by Hetty MacIntyre Comments (38)

How to Network Your Way Into Finance as a Female – Without Getting Hit On or Getting In Your Own Way

Networking in Finance as a FemaleThere shouldn’t have to be a separate article on networking for women.

Women who want to work in finance need to develop their stories, cold call, and be diligent in following up – just like men who want to break in.

But women still encounter gender-related obstacles on their path to breaking into finance – some of which you can prepare for and work your way through, and others which may require arming yourself to defend against crazy male bankers.

Obstacle 1: Not Telling Your Story Confidently

Ever notice how ‘global warming’ became ‘climate change’? Or how the debate is over the ‘death tax’ instead of the ‘estate tax’?

Frank Lunz coined those phrases at the behest of politicians and industry groups to affect the way we think about and discuss the issues behind them. His firm’s motto is: “It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.”

The same goes for you when networking or interviewing. Brian has covered what you should say, but you also need to pay attention to how it’s heard. Women have a different communication style than men that can sometimes undermine the content of their speech.

Let’s say you’re completing a less-than-ideal summer internship between your junior and senior years of college, and you’re networking with bankers to boost your chances during full-time recruitment in the fall.

You meet with a VP in Equity Capital Markets, and he asks about your experience. You answer:

“Well, I feel like I’d be a good investment banker but I couldn’t get any internships there so I’m just a part-time intern at a local PWM office. I do some investment research and performance analysis, but also some administrative work because their regular admin is on medical leave for colon cancer.”

The first problem is starting with a preamble: it clutters your actual point without conveying relevant information.

Related to the preamble is the lengthy explanation at the end about the regular admin’s medical leave – get to your point succinctly and then stop. Adding irrelevant context around it only undermines what you’re trying to communicate.

The second problem is downplaying your work by saying you’re ‘just’ a PWM intern at a ‘local office’ instead of naming the firm. Those little modifiers tell the listener you’re not taking the internship, or yourself, very seriously.

‘Feeling’ words, as opposed to thinking or doing words, come off as passive and less confident. You don’t ‘feel’ you’d be a good banker – you know it because you love Excel and all-nighters.

Tell the truth, but don’t feel pressured to tell the whole truth. Your admin work won’t help you stand out, and talking about it as much as the investment work makes it sound like you spend equal time on both.

You should rephrase your answer to the following to sound more confident and direct:

“I’m interning at Credit Suisse Private Wealth Management in Cleveland, doing investment research and performance analysis. I’ve followed a lot of the recent IPOs and that’s led me to explore investment banking.”

Even after recognizing your communication landmines and avoiding them, you can still kill your story with the biggest mistake women make: ending declarative sentences with a higher-pitched voice. Doing so makes it sound like you’re asking questions when you should be stating facts.

How much would you trust a banker who spoke like this:

“Well, we have to discount for the overseas cash? Because bringing it back to the US would incur tax penalties? And there aren’t any promising avenues for expanding the business abroad?”

Luckily, these errors are fixable: it all comes down to honest self-assessment.

Film yourself doing a practice interview and review it to pinpoint times where what you’re saying doesn’t match up with how the other person hears it. Keep practicing until you’ve broken these bad habits and develop an instinct for direct, confident speech.

You have to practice until that direct, confident speech becomes natural.

Obstacle 2: Not Putting Yourself Out There

What’s stopping women from becoming pros at investment banking networking?

It might just be their timidity around the aggressive tactics profiled before on this site, like cold-calling and asking bluntly about getting that job or internship.

You might have a 4.0 from Wharton but you won’t get anywhere if you just sit around, hoping to get noticed (OK, maybe a 4.0 from Wharton does bring the jobs to you – if the economy is good).

You must capitalize on your relationships: women are more concerned with “fairness” than men and may be reluctant to call a well-connected uncle because it feels nepotistic.

This is a counterproductive attitude, and a close family friend or relative is the perfect person to make introductions and referrals because they already have a vested interest in your success.

Finding a woman mentor early on can jumpstart your networking efforts – not only will she be a role model, but she can advise you on the people and firms with a bad reputation for women. If you get lucky, she’ll have a personal mission to promote women in finance.

If you can’t find a potential woman mentor through your usual channels, join a women-oriented industry organization. 85 Broads is good for general finance and 100 Women in Hedge Funds covers women on the buy-side. Students are eligible to join these two and get access to names, events, and job databases.

Use LinkedIn to find regional groups for women in finance like Texas Wall Street Women.

And don’t forget about diversity recruitment opportunities – they often include women in their definition of “diversity.”

Obstacle 3: This is Not a Date

We can’t write an article on men and women networking without reminding everyone that flirting and sexual harassment are no-gos.

Some guidelines to avoid impropriety, or even the appearance of impropriety:

1. Professionalism, professionalism, professionalism.

When in doubt, err on the side of conservatism. Finance is the rare industry where being overly conservative, especially in dress and manner, is unlikely to backfire.

2. Set the tone with the surroundings.

Meet at the office instead of a café. Meet during the workday instead of before or after.

What about Brian’s advice to meet bankers on weekends during multi-day city visits?

Frankly, I’d avoid meeting male bankers for the first time on a weekend because the weekend signals less professionalism, even if he’s at work. Use weekends to meet new women and catch up with folks with whom you’ve already established a relationship.

3. Shake hands, never hug.

If a man is hesitant about shaking hands, women should extend theirs confidently. Make sure your handshake is firm.

4. Meeting two contacts together eliminates the chances of your meeting being misinterpreted and reduces the chances of a boneheaded personal comment.

This is easy if you already have two contacts in the same group at a bank. If you don’t, pay attention to what your one contact says about his co-workers in your email and phone conversations. If he mentions a particular person a few times, mention that you’d like to meet that person as well and ask to schedule them together.

5. No alcohol.

In the comments to other networking articles, readers have mentioned going to banker bars to expand their network under the guise of making friends.

If a woman did that, it would send seriously mixed signals – how many women have chatted up guys in bars without making the guy think non-professional thoughts? 99% of the horror stories I’ve heard from women in finance started with a guy drinking too much. This is a no-brainer.

6. Get a ‘cockroach ring’ if you’re not married or engaged.

This is a cubic zirconia faux engagement ring big enough that guys should notice it and think you’re off-limits. However, this tactic only works if you’re of an age where it’s considered normal to be engaged or married in your part of the world. A nineteen-year old in the US with a big ring would attract the wrong kind of curiosity.

7. This one’s for the guys: a simple rule to make sure you’re not crossing the line is to ask if your comment would feel acceptable with either gender.

“I’m especially impressed by your research report on patent asset valuation” sounds fine whether the imagined audience is male or female. Something you probably wouldn’t say to another guy: “That shirt is really flattering.”

If your contact does make an unprofessional advance, you can:

  1. Leave. This works if you’re at a conference or some other group setting where you can just walk out of a conversation.
  2. Be upfront immediately after the inappropriate remark or gesture. Corporette’s guide to networking with older men suggests saying, “I’m flattered by the attention, but not interested like that.”
  3. Be judicious about reporting it. If it happens during an on-campus interview, talk to your college career office. They’ll determine how to address it with the company and can anonymize their report. It’s harder to report harassment if it happens at an informal event and you’re not an employee of the firm. As much as I hate to let guys get away with this behavior, you may have to let it go for the time being if that’s the case. Calling the firm to report him runs the risk of branding you as a potential liability – but you can tell other women in your network about it so they know to watch out.

Networking isn’t easy when you’re in the majority, let alone a visible minority.

So use these tactics to show you’re equal to the boys and put another crack in the glass ceiling.


About the Author

Hetty MacIntyre grew up in Western Europe and the Deep South before attending a liberal arts college in the Northeast. She worked at a large pension and endowment fund manager before starting her own value-oriented private investment fund.

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  1. Avatar

    Love this post! Not only to I work in finance but also at an Defense company…I can’t wait to get my MBA and switch to a company with females that aren’t just in HR!

    While I’m comfortable at work I often worry about the networking portion at M&A conferences. Great advice.

    1. Thanks for reading!

  2. THANK YOU FOR THIS! While I’m not in the finance industry, this advice is helpful for any woman, networking in any field. Great read & keep up the great work!

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Thank you!

  3. Thank you for this useful Article :)
    I’m very interested in the insight week program of several banks ( some of them have women leadership ones ) But I have a little issue .
    I actually live in france , and I can’t afford to live in london for one or two weeks , since insight week program are not paid … Do banks offer compensation ? I went trough the websites but they don”t specify .
    Thanks a lot !

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I am not 100% sure. I think it depends on the bank and program, but I’d contact HR of the banks to ask to confirm.

  4. Hi Brian,

    When females network with females, should we say something like “as a female, we…” to build up something in common?

    Also, if I know some females are sitting on women leadership organizational board, should I also express interested in the non-profit leadership program, and how? Are the females sincerely interested in the women leadership?


    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I don’t think you need to explicitly bring up as females we XYZ. Yes, I think you can express interest in the non-profit leadership program by asking them about it directly and see if you can help. Yes some females are; some aren’t

  5. Hetty,

    I saw that you started your own fund and am very curious to learn about it, and the story behind how you started it. Where can I get more information about it?


  6. Thanks for the article! Really helped! How would you deal with a situation where a bank expressed interest in you but made it clear that they did not want you to be networking with other banks or anyone else for that matter, for the sake of “not wanting to make an offer that might get turned down”.

    Also, besides dress, topics of conversation, tone and demeanor, and overall impression, what other ways can a female demonstrate that she understands and is in line with the industry’s conservative culture?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      How would you deal with a situation where a bank expressed interest in you but made it clear that they did not want you to be networking with other banks or anyone else for that matter, for the sake of “not wanting to make an offer that might get turned down” – If you want to join the firm, tell them they are your first choice and if they make such request you would like to know when they’d be giving you this offer. ;)

      Speak the same language

  7. Hetty, what are your thoughts on women in M&A? Can a woman actually maintain a personal life whilst working the long hours? IS IT MANAGEABLE?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      If you want a personal life, I don’t know if you would want to work in M&A. It is tough to have a personal life when you are on call 24-7 and have to travel extensively

      1. Thanks for your reply Nicole. I know you are currently pursuing ECM if I’m not mistaken. What are the pros/cons of ECM vs. M&A? In terms of exit opps and learning curve, M&A is definitely the best route, but in terms of personal life, ECM…Only disadvantage to ECM, I take it, is the less technical/more narrow content…Your input would be appreciated!

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          I was in ECM, not currently pursuing it. If you want a personal life, do S&T/AM/PB. Life in ECM might be better than M&A but hours are still very long when you’re working on deals(and you want to be working on as many deals as you can if you are really interested in ECM). You also need to fly around and originate deals as you progress in your career. You can learn a lot in ECM too though the exit opp in M&A is probably broader given the solid modeling skills you gain. In ECM, you work on a lot of pitch books and presentations but might not necessarily learn how to value companies properly. Work life balance? I think its tough in ECM

          If you want to learn modeling, equity research is another good option though hours can be long during results reporting season too. ER in Asia requires some long working hours.

          Again it depends on your goals interests and traits so I can’t say which division is better. Some succeed in one division while some fail in others.

          1. Again, thanks for your reply. In fact, I interned in IBD this summer and despite the long hours, now that I reflect on it, I very much enjoyed it, mostly for its very steep learning curve (I don’t recall learning as much in high school or university). I obviously didn’t get the technical exposure that I had wanted (and I guess no brainer there because I don’t come from a financial backdrop).

            What are my long term objectives? No where near as crystal clear as those as some readers here, I’m not fixated on PE or a HF (at least not for now). The question is whether it is really worth pursuing it at the detriment of a life? What are you currently doing, Nicole, as it doesn’t specify it in the About Me section?

          2. Avatar
            M&I - Nicole

            Well, whether you should continue to pursue IB or not something for you to figure out. I like to keep my life private though my about me section should tell you my details/info. Good luck w your question re the IB lifestyle. Its a good question to raise.

  8. From a male perspective, very interesting to read. Never thought about these issues women face in networking, and I’ve never had any such problem (that I know of!) in networking I’ve done with women or they with me. Still though, good to keep in mind when networking with women to prevent any misinterpretations or problems. Thanks for this article; this subject should be talked about a lot more.

    1. Yeah it was very interesting for me to read as well, never thought about those issues before.

    2. Great Article! I really really appreciate this advice.
      I went to a networking event and there were 80 men and 2 women (including myself).

      Although sometimes it’s really hard to be taken seriously as a female, I feel like being the only girl in the room can give you an advantage if you don’t use it in a wrong way.

      1. That is definitely true. Some would argue bankers actually favor women as long as they play it the right way.

  9. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Love it!

    1. Thanks, glad to hear it!

  10. Hi Brian,

    Thanks to your site, I have several interviews lined up!

    I had a first-round interview with a MM investment bank on-campus yesterday morning. When should I expect to hear back if I am invited to the final rounds?


    1. Within a few days at the latest – if they don’t respond within a week follow-up.

  11. Thanks for the article. Brian, in your networking articles, you suggest “becoming friends” with the bankers and building relationships; for a young woman, how would you go about this “friends” approach with male bankers while maintaining a professional demeanor? Would appreciate any tips.

    1. That is a tough one, but I would say make it slightly more professional and focus more on their careers rather than personal lives if you are female.

      Another strategy is to focus on older bankers (who are presumably married… at least sometimes) rather than the younger ones who may interpret your networking the wrong way, though of course that doesn’t always hold up.

      But your best bet is to not ask quite as much about what they do for fun and so on unless it’s in a group environment where everyone is asking questions.

      1. Seconding Brian on this one. My best male mentors are older guys with their own families who treat me like their niece.

        There are plenty of non-work related things you can discuss without getting into weird territory: sports, your mutual college, travel, favorite restaurants, etc.

    2. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Just act like you are only interested in them as friends. I do that all the time. Its your “energy” and “vibe”. Act and sound professional. Treat them as your “mentor”; only talk to them about work; you can talk a bit about life but don’t go overboard.

  12. Great article. Been waiting for a female-focused perspective on networking.

    1. written by a female

    2. I’m glad you liked it!

  13. Sure, thanks for that. I have had informational meetings with quite a few bankers and they are all refferring me to HR, after our phone call and I have gotten I am getting Head of Graduate Recruitment warm leads, how can i play this to my advantage, this may be a question for Brian ‘the networking guru’ but I would be open for answers from anyone.

    1. HR tends to be useless so you should continue following up with the bankers and tell them directly that you know they have the decision-making power in terms of who gets interviews/offers, so you’d prefer to speak with them. Or say that you spoke with HR and that they referred you back to bankers. Either way, HR = useless so keep speaking with bankers and don’t take “no” for an answer.

      1. Just a follow up question on this point. Seems to me being referred to HR could be a brush off; thoughts? If that’s the case might not going back to the banker aggressively do more damage than good?

        1. That may be the case sometimes, but a lot of times bankers are just too busy to do anything. So it’s worth pressing, but if they seem irritated maybe back off a bit.

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