave options as women and encourage men to take advantage of this parental leave, so that the responsibilities of raising a family can be equally shared.

Two, companies need to support women who have young children by offering flexible or reduced schedules and then making sure these women are discussing with a mentor or supervisor, at least twice a year, the options they have regarding returning to work. It is certainly hard work to be in a demanding job and also raise children. Mothers need to be consistently encouraged to return to the workforce and plug back in so that the pipeline of women who are qualified to fill senior positions remains full.

Three, individuals need to stay connected with these stay-at-home moms and encourage them to think about themselves and their futures and consider resuming their careers when the time is right. Even though it seems like a long time when you are in the moment, the portion of a 45-year career that a woman spends at home with her children is only 15%-25% of her overall career (assuming she stays home for seven to 10 years). Too often this time period lengthens unnecessarily because the stay-at-home mom does not have an external professional network encouraging her to come back into the workplace. Keeping the dialogue open is a great way to provide this support.

Pizarro: There are a number of things that need to be done to support women, not just in the financial services industry, but in the workforce.

One, improve paid-leave policies. The U.S. is one of a few countries that doesn’t offer a paid leave policy resulting in only 12% of the population receiving paid parental leave. While I feel fortunate to have worked for employers with generous maternity leave policies, paid-leave is a standard policy in all industrialized countries that has proven benefits to our own health, society, and the economy.

Two, provide flexible and affordable childcare options. There aren’t many affordable childcare options that work for a modern mother. In my hometown, there are two after-school programs that are in such high demand that parents have to wait in line all night to secure a spot for their child. In addition, most childcare facilities are open during a standard workday (8-6), but as we all know, there is no standard workday anymore. As a working mother with a pretty routine schedule, I am still constantly juggling my work schedule with my childcare schedule and with my train schedule. How do moms with non-standard work hours (shifts, nights, weekends, holidays) do it? And then, there’s the cost, which is completely out-of-reach for the majority of Americans.

Three, get men involved. The bottom line is that the finance industry is still heavily dominated by men. To invoke any real change, women need more men to make gender diversity a business priority and incorporate it into a company’s corporate culture. This could mean a number of things, but it would include the following:

  • Transparent and well-communicated plans that establish the business case as well as goal-setting, reporting on progress, and measuring success.
  • Education and training on gender biases. This involves becoming more aware, changing behavior, and enabling employees to address gender-biased behavior head on.
  • Deliberate strategies to bring more women to the top through recruiting and promotional efforts, including measurable programs that not only support women in their professional development, but provide a path to the top.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Carroll: I am particularly interested in helping alleviate hunger. For the last 11 years, I’ve been on the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank. In LA County, 1 in 8 people are considered food insecure (hungry), and for children, 1 in 4 are hungry in LA County. With large societal problems such as hunger, I think people get overwhelmed by the scale of the problem and they do nothing as a result. On the other hand, if everyone tried to help one person each day (e.g. a meal, protein bar, bottle of water) or when they see someone struggling, we would not have a hunger problem in this country. I think other societal problems can also be addressed by convincing people that their small contribution matters.

Riley: Forge the bonds that bind us together by having a conversation with a stranger in line at the store or on the subway. Research shows that we humans feel more connected when we talk to strangers, like we are part of something bigger. It also makes us happier! I hear so many people complain that they are feeling isolated, particularly younger people. Making the commitment to talk to others will have positive impacts on both you and the person you talk to, and more often than not, you will learn something, too. If you just can’t seem to find a way to start a conversation with a stranger, just try smiling. This act in and of itself might just start a conversation, but even if it doesn’t, smiling makes you feel happier.

Pizarro: One of the things I’m most passionate about is helping women become financially independent. In the U.S., most women manage everyday household expenses, but less than 50% of women are active in long-term financial planning and decision making, deferring the task to their significant other. However, with the divorce rate so high and with women living longer than men, it’s likely that nearly all women will be the sole financial decision maker in their lives. In addition, women face some unique situations that could have a significant impact on their financial future. Because women live longer than men, they need to fund a longer retirement. At the same time, research shows that women tend to fall behind on their retirement savings for several reasons: they’re less likely to invest; they’re more financially conservative; and they’re more likely to take time out of the workforce to care for their families or put their loved ones’ financial needs first. These are considerations that women must account for in their financial plans and that are most likely not being thought of when the task is deferred to their spouse. It’s really critical that women become active participants and engaged with their long-term financial plans.

This article is compiled and excerpted from a series of interviews by Tyler Gallagher, CEO and Founder of Regal Assets, and previously published in Authority Magazine. For further insights from Christina, Michele, and Nadine, visit the following links:

Co-authored by:

Nadine Pizarro
Director, Marketing

  1. Julia Boorstin, “Survey: It’s still tough to be a woman on Wall Street – but men don’t always notice,” CNBC, June 26, 2018.