A woman’s view from the trading floor

If you had asked me 5 years ago where I would be today, trading derivatives at one of the world’s biggest asset management firms would probably not have been my first response. In college I was studying international business and politics, and headstrong on becoming a diplomat at the United Nations. My summer going into my senior year of college, I worked an internship at the UN. This experience motivated me to follow a path where I could influence positive changes in the world. I also loved understanding how economies operated around the world. In finding Vanguard, not only was I excited about the possibility to work at one of the biggest asset managers in the world, but also a company that had a philanthropic vibe. I felt that the overlap between values at the United Nations and Vanguard was pleasantly similar.

Learning a “trade”

I applied to the Vanguard Accelerated Development Program (VADP), not knowing where in the organization I wanted to be, but excited about the opportunity to explore different areas of the company. The first step was tackling the Series 7 exam – which helped me gain solid investment knowledge and a better understanding of how our funds and ETFs operate. It was soon after that I realized I wanted to learn more about the investment arm of the organization. After spending a few days shadowing on the trading floor, I knew the fast paced, high impact environment was perfect for me.

My first rotation was on the ETF Capital Markets team, a very male dominated area where there had never been a female on the team before. They covered both fixed income and equity, and spoke to clients about trading – this required deep training and hard work to understand the complex technical knowledge. I spent my days shadowing others on the desk and learning about equity, fixed income, market structure, market participants, and ETFs. I kept a spiral notebook with long lists of questions of the current day’s happenings, and Tom (my first manager on the team) would spend time post market hours explaining the plumbing of the market and theoretical reasoning behind the day’s trades. Although this group required a thorough understanding of many different aspects of investment management, I found I was able to learn these technical skills by partnering with a mentor, and consistently asking questions, finding articles, and taking time to self-study. That included starting the Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA) exam, which although challenging and time consuming, has been instrumental in helping me with my investment education. As time went on I felt confident in my ETF knowledge and my day-to-day now consisted of taking on my own trades and speaking with clients directly, rather than just shadowing another expert.

Vanguard women in finance

Creating the right environment

One thing to note is that there is a lack of females in the investment space, and they have historically shied away from more technical areas. Being the first female to join the Capital Markets team, I worked with my current mentors in deciphering why that is and how we could encourage other females to enter the space. The main themes I came away with were mentorship and confidence. It’s up to females currently in these roles to encourage, mentor, and lead other females and males entering the space. The confidence piece is tough, however, it helped me learn that it’s rare that someone walks into a trading or portfolio management job knowing the right way to hedge a trade. Knowing that I started at the same level as many of my peers reaffirmed that I too was capable and smart.

After I became involved in the ETF industry, I also joined a nonprofit group in the industry called Women in ETFs (WE). In this group, I got to know other women in the industry and attended numerous panels and discussions. Personally I have gained so much from being involved in this organization – the network I developed has helped me to not only understand the ETF ecosystem, but has also provided me with a network to lean on. After going back and forth to the New York chapter many times, I decided to explore developing a Philadelphia chapter. I felt strongly that I could cultivate the same experience for professionals here that I was getting in New York. Many months, discussions, and persuasions later we were able to move forward with the chapter launch in August of 2017. Over the past year I have attended events with experts in the local ETF industry that discussed trading, regulation, and market making. The WE Philadelphia chapter has big plans for incorporating formal mentorship programs, webinars, and more educational events this year.

Vanguard women in finance

No longer a shadow

After spending two years on the ETF Desk, I was approached about taking a trading role on the derivatives desk in Fixed Income. I was honored by the opportunity to take a step deeper into the heart of our funds and the daily happenings of politics, the fed, and market movements. It’s exciting to work on a desk that has direct impact and trades large amount of notional values. Thinking through trades and risk, staying on top of the markets, and learning how thoughtful decisions can positively impact shareholders has kept me so excited to come into work every day and allowed me to continue to grow as an investment professional.

It has been Vanguard’s openness to teach and mentor that has given me the opportunity to work in such technically challenging roles. If I could say one thing to women and men exploring a career in investments, it’s not to allow what you don’t know to intimidate you. If you are willing to work towards a goal, you can achieve it. You just need the right mentors, the right mindset, and the right company.

-Alyssa S.

If you’re seeking and environment where you can make a difference and develop professionally, check out or career opportunities at www.vanguardjobs.com.

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