Last year, Shannon O’Mara ran into some frustrating statistics in her role as vice president and associate director of credit research for Loomis, Sayles and Company. Fewer women were applying for entry- and associate-level positions at the Boston-based investment management firm.
“I went back and looked at the last eight job searches I had done,” she says. “Out of more than 800 candidates, only 18 percent were women.”
Finding a Solution
O’Mara does a lot of hiring and career development for the company and wondered how she could attract more young female candidates to the firm to keep pace with its senior analyst group, which was roughly 40 percent women. She decided to start at the college and university level.
“I thought that if we could show female students that investment management is a really great career option for women, we might be able to make some progress,” O’Mara says.
Her message: If you like finance, problem solving, writing and working in a collaborative environment, it’s a great career to consider.
O’Mara and a team of colleagues created the Loomis Sayles Undergraduate Women’s Investment Network (UWIN), a program that offers mentorship and internship opportunities for undergraduate women in investment management.
Next step: find a school to partner with.
After analyzing Boston colleges and universities, they chose to launch the program at Bentley University. “We’ve had a good track record in hiring Bentley graduates, given the strong business and finance curriculum at the university,” shares O’Mara. “They’ve done well at Loomis.”
Her team worked with MaryEllen Ryan, senior associate director of undergraduate career services at Bentley, to launch the inaugural program and recruit students.
“The UWIN program offers Bentley women the opportunity to gain quality experience at a highly-regarded firm under the guidance of knowledgeable, successful people — many of them female — who are passionate about their careers,” says Ryan.
UWIN started in November 2015 with 18 Bentley students participating in the mentorship program. Five are also doing an internship with the company.
Participants meet with their mentors monthly to discuss the investment management field and other career topics, such as resumes, interview skills and building a social media presence. They also attend two career-building workshops.
The interns spend 10 to 16 hours per week working at Loomis Sayles. They complete two 10-week rotations in different areas of the firm to expose them to various opportunities within the field.
So far, O’Mara says, the program is going very well.
“The feedback from the mentors has been overwhelmingly positive,” she says. “The women are very much engaged and taking advantage of the program, and the interns are gaining exposure to things they wouldn’t have just by sitting in a classroom.”
Participating students have similar praise for UWIN. Junior Cecilia Yabut credits her mentor, Marianne Winkelman (Loomis Sayles’ director of global bond, emerging markets and foreign exchange trading) with helping to strengthen her interviewing skills and build her confidence.
“It’s inspiring to get to know someone who has thrived in a male-dominated field,” says Yabut, who is majoring in Corporate Finance and Accounting, accompanied by a Liberal Studies Major with a Global Perspectives concentration. “It shows that no matter who you are, you can excel at a job you’re passionate about.”
Junior Emily Richard, also majoring in Corporate Finance and Accounting, is interning with Loomis Sayles’ credit research group after completing her first rotation in the convertibles and special situations department. She says she’s improving both hard and soft skills through her internship.
“I’ve learned so much about not only investment management, but about how important it is to communicate clearly with others in the workplace.”
Christina Wu, a Finance major and junior, notes that her mentor, vice president and senior research analyst Greg Schantz, helped her very early on by differentiating between investment management and investment banking.
“Investment management, the ‘buy’ side of investment, focuses on managing investment portfolios and allocating money to invest,” Wu shares. “Investment banking, the ‘sell’ side, helps sell securities and assists companies with initial public offerings, stock purchases, mergers and acquisitions, and other capital-raising transactions.”
O’Mara says this is a key difference for women considering a finance career to know.
“We’re not Wall Street. We work hard and it can be stressful, but we have a reasonable work-life balance,” she says. “That’s what I want women to understand: You don’t have to write off your life and be solely focused on your job 24/7.”
O’Mara believes there other things to love about investment management as well.
“It’s more than just crunching numbers. It’s about pulling together lots of different data to come up with an investment conclusion that you can articulate in a clear and concise way,” she says. “It’s a job where creativity, resourcefulness and perceptiveness can go a long way.”
For Yabut, the UWIN program has solidified her desire to work in finance. Richard and Wu credit the experience for sparking their interest in investment research careers.
As Wu puts it: “UWIN is truly a priceless learning experience and opportunity for young women to develop a fuller understanding of what it means to have a career in the investment management industry.”