Gender Economics has always been a blazing topic. To strive as a woman in the modern finance industry requires skills and resilience, on top of a perfect record of competence. This article features Theresa Lim, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of QuinRiver and aims to spotlight a paragon of the investment banking sector. Theresa started her career as an auditor back in the late 1900s, before entering the investment banking world by joining CIMB in 2000. 18 years later, she seized the opportunity to explore private equity and has since started QuinRiver with a colleague.
How far has gender equality come?
Since starting her career with CIMB in the late 1990s, Theresa is proud to say efforts toward gender equality have come a long way. Compared to only two women out of every ten employees back then, recent progress has shown more women than men in some investment banks, specifically in the corporate finance division. Theresa firmly believes that as long as women are capable of contributing substantially to an organisation, due recognition will be rewarded in the form of positions.
Having said so, we should always be reminded to not expect any bias due to gender. Be it men or women, ALL should be treated equally. Furthermore, Theresa emphasises the importance of allowing women to return and restart their careers after long maternity leave. The security of ensuring a place for valued employees to return to could benefit greatly in the long run to increase employee retention.
Despite advancements, glass ceilings in the industry still remain, albeit being chipped away slowly.
“Today I see more and more representations of women in senior leadership roles in these organisations.”
Theresa explains that this varies from organisation to organisation, and at its very core is influenced by those at the top of the corporate hierarchy. She also notes that she sees more and more representations of women in senior leadership roles in these organisations today.
In the industry, women face a significant challenge in forming the same depth of connections as men. Theresa, herself is involved in deal-making, which is primarily driven by building relationships and obtaining good reports. As Theresa, herself is involved in deal-making, which is largely driven by building relationships and obtaining good reports. As most business owners and decision-makers in Southeast Asia are men, women need to bring additional value to the table in order to gain the clients’ trust and respect. Theresa acknowledges these challenges but explains that they did not discourage her as every individual has their own strengths and weaknesses, regardless of gender. Some people may be better at numbers and execution, while others may find their strengths in networking and forming relationships. Theresa comments that it is important to embrace and leverage one’s talents when pursuing a career.
The Female Force
A quick Google search will list hundreds of ways women differ from their male counterparts in terms of both strengths and weaknesses. Theresa sheds some light on the gender differences that do come into play in the finance industry. She believes that women are generally “more detail-oriented, better at multitasking, as well as more nurturing.” This greatly contributes to ensuring effective communication and collaboration within a team. She reasons that in any team there should be diversity, as each individual brings with them different strengths, personalities, and skill sets, allowing them to complement each other. This leads to myriads of ideas being discussed and deliberated.
However, certain corporations avoid employing females in order to avoid shocks in operations, in the event of a large number of its workforce taking maternity leave, however unlikely. In response to this, companies should adopt a more balanced and diverse pattern in their workforce by creating teams of different genders and age groups.
Breaking the Glass Ceiling
Theresa acknowledges that there are low advancement rates and high turnovers in female employment in the industry. She mentions that “at the working level, there are actually more women than more men, yet, at the senior leadership level, you don’t see as many women represented as compared to men.” She says that this may be largely due to the fact that when a woman starts a family, she will most likely take a step back from her career to focus on the family. As a career in investment banking and private equity demands a lot from the employees – through travelling, long working hours and a highly stressful working environment, it’s not easy to juggle this with building a young family.
However, many investment banks today have become supportive of young mothers. “When I was at CIMB and I had my first child, back in the year 2009, in addition to the maternity leave CIMB allowed me to take an additional four months of unpaid leave. And at the same time, I was assured that there would still be a job for me when I’m ready to join the workforce again,” Theresa recounts. Policies like this help young mothers take time off to care for their newborns without having to worry about losing their job, and they return refreshed and thankful to the organisation that clearly values them, thus continuing to grow and contribute to the firm. Although this is not yet practised widely in Malaysia or Southeast Asia, many organisations and governments have progressed over the last 20 years towards a more equal workplace.
At QuinRiver, Theresa and her team are small enough that these policies are not yet relevant. Her colleagues mostly consist of men, but many female interns have been hired. Given that Theresa is the CEO of QuinRiver, she and the others that are at the top of the organisational hierarchy “dictate the culture” of the firm. Thus, she mentions that if she were to have a young female analyst working for her, she would ensure that all of her work is recognised accordingly and spend the time guiding her on how to manoeuvre the male-dominated market outside of the organisation.
“Being confident with your own skills, what you can bring to the table and getting the deal done in the best possible manner for the client,” is the most important key to building reputations and relationships with clients, quote Theresa.
Theresa shares an incredibly encouraging observation where more and more women participate in the finance industry year on, in various roles ranging from internships to analyst positions. A parting piece of advice to young ambitious women would be to create a cohesive plan on where they would like to go in 5 to 10 years and to build persistently towards that goal.
For upcoming graduates, a pro tip shared by our interviewee is to join organisations that provide as much exposure as possible. Theresa chides that her experience working on large and complex deals at CIMB for 15 years was invaluable, as it provided her with knowledge and wisdom gained through direct involvement in M&A deals.
Journalists: Arianna, Umar
Reviewers: Emeline Yong, Elina Yong
Editors: Maryam Nazir Chaudhary
Uploader: Sonia Cheong