James Madison University and making a better world for our daughters
Updated: Mar 21
James Madison University's Finance and Business Law department advisory board does amazing work supporting female achievement and facing gender diversity challenges. With that said, the gender challenges are persistent, we have more work to do, and we need your help reaching young women before they enter college.
This article has two central actors. My daughter and the James Madison University Finance and Business Law department advisory board. First, let me introduce the board, our good work, and the persistent gender diversity challenges we face. In the second part, I will introduce Jacquelyn to the story. Jacquelyn and other female JMU graduates demonstrate that overcoming our gender diversity challenges is very achievable. I conclude with a suggestion for the parents of grade-school children: TEACH CHILDREN PERSONAL FINANCE. I provide personal finance resources, including my announcement to teach personal finance at JMU.
At the end of March is our semi-annual board meeting at James Madison University. This is for the College of Business and Finance and Business Law Department. This board has been together for almost a decade. I am VERY proud of the volunteer work we do. We are an active board. We have three primary focus areas:
Student mentorship - we mentor a wide variety of students, especially first-generation college students
Development - raising money for scholarships
Curriculum consulting - help our academic sponsors with "what industry is buying" from a skills and abilities standpoint.
JMU's Finance and Business Law department is a vibrant, well-honored academic department. It is one of the largest academic departments at JMU and has a great reputation in the financial services industry.
With all this good stuff, there is a nagging, perpetual, difficult, and unsolved challenge. This relates to gender diversity in the finance and risk management world. The ratio of female students is only about 15%. Unfortunately, over time this number is stubborn. This challenge is certainly not limited to JMU. We regularly observe national aggregates skewing low for females in the finance and risk management arenas. Importantly, this challenge is contrary to hiring demand. Many companies, including those represented by JMU's board, aggressively recruit qualified females and other underrepresented social group members. The hiring economics for finance-focused women is straightforward -- the industry talent demand consistently outstrips the college graduate talent supply.
This is a challenge to us all, we can do better by encouraging females in finance and risk management. This is a challenge to my board - we need to keep on keepin' on! Fight the good fight!
In our little corner of the world at JMU, our board is focused on this challenge. We are focused on female students and their needs. We provide mentorship opportunities and provide access and opportunity via our scholarships. Our scholarship and mentorship criteria include performance and need. Certainly, the need to provide talented female students with mentorship and financial support is a priority. We have many success stories!
We have also come to appreciate, the gender disparity for finance and risk management students includes a culturally-influenced systems challenge. That is, the board and academic leadership can only do so much when the incoming female students do not even consider finance. The system-based reasons a female student may not choose finance will vary. But their prior-to-college environment may have included messages that finance and risk management are not for them.
Systems challenges are particularly problematic because not a single person, organization, government entity, or anyone else owns the problem. These diffuse systems' challenges span generations. The system is impacted by habits, traditions, and cultures. It takes a long time to change.
Much good work has been done to understand and help resolve this system's challenge. Next are a few examples:
The Social Sciences: An interesting study and related empirical tests were completed by the researchers Uri Gneezy (University of California, San Diego), John List (University of Chigago), and others. They compared one of the few matriarchal societies (societies where women lead and own most of the economic levers) to a few comparable and more typical patriarchal societies. (like the U.S.) The idea of the test was to understand:
When the many cultural (nurture) and biological (nature) differences are experimentally controlled,
- then -
What differences are observed between men and women regarding confidence and willingness to compete in economic games?
Based on the test results, they suggest there are no meaningful nature-based gender differences. The substantive differences are the result of cultural differences. That is, how we raise our boys and girls is very significant. [i]
Female-focused non-profits: Reshma Saujani is the founder of Girls Who Code. Saujani advocates for raising our daughters to be Brave, Not Perfect. This is also the name of her book. Ms. Saujani and her non-profit provide computer programming and related skills building. They provide a nurturing environment for deserving young women. She observes:
"We're raising our girls to be perfect, and we're raising our boys to be brave .... Most girls are taught to avoid risk and failure. We're taught to smile pretty, play it safe, get all A's. Boys, on the other hand, are taught to play rough, swing high, crawl to the top of the monkey bars, and then just jump off headfirst.”
Consultant research: Through awareness and active engagement, companies are making workplace changes to improve company culture regarding gender. The change will take time. In a recent study by McKinsey and Company, they suggest there is still a “broken rung” on the corporate ladder where women tend to fall away. People are not always motivated by money or career success. Different times of life present different success motivation tradeoffs. For young families, "our" need to focus on family formation may be the priority over "my" career. The good news is, regardless of our motivation or gender, we are all born with the ability to achieve whatever success is our motivation's desire.
My daughter, Jacquelyn is in her mid-twenties. She is a graduate of JMU and the finance department. My wife, Patti, and I are both JMU Finance graduates too. Today, Jacquelyn is a data scientist and risk management professional with a major U.S. bank. She has been promoted several times, she is expanding her scope, she is growing her technical skills, and she is growing as a leader. She is expanding her success habits and growing her confidence. But even in this progressive bank, Jacquelyn is well aware of her gender uniqueness.
She regularly attends bank meetings where she is the only woman. I asked if it bothers her. She said:
"Not really, I'm used to it."
Then, with a smile, she said:
"It’s how you and Mom raised me."
Jacquelyn is certainly not alone. Many female JMU finance graduates are incredibly successful. JMU was an important part of preparing them for work success. The female members of our board are perfect examples! Dr. Hui Sono, our dynamic female finance department chair, provides a powerful case in point.
So the good fight continues. I look forward to the next meeting with our JMU board. We continue to look for high-impact ways to move the needle on our gender diversity challenge. I'm proud of the work we do but also know the work will take decades, not semesters to reach gender parity. Admittedly, systems challenges are complex and may feel intractable. But even when we may feel we cannot move the needle, there are inspiring success stories like Jacquelyn and many others from JMU's Finance and Business Law department. They remind us the fight is worth it. They remind us that change, while slow, is VERY achievable.
A Tip For Parents - Teach Children Personal Finance
If you are the parent of a child in grade school, here is something you can do to help your child while helping overcome our finance-related system's challenge:
TEACH CHILDREN PERSONAL FINANCE
Money confidence is the gateway to considering finance and many other "non-traditional" female occupations. Making money less scary and teaching responsible ways to manage money is a great way to demystify finance. Personal finance not only teaches practical, confidence-building money skills, but it also teaches decision-making abilities they may use their entire life! Personal finance teaches that math is NOT scary. It provides achievable confidence in practical, everyday math. My wife and I did this with Jacquelyn and all our children. Jacquelyn walked into JMU with a financial basis that gave her the confidence to at least try finance. It was the catalyst that launched a successful college experience and was a springboard for her career. Personal finance is both a confidence-building tool and a means to help resolve the career-limiting challenges of financial illiteracy. Finance and risk management careers are not for everyone, but they should not be discouraged because of a lack of personal finance confidence.
For help, please see our curriculum:
Your Personal Finance Journey Starts Here!
If you know someone attending JMU, encourage them to take my personal finance class. In the catalog, the class is listed BUS 200 - Personal Finance
This is a sophomore-level class. So who knows, after taking this class, maybe the student will major in Finance and Business Law!
[i] List, Gneezy, The Why Axis, 2013