Why these investment bankers decided to build a network for women in finance

In conversation with HerStory, Arushi Jindal, an associate at Mirae Venture Investments India and Southeast Asia, and Anshika Gupta, an analyst at TPG Capital, talk about the deep gender gap in the world of finance and how their network, Headway Circuit, aims to bridge it.
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Investment banking and finance weren’t new to Arushi Jindal, who works as an associate at Mirae Venture Investments in India and South-East Asia, and Anshika Gupta, an analyst at TPG Capital, Mumbai. 

Arushi had earlier worked at Elevation Capital (erstwhile SAIF Partners) in the fintech and healthtech team, and Anshika was part of Citigroup’s investment banking division. Amid all this, they realised that there was one common theme: the deep gender gap. 

The duo felt that there was unequal representation in the finance industry and that it was important for women to support each other. This led them to start Headway Circuit, which aims to build gender parity in the private equity and venture capital industries. 

Claiming to be India’s first community of women investors in the first decade of their career, the organisation supports female investment professionals by providing them with a strong network and essential infrastructure that can help build business acumen for long-term success.

In a conversation with HerStory, Anshika and Arushi talk about the gaping gender parity hole, what their network does, and their plans for the future. 

Edited excerpts from the interview:

HerStory (HS): What led you to start Headway Circuit? What problem did you want to address? 

Arushi Jindal (AJ): Having started our journey as investment bankers, we realised the unequal gender parity in the finance industry early on. We may have been inexperienced, but we found ourselves to be supporters for each other through this journey. When we moved on to our respective investing careers, we joined smaller teams with narrower gender ratios. 

As we connected with like-minded women in the industry, we realised that while there are several women at the junior level, the ranks of women investors dwindle as one progresses up the career ladder. In some instances, we witnessed that executives at new business target companies and exiting portfolio companies judged women managers and professionals differently than their male peers. 

As most of us are eyeing a long-term career in the industry, having healthy interactions with our peers and seniors helped us build on our vision.

In one of many such discussions, we conceptualised Headway Circuit, one of India’s first women-only communities of investors in the first decade of their careers. At Headway, we want to focus on addressing the implicit gender bias at the grassroot level to avoid leakage as one goes up the ladder. 

Further, as the pandemic unfolded around us, there were several recent graduates and seasoned professionals who lost their jobs or lost out on opportunities. So, we broadened our model to focus on mentoring college students at the under-graduate and post-graduate level.

HS: How does the platform work and what sets it apart from the others?

Anshika Gupta (AG): We want to solve for gender parity in the investing space through our three-pronged objectives: 

  • Networking: Given investing is a relationship and network-driven business, one of our key objectives is to provide a platform for women to build a social and professional network in the industry, right from the early stages of their careers, as they move up the ladder. Some of our events include digital speed-networking sessions and happy hours with our team.
  • Training and education: We provide coaching and knowledge workshops focusing on investing themes, long-term career opportunities, work-life balance, and MBA-related queries. Events include sessions across different sectors and investing stages, with senior women professionals and peers in finance and investing.
  • Mentorship: At Headway, we provide mentorship to women aspirants, both professionals and students, wanting to build a career in finance and investing. Some of our events include one-on-one interactions and group sessions, networking with headhunters, and working with like-minded global organisations.

Our team sets us apart. We are a motivated team of over 25 investment professionals, and we promote healthy and candid conversations across our group. 

HS: What are the challenges of setting this up and how did you overcome them?

AJ: Our foremost challenge was to connect with women who are motivated to pull out time from their busy schedules to proactively further our cause. To overcome this, we tapped into our professional network and built our team from the ground up through word of mouth. It’s been truly remarkable to have such a wonderful group at Headway. Today, all of us are enthusiastically helping women professionals grow in their careers. 

HS: What are the steps and benefits?

AG: Interested members can fill out the application on our website and we will get in touch after a quick screening to approve membership. People can also reach out to anyone at Headway directly and we’ll have a quick chat with you before on-boarding.

Women professionals get access to member-only events, our member directory, peer networking sessions with women investors across different types of funds, personalised coaching and workshops from senior women leaders in the industry, and - most importantly - a place to huddle for all young women professionals! 

Women who are working in banking, consulting, or operational roles, with keen interest in investing as a career opportunity will also get access to events specifically designed for them.

HS: What advice do you have for women entrepreneurs and investors?

AJ: While we are fairly early in our careers, we’ve pulled a few leaflets from personal interactions and experiences to help women interested in making careers in finance and entrepreneurship.

  • We have lived through many unconscious biases throughout – whether its recruitment, fundraising, or reaching out in a networking event. For both women investors and entrepreneurs, one important advice would be to be more pro-active in networking and building relationships in the industry. It is very important that young women investors find mentors early on and grow with them.
  • Another advice to all the women investors would be to start investing personally as it will help in building a strong muscle for investing in different formats and life cycles.
  • As entrepreneurs, women should be proactive in reaching out to the right people (such as investors, experienced entrepreneurs, senior industry professionals) for support and mentorship without hesitation. In a world that holds few seats for women at the table of importance, it is helpful to develop a thick skin, but be approachable at the same time. Networking and relationship building are pivotal towards creation of a successful career. 

HS: What are your future plans? 

AG: We’ve noticed that when women are given greater opportunity to participate in the workforce, economies grow and societies prosper.

While making change happen is complex, we are working towards addressing gender equality in the investment industry from the beginning of our investing careers. 

To further our cause, we are working towards expanding our three pillar objectives and establishing structured collaborations with international organisations and other non-profits with similar objectives: furthering gender equity in the fields of finance, investing, and entrepreneurship. 

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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