It’s fair to say that this has probably become more noticeable to me since I became my own boss and made my own career change, but since becoming self-employed, I continue to see a pattern of more and more women leaving finance and taking the huge plunge to start their own business. It got me thinking why this is becoming more common. From the conversations I’ve had with female entrepreneurs, more often than not, it boiled down to the same reasons.
Writing this article was not easy and at first, I was somewhat hesitant to press publish. The truth is there really is nothing wrong with building a successful long-term career in the finance industry, and this article is not meant to put people off. Of course, we are all free to work where we like and this is by no means a reason for younger readers to not want a career in high finance. It can be extremely lucrative if you put the work in, and most importantly, IF it continues to leave you feeling fulfilled. Instead, think of this article as more of an observation piece, rather than an advice piece!
For readers that are unfamiliar with the term high finance, a definition is probably the best place to start, highlighting why it differs to finance in general. I highlight it as the female entrepreneurs I’ve met have come from long-term high finance careers in investment banking, hedge funds or private equity, in financial hubs such as Wall Street in New York City, London and Hong Kong.
The easiest way to define it is to compare it to fashion, where fashion is an all-encompassing term used to define the industry as a whole, whereas high fashion refers to expensive, upmarket clothes produced by leading fashion houses. The same applies in the world of finance. Whilst finance is that same all-encompassing term to describe the industry overall, high finance is that subsection of financial dealings that involve very large sums of money and complex investments. When I say large sums of money, I am not talking about thousands – I am talking millions, if not billions.
Why am I saying all this? It is definitely not to gloat – some of the worst periods of my life were spent in this kind of environment. I say it because when dealing with huge sums of money, it typically gives rise to a certain atmosphere, and attracts certain personalities. In short, it can be pretty cut-throat, and encourages an atmosphere that some thrive in and some get crushed in. The stakes are high and you either sink or swim – if you reach the finish line for the year, you are rewarded handsomely.
This results in huge competition, low patience levels and unfortunately, difficult characters. Everyone wants that big bonus at the start of the year and you want to make sure that it arrives in your bank account and not your colleagues’. Sad, but very true and I am no angel in any of this. At some point, having to constantly watch your back for fear that someone else is after your job becomes very exhausting. The pressure of always having to be alert and vigilant, whilst hitting those high targets and not ever being able to switch off, negates the pleasure of the paycheck.
Working in this kind of environment can take definitely its toll on one’s mental health, and I can only assume that this is one of the major reasons for many women thinking it’s time to prioritise themselves and their work life balance – because let’s be honest, this career path is pretty much all work with little time for life. It starts from the very beginning of such a career at around 23 years old, right up until the time you decide it’s time to trade in that full time job in finance for a more entrepreneurial one.
More than anything though, when at last you have received those big bonuses after landing one of those jobs you have always dreamed of, the novelty quickly wears off. Along with the stress and exhaustion of being in such a competitive environment, it’s also one which is heavily male-dominated. Despite it being 2020, being female is very much a disadvantage, and women very often have to be even tougher than their male counterparts to succeed.
This typically becomes problematic around the time of starting a family. From people I know personally, maternity leave is cut very short for fear of someone else stepping in, and the hours don’t get any easier afterwards either.
In addition to that, women working in a hot-blooded male environment are often victims of sexism and inappropriate comments or behaviour. Not only have I experienced this personally, but one of the female entrepreneurs I had spoken to about their own career change had shared her personal story about how she was prepping for a meeting with her boss about a deal they were working on, only for him to reply ‘I like your shoes’! I would like to think this will improve in the years to come, but as it stands, unfortunately it still remains very much an issue.
It may sound all doom and gloom, but it definitely isn’t. Working in high finance allowed me opportunities that I never would have otherwise had – from travelling around to world to meeting some very interesting (and some well-known!) people. But when the time does come that it no longer becomes fulfilling, don’t shy away from looking at other options. One of the things commonly done to make the move out of financial services and into entrepreneurship is to enrol in business school and complete an MBA.
Take some inspiration from these four incredible woman. They have followed their passion and are looking to make a mark on the world through their own brands. Entrepreneurs like Nnenna Onuba (founder of LBB skin care), Natalia Mizejewska (founder of niche perfumery boutique Bel Rebel), Gulshan Batool (content creator at @gulshanlondon) and Lelien Chew (luxury wedding planner based in Asia). All four cut their teeth at top tier investment banks and are now successful business owners and entrepreneurs.
I am excited to be part of this group of strong women who are now running their own show and making their own rules, as founder of my own luxury and travel brand, Dukes Avenue.
Thinking of Leaving Finance?
Are you thinking of leaving finance and wanting some advice? We’d love to hear your story! Feel free to contact us via our email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bel Rebel is one of a handful of stockists of luxury fragrance house, Manos Gerakinis. Read more about them and why perfume is important our recent article.
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