The general narrative around women and money is that women don’t understand money. But then, that might be true only in sexist WhatsApp jokes and common gender roles within organisations that consider names like Chanda Kochhar and Shikha Sharma as illustrious exceptions. Globally, finance is one industry where women have traditionally broken glass ceilings and claimed their rightful share of power, position, and wage.
But all too often, we remain unaware of the inspiring stories of these role models, especially when we think about leaders in finance. So here we are, with a power list of women in finance that young professionals in the sector can look up to.
71-year-old Janet Yellen is a renowned and highly-regarded American economist who has held powerful positions in the most influential finance organisations in the country. Presently, she is the Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve. Janet has been associated with the Federal Reserve since 2010 and was nominated as the Chair by erstwhile President Barack Obama. Janet is the first woman in history to hold this position. Before the Federal Reserve, Janet was the President and CEO of the Federal Bank of San Francisco, Chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisors under erstwhile President Bill Clinton, and business professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.
Janet has a PhD in Economics from Yale University. She is scheduled to step down as Chairwoman of the Federal Reserve in February after President Donald Trump nominated Jerome H. Powell to replace her in early November last year. She leaves behind a legacy as someone who believed in letting her work do the talking for her, and a reputation as one of the most iconic female leaders of the last decade. In her words,
“If there is a job that you feel passionate about, do what you can to pursue that job; if there is a purpose about which you are passionate, dedicate yourself to that purpose.”
Frenchwoman Christine Lagarde is a lawyer and politician currently serving as the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for her second consecutive five-year term. In the history of the organisation, Christine is the only candidate who was nominated – unanimously – for the post.
She has been named by Forbes as the sixth most powerful woman in the world and by Financial Times as the best Finance Minister in the Eurozone. Christine’s career has seen a series of successes, including ministerial posts in the French government where she helmed crucial issues such as economic affairs, finance and employment, agriculture and fishing, and trade. She was also the first woman to become the finance minister of a G8 economy, as well as the first woman ever to lead the IMF.
Tackling the issue of tax evasion head-on, Christine made headlines in 2010 with the ‘Lagarde List’, a spreadsheet of 2,000 potential tax invaders with undeclared accounts in HSBC’s Geneva branch. She sent the list to Greek officials during her term as Finance Minister. The list was publicly published in 2012 when Kostas Vaxevanis protested against the lack of action by the Greek government. Christine’s legacy is one of fearlessness and self-belief, even in the face of criticism, and she is an inspiration to men and women working in finance around the world. In her words,
“I learned that you can constantly improve and that you should not be shy about your views, and about the direction that you believe is right.”
58-year-old Ana Patricia Botin is a banker from Spain. She has been serving as the executive chairwoman of Santander Group since 2014. Ana started her illustrious career at JP Morgan in the US after graduating from Bryn Mawr College and Harvard Business School. She returned to Spain and joined her family business, the Santander Group. Before her current role, Ana served as the CEO of Santander UK, executive chairman of the Spanish bank Banesto, and as a director of the Coca-Cola Company.
A mother of three, Ana has been listed four times in the Forbes Power Women list – and was ranked 9th most recently in 2017. BBC Radio 4 also voted her as the third most powerful woman in the UK in 2013.
57-year-old Abigail Johnson is the president and CEO of American investment firm, Fidelity Investments. She is also the chairwoman of the company’s sister concern, Fidelity International. Apart from being at the helm of one of the world’s largest financial corporations – founded by her grandfather – Abigail’s net worth of approximately $19.4 billion makes her one of the wealthiest women in the world.
A mother of two, Abigail has an MBA from Harvard University. Her 35-year-long career includes a stint in Booz Allen Hamilton. In her early days in Fidelity, she worked as an analyst and portfolio manager. Abigail is a member of the Committee on Capital Markets Regulation, member of the Board of Directors of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), and the first and only woman to serve on the board of the Financial Services Forum. Like Ana Patricia Botin, Abigail is also a four-time entrant on the Forbes power list – standing proudly at rank 7 in 2017.
“The more (number of) learning curves I climb, the more (number of) complex and novel situations I put myself in; the more likely that I will continue to remain relevant," believes Shikha Sharma.
India’s own Shikha Sharma has been the CEO and MD of Axis Bank since 2009. A leader of change beyond compare, Shikha’s most significant work at the bank includes strengthening its retail lending franchise, and expansion of investment banking and advisory capabilities and payment products, making the bank more relevant and contemporary. Under her leadership, the bank’s stocks gained over 90 percent. A mother of two, Shikha started her career in the finance industry with ICICI Bank in 1980. Before Axis Bank, she was the MD & CEO of ICICI Prudential Life Insurance.
Recognised several times over for her contributions to India and South Asia’s financial sector, Shikha has been part of several power lists, including the Forbes List of Asia’s 50 Power Businesswomen, Finance Asia’s Top 20 Women in Finance, and the Fortune Global and India list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business.
60-year-old Ruth Porat is the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Alphabet Inc and Google. A mother of three, Ruth has to her name degrees from renowned universities like Stanford, Wharton, and the London School of Economics. She started her successful career at Morgan Stanley, where her European debt financing saved Amazon from a meltdown during the dot-com bust in 2000. She also led the team advising the US Department of Treasury regarding the Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (FHLMC) in 2008.
After a remarkable career with Morgan Stanley, which led to her being featured in a McKinsey & Company study titled How Remarkable Women Lead, Ruth joined Google as the CFO in 2015. In a stint of fewer than three years, she has been credited with instilling financial discipline within the organisation and boosting its stocks. Even more inspiring, Ruth managed to achieve all of this and more while battling and beating breast cancer twice over.
What can we say about Chanda Kochhar that hasn’t been said before? This 56-year-old is the MD & CEO of ICICI Bank, a mother of two, and has been pivotal in shaping the retail banking and private banking sectors in India. Chanda started her illustrious career in banking & finance in 1983 when she joined ICICI as a management trainee. She played a crucial role in setting up ICICI Bank in the 90s and transforming it from a credit and investment corporation into a retail bank.
Chanda has excelled as an industry spokesperson and veteran too. She is a member of the India-Japan Business Leaders Forum and the US-India CEO Forum and served as the president of the International Monetary Conference that brings together the world’s largest financial institutions from over 30 countries. Chanda is also the deputy chairman of the Indian Banks Association and co-chair of the World Economic Forum.
For all of this and more, Chanda Kochhar is a regular member of nearly every significant finance power list from India and around the world, including Fortune’s list of Most Powerful Women in Business, Forbes World’s 100 Most Powerful Women, Bloomberg Markets’ 50 Most Influential People in Global Finance, TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, and many others. She truly reflects,
“Aim for the sky, but move slowly, enjoying every step along the way. It is all those little steps that make the journey complete.”
54-year-old Elvira Nabiullina is a Russian economist, head of the Central Bank of Russia, and the Chief Economic Adviser to Vladimir Putin’s administration for 2012-2013. She is currently the Chairwoman of the Bank of Russia. She took on this role at a critical time when the value of the ruble was on a slippery slope. Under her able leadership, the country has seen a record low inflation rate of 3 percent, which eventually stabilised the economy and boosted investor confidence.
A Moscow University graduate and part of the Yale World Fellows programme, Elvira has also served as the Russian minister of Economic Development and Trade.
In her role as the CEO of the World Bank, 64-year-old Bulgarian politician Kristalina Georgieva is one of the most powerful people in global finance. In this role, she also serves as the leader of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Development Association, the bank’s lending arms for middle- and poor-income countries. Kristalina is responsible for gathering resources and support from the international community to mobilise resources for the aid of underdeveloped and poor nations. Before the World Bank, Kristalina was instrumental in developing the international relations agenda of the European Union as the Commissioner of International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response. She was lauded for managing some of the world’s largest budgets for aid and crisis response and is recognised as a champion for post-crisis resilience.
A mother of one, Kristalina has also served as the European Commission’s Vice-President for Budget and Human Resources, with a €161 billion ($175 billion) budget and 33,000 staff members under her able stewardship. Some of her career’s most significant contributions have included tripling the funding available for the refugee crisis in Europe and progress on including 40 percent women in management to balance the gender equation in the Commission.
50-year-old Mary Callahan Erdoes is the CEO of JP Morgan Asset Management. She also leads the company’s strategic partnership with Highbridge Capital Management and Gavea Investimentos. Under her able leadership, JP Morgan’s assets under management grew to $1.9 trillion in 2017. She took the company to China where it received a license to operate the country’s first wholly-owned asset management business.
Investment banking and asset management are largely perceived as a male-dominated industry. So Mary’s contributions to promote inclusion of women talent through programmes like ASCEND become that much more significant not just to JP Morgan, but also to the industry at large.
A mother of three, Mary has an MBA from Harvard University. She started her career in Stein Roe & Farnham, followed by the Bankers Trust. She has managed diverse roles in finance including corporate finance, merchant banking, high-yield debt underwriting, credit research, trading, and individual portfolio management. She is also the board member for US funds of the UNICEF.
For any young woman in the finance industry, these power women are more than just role models – they are icons. These women are not only great at what they do, their remarkable leadership styles and focus on gender and ethnic diversity, aid and humanitarianism, and the ability to stand ground in an industry perceived as male-dominated is worth all the applause and all the space they find in power lists. Their examples continue to lead and inspire women in finance across the world.
Do you work in the finance sector? Who’s your favourite woman leader? Let us know in the comments below!