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Wall Street Women

Helping ‘leading ladies from the liberal arts’ get in—and win—the game

The way onto Wall Street can be challenging, especially for women—and especially for liberal arts women.

Christine Kim ’17 experienced this firsthand her junior year while trying to lock in an investment banking internship. What she lacked in ready-made inroads, she made up for with resourcefulness and persistence. With support from the Korea Finance Society and Swarthmore alumni whom she tracked down on LinkedIn, Kim achieved her goal: She spent the summer doing trading comparables and drafting company overviews at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Her success there led to an offer of a post-graduation job on their leveraged finance team.

“Not being from a target school for the big banks, it was fairly unheard of for someone like me to get that opportunity, and I had seen other students face the struggle, too,” the political science major says. “The only thing that was really blocking us, I realized, was information asymmetry—we just needed more support and resources.”

So she opted to immediately pay her success forward. Mere weeks after she received that coveted internship offer, Kim presided over the initial interest meeting for Redefine Her Street (RHS), a new student organization aimed at equipping women from liberal arts colleges for careers in the financial sector.

The mission of RHS is twofold: to create a community of “leading ladies from the liberal arts” who are interested in being the next principals of finance, consulting, and business; and to give them hands-on support navigating the complex and demanding recruiting process necessary to land their dream jobs.

“We’ve appreciated the efforts of RHS members to raise awareness of the wide range of meaningful for-profit careers available to Swarthmore students,” says Nancy Burkett, director of career services. “It’s exciting to see our students discovering creative ways to prove there’s no limit to where a liberal arts education can take you.”

The inaugural RHS Swarthmore College chapter is going strong, with close to 30 members. Kim chairs the board of directors, which also includes chapter co-founders Irene Xiang ’18 and Karen Nguyen ’18, as well as Keana Bloomfield, a Bryn Mawr junior. The organization is in the process of being registered as a national 501(c)(3), and Bloomfield is leading the launch of a chapter on Bryn Mawr’s campus next fall. 

Now in its second year, RHS has systematized its programming. Expert- and student-led workshops such as Financial Institutions and Investments 101 help lay a foundation, while twice-monthly chapter meetings provide women with space to compare notes and ask questions of their peers. An annual Economic & Finance Forum brings distinguished alumni to campus to share insights gained in the field.

Students accepted into the by-application-only RHS Finance Fellows Program receive guidance throughout the internship- and job-recruiting processes from mentors in their area of interest. In the Peer 2 Peer Mentorship Program, upperclasswomen are paired with younger students to help them investigate business career opportunities. Women 2 Women events, which have included brunches in Philadelphia and movie screenings, build community among RHS members.

Kim herself has benefited from the mentorship of the RHS national board of directors, which she also chairs. These board members include Wall Street execs Jaky Joseph ’06, Robert Steelman ’92, and Donna McCormick ’84.

“Donna is my first woman mentor in this field, and it has meant so much to me on both a personal and professional level to learn from her,” Kim says. “RHS really opened my eyes to the fact that there just aren’t enough women in this industry.”

Xiang realized the disparity after attending the inaugural summer intensive program of Girls Who Invest, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing the number of women in portfolio management and executive leadership.

“When you manage a portfolio of securities,” Xiang explains, “you want to diversify as much as possible across asset classes and across industries. Why don’t we also advocate for more diversified investment teams?” 

McCormick agrees. “The field’s senior people are still predominantly male,” says the managing director of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, “but it goes beyond gender—having everybody with a finance or accounting major is not very diverse.” 

A classics major, McCormick credits her Swarthmore study of Plato, Homer, and Euripides with cultivating her curiosity, pushing her to seek deeper, more creative liberal arts answers beyond the obvious. 

“I’m constantly amazed at how brilliantly and out-of-the-box Swarthmore students think about things—they add value in ways no one else can,” Kim says. “I’m especially proud of how RHS is helping liberal arts students tailor their skills to get to where they want to go.”

Coming from an institution like Swarthmore, however, can prove challenging to aspiring Wall Street titans. Xiang, who originally intended to go to medical school, has had peers 

question her change in direction. Kim notes that freshmen at the fall activity fair wondered whether Wall Street wasn’t “a bad name to be associated with” on Swarthmore’s progressive campus. 

“We need to acknowledge what’s contributed to Wall Street’s bad reputation,” Kim says, “but also what the good is, and how we can fix things.”

“What many don’t understand,” Xiang adds, “is that there’s a whole other part of finance where you can actually implement social change.”

Impact investment is the support of social and environmental projects with a financial return. For example, impact investors might loan money to a fair-trade coffee cooperative or a provider of affordable housing for low-income families. It’s what expert Morgan Simon ’04 calls “the world’s hottest trend in philanthropy and development.”

“This is the trillion-dollar trend that most people have never heard of,” she says. “Still, compared to traditional finance, you see a lot more women in social investment because it’s a great opportunity to have a deep impact.”

Opening minds and doors to Swatties interested in impact investment is important to the success of RHS, but it’s just part of a larger change the organization is spearheading in the way liberal arts alumni perceive the role and value of money.

“The bottom line is that you don’t have to go into finance to benefit from understanding how capital works—successful nonprofits and activism rely on it,” Kim says. “RHS is about more than encouraging women to go into finance, it’s about inspiring our community to talk about how capital moves in the world and how we can make it play the role we want it to.”

That goes for alumni, too—Kim is actively searching for board members and volunteers to expand and deepen the resources and support that RHS offers its members.

As excited as she is to join Bank of America Merrill Lynch full time after graduation, Kim is perhaps even more inspired by the momentum of the movement she’s helped start. 

“Redefine Her Street is about changing Wall Street from the inside out,” she says. “Yes, we need Swatties out there protesting, but we also need Swatties who are willing to go into the belly of the beast to use their wonderful, critical liberal arts thinking to revolutionize this industry for the better.” 

—Sophia (Katharine) Merow ’06 contributed to this story.

Impact Investment

“We’re all connected to money one way or another,” says Morgan Simon ’04. “We need to think about the leverage point where we can create changes.”

As a Swarthmore senior, Simon co-founded—along with fellow student activists from Barnard, Duke, Penn, and Williams—the Responsible Endowments Coalition (REC). 

Now a presence on 100 campuses nationwide, REC empowers students to challenge their institutions of higher education to invest responsibly and proactively, thereby bringing socially and environmentally responsible investment practices to endowment funds totaling in the tens of billions.

The author of Real Impact: The New Economics of Social Change, Simon founded two other leading impact investment players: Toniic and Transform Finance. 

The former bills itself as “an action community for global impact investment” while the latter supports investors, communities, and entrepreneurs in a broad range of efforts to use finance as a positive tool for equity and shared prosperity.

Reflecting on her decade-plus of wielding the powerful tool of finance to effect social change, Simon says it remains to be seen whether impact investment will live up to its full world-improving potential. 

“Are we going to make people slightly better off but keep the pre-existing power structures in terms of haves and have-nots and general disrespect for the environment?” she wonders. “Or are we going to seize this moment to really lead to systemic change in the way we make our investments?”