Women’s Careers in Finance: Reality Check – It’s a Jungle

24 April 2018


On March 8th, the world remembered once again that there is a “special group of people” called women, a “Randgruppe” (fringe group) representing more than 50% of the population.


That was International Women’s Day.

Women and men everywhere emphasize the need for gender equality as a basis for success, and the public and press agree that it is very important to support women getting to the upper levels of management. Yet, reading all the papers and articles from March 8thInternational Women’s Day— it is very difficult to understand why still only 5.2 % of women hold corporate CEO positions worldwide.

Nothing is happening

In Germany, despite the prevailing sentiment—and plenty of qualified professionals—the number of women in top CEO positions is currently decreasing. If boards understand the need for more women in the C-suite, why doesn’t the hierarchy change? It is certainly a good start to write a lot of articles and to “understand” the problem; but unfortunately the reality has not changed.

External factors

Major factors for this inequity are largely external—defined largely by the public, peers and cultural standards—and show an interesting psychological and cultural phenomenon: the human inability to discern between confidence and competence. Extensive hubris (masked as charm, charisma, assertiveness) is often misinterpreted as leadership potential.

The phenomenon is most obvious in today’s culture (and politics!): Extremely self-centered, overconfident and narcissistic (male) individuals are elected as leaders—by men and women.

Scientific studieshave shown that men can be consistently more arrogant, manipulative and risk-prone than women; hence they are much more confident of their competencies and feel there is nothing that they are not able to achieve. This confidence appears to make men attractive. One could describe this attraction as a disguised form of self-love compensation—the great attraction of overconfidence of those who have an inability to love themselves or the classical picture of the male hero who can change or rescue the world.

This is a paradox of humankind. We just like to fool ourselves. We all love good stories—but only listen to the storytellers who speak out the loudest; this most often means men.

Negative perception

Unfortunately, for women the public perception is the opposite. The few successful women with high confidence levels and assertiveness are perceived completely differently: They are considered cold, callous or even frightening. What will it take to transform this negative public perception? Well, change is certainly still a long way off, and it needs to be driven and supported by women themselves—in public, in the press and in private discussions.

Internal factors

The internal, individual factors defined by the personal mindset and the cultural background can affect a woman’s career path enormously.

Women themselves very often do not show the necessary confidence. They can lack the courage to speak up and show their expertise, and still believe that others will finally recognize their talent. Sorry ladies, that will most likely not happen. The reasons for this female uncertainty could fill books. But confidence and assertiveness are mandatory to reach the top positions—especially in the financial industry.

A common mistake of some (young) women is to expect their work to be fun. Just like they did in University, they assume on the job they will continue working creatively in teams, enjoy each other’s company, and find friends. But work life is nothing like the sheltered world of education. It is rather like a jungle: a place full of life and energy, amazing and beautiful to look at—but where every single creature (even peaceful-looking plants) must fight every single day to defend their space, to find food, to get a place in the sun, to find a partner… to simply survive.

We all must accept that job reality is a constant competition and battle—for both men and women. The financial industries can be exceptionally combative and competitive. But the prey (success, recognition, money) is ample—so why don’t we get out there, put on our combat gear and go for the loot?

Ladies, be more confident, show how great you are. Don’t wait for your peers or boss to realize your qualities—talk about them yourself! We are tough, strong and just as hardworking, and we will get a piece of the spoils…eventually!

1Harvard Business Review, “Why do so many incompetent men become leaders?”, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, August 2013

Learn more about Women in Finance, Intralinks' global series of live events and inspirational commentary celebrating the achievements of women in vital advisory, private equity, M&A law and corporate development roles.

Antje Biber

Antje Biber

Antje is president of the Board of the Swiss entity of FERI Group. As a Member of the Management Board of FERI AG, she is also responsible for the international business as well the Sustainability Strategy of the group. Antje has worked at FERI for over 13 years, with significant influence in the strategic development of innovative investment structures and advisory concepts for European institutional clients. Antje has been working in the financial industry for more than 20 years.

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