When Jackie Tenney and Emily Becker changed majors from pre-med to finance in their sophomore year at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, they noticed something unusual about the program they entered — as women, they were vastly outnumbered.
As of the fall 2022 semester, according to the undergraduate business programs office at UT’s Haslam College of Business, 21.3 percent of the college’s finance majors were female. That’s in stark contrast to 40.7 percent of the overall undergraduate Haslam population that identified as female.
“It’s a very intimidating thing, to go into a field that’s so male dominated,” Becker says. “Since there aren’t many girls in each class, I wanted a community where we could come together.”
Plenty of female-focused organizations already existed at UT, as did some finance-focused groups, but none of them combined women’s issues with finance. With that in mind, Becker and Tenney approached Laura Cole, Sharon Pryse/Trust Company Director of the Masters Investment Learning Center at Haslam, with their concept for a new group, Women in Finance. Cole supported the idea.
“It’s good for women to have a chance to network with other women,” she says, “and there’s a benefit to having older finance majors mentor some of the younger girls, getting the message out that finance is for everyone.”
Breaking the Money Taboo
Many women don’t get the message at an early age that finance is for all, Cole says, and that’s a big reason why they’re underrepresented in finance. “Money is a taboo subject for women, especially in the South, so changing the vernacular and the words we use is important. I like to tell young women that it’s positive to talk about money, especially in terms of taking care of yourself. Being financially independent is a good thing.”
In her teaching, Cole has found that men and women are attracted to finance for different reasons. “If you ask the men in the class why they’re there, some say it’s because they like the idea of making a lot of money. That’s not the part that usually appeals to women.”
Instead, Cole’s female students tend to be motivated by the field’s problem-solving aspects. “When you’re a financial advisor or an analyst for a corporation, you’re problem solving and helping someone achieve their goals. It’s that helping portion that really appeals to the women. And if you have a knack for it, you’re able to do something that a lot of people can’t do.”
Fostering Community and Mentorship
Now juniors, founders Becker and Tenney lead Women in Finance as co-presidents, with Cole serving as faculty advisor. The organization spent the fall 2022 semester working on branding and assembling an executive team.
Turnout at the first official Women in Finance meeting in February 2023 was much bigger than anyone expected, filling every seat in the Haslam Business Building’s West Wing conference room. Future meetings will be held in larger spaces to accommodate the more than 70 students who signed up to join the group. Membership is open to female-identified juniors and seniors majoring in finance, as well as first-years and sophomores who are interested in finance but have not yet declared a major.
The organization will hold two meetings each month, with a variety of activities planned, including networking, learning about other finance groups on campus, setting up first-year and sophomore students with mentorship from junior and senior finance majors and holding social events. Some meetings will feature guest speakers to talk about finance careers and help the students with everything from resumes and interview skills to personal branding.
The group’s main goal, Tenney says, is to help women feel more confident in their male-dominated finance classes and beyond. “Having a buddy makes things so much easier for women,” she says. “We want these girls to know that they will have a friendly face in their classes, and that we’re excited to share information about finance.”
Interested? Contact co-presidents of Women in Finance, Emily Becker and Jackie Tenney.
Stacy Estep, writer/publicist, firstname.lastname@example.org