Iron Lady Inspiration: 100 Women In Finance CEO Forges The Future
Growing up in a suburb of Birmingham, England, Amanda Pullinger looked to Margaret Thatcher, then prime minister of England, as her role model.
The CEO of 100 Women in Finance, Pullinger says she was the first in her family to go to university, and no one was in business. So as a teenager, she looked to 10 Downing Street for inspiration.
“I saw Margaret Thatcher as someone who was not in the aristocracy, but who got to Oxford University and was at the top of her game in politics, “says Pullinger, who as head of 100 Women in Finance, has grown the organization to 15,000 global members, raising $44 million for nonprofit organizations and holding more than 800 educational events.
“She was my motivation,” says Pullinger, who has led the largest affinity group globally for women in finance and alternative investment industries since 2014. “I thought if she could do it, I could do it. Like her I went to a (public) grammar school, not a private school.”
And like her inspiration, Pullinger also went to Brasenose College of Oxford University, graduating in 1987 with an honors degree in Modern History. Pullinger also happened to be a classmate of David Cameron, another British Prime Minister.
“Oxford gave me access to an amazing network of people,” says Pullinger, who is at the helm of 100 Women in Finance with the mission to support women in advancing their careers through education, giving back through philanthropy, and leveraging relationships through peer engagement.
“It also gave me perspective on the world that was much bigger than the family system I was brought up in,” she says.
Research points out the importance of role models—even remote ones—for women entering careers in finance and STEM.
“Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that early role models, particularly female role models, influence women’s choice of finance careers,” writes Professor Brad Barber of the University of California- Davis Graduate School of Management in “STEM Parents and Women in Finance,” in the Financial Analyst Journal.
Barber and co-authors, Professor Renée Adams at the University of New South Wales and Professor Terrance Odean at UC Berkeley, also wrote in a separate study “that specific barriers discourage women from entering the CFA/finance professions. Women face greater time obligations outside of work, for instance, and finance is a profession that disproportionately rewards those who work long and inflexible hours,” writes Brad Hooker in Enterprise.
In all of her career, Pullinger says, she worked in male-dominated industries, including her first job in London where she was with Exel plc’s environmental division, conducting acquisition analysis in the U.K. and Europe. There, she says, “I was the only woman in the office apart from the secretaries.”
Two years into the job, in 1989, she was transferred to the U.S., to conduct similar analysis for a subsidiary company. “I was 23 years old and knew no one,” Pullinger says. And that is why she offers advice to women in their career about the value of living and working abroad.
“I say get out of the country in which you were born. What happens to women is your gender remains an issue if you don’t gain international experience.” Pullinger adds, “Even if you go for a few years, it changes the perception of you by those people around you.”
In the U.S. almost 30 years, Pullinger has a global staff of seven managing operations of 22 locations globally and overseeing 500 volunteer committee members, and three Boards.
After moving to the U.S., Pullinger earned an MBA from La Salle University, Philadelphia, in 1998, and received the Academic Award for MBA student of the year as well as the Beta Gamma Sigma award.
In Philadelphia, she worked for the advertising and marketing agency Lefton Company from 1991-1994, and from 1995-1999, she worked at Giles & Ransome. She was responsible for strategic marketing development at Unisys Corporation, from 1999-2000.
“All these industries I knew nothing about, but I think what I am really good as is translating between the technical knowledge and knowing what customers really want,” Pullinger says.
In 2000, an Oxford colleague invited her to join Aquamarine Capital, where she worked for seven years as partner, responsible for managing marketing, investor relations and back office administration for two private investment funds.
“It was a steep learning curve,” Pullinger says. “That obviously introduced me to another world that was male-dominated, as I was the only woman in the room at breakfast meetings.”
In 2002, she began volunteering for what was then 100 Women in Hedge Funds, that was founded the year earlier, in 2001. Her first endeavor was running the annual fundraiser gala that raised $800,000.
“I got involved with nonprofits and realized I really wanted to consult with nonprofits because I loved interacting with professionals and engaging them to make a difference,” Pullinger says.
She founded Pullinger Management in 2006 to provide strategic management primarily to not for profit organizations, including developing and managing volunteer resources, event planning, corporate fundraising and developing tools to create a sustainable organizational infrastructure.
For the American Red Cross of Greater New York, Pullinger co-founded and managed the Centennial Circle, a women’s leadership group focused on building support and necessary funds for preparedness training and volunteering in at- risk neighborhoods in New York. She also serves as Chairman of The HALO Trust and sits on the HALO USA Board. She is also on the Oxford University Alumni Board, was on the boards of SkillForce, Girls Prep, the NYU Cancer Institute and Chair of the Board of 100WHF before becoming Executive Director. She is a member of BAFTA New York and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
In order to advance more women into senior roles of management in finance, Pullinger says women need more visibility. Women need to be willing to speak at conferences and events around the world and in media.
“The view has always been that women want to do their jobs and go home,” Pullinger says. This isn’t true, she says.
A new study from Money20/20 and Visa that polled 751 professionals, mainly mid-to senior-level, in the Financial Services industry in the United States, “showed that although it is widely recognized that companies with more diversity and gender equality outperform those with less, women in Financial Services believe that the current state of gender equality in the industry still has a long way to go,” according to Cision.
The results of the survey show that 76 percent of respondents – both men and women – agree that there are more men than women at senior levels in their organization, at the VP level and higher. But while 68 percent of male respondents believe the number of women at senior levels will increase in the next 2-3 years, only 45 percent of women feel as positive.
The study also shows that women believe that, for more women to reach top leadership positions, more needs to be done to diversify the talent pipeline. More than half of male respondents believe that not enough women are applying to the top leadership positions. While the majority of men surveyed (69 percent) said they feel that women and men are paid equally for the same job within their organization, only 28 percent of women say they feel this way.
In order to begin to close the leadership gap in finance and to reach gender parity, Pullinger says more women in finance need to be highly visible.
To that end, 100 Women in Finance has created The 100WF Female Fund Manager initiative, a directory of women who own investment funds, or are asset managers across diverse asset classes, whether hedge funds, equities, fixed income, real estate, venture capital or emerging markets. The listings of name, name of the fund and strategy serve as a resource for investors, consultant allocators and other financial professionals who seek to benefit from the perspective and performance of these trailblazing fund managers.
“We need to be visible to the next generation of women. My story of Margaret Thatcher is the same thing we are doing here,” Pullinger says. “Peer networks are really important. It helps to know you are not alone. There are other women like you.”
The more than 200 female fund managers who have already registered in its Female Fund Manager Visibility campaign will be given the Effecting Change Award at the 17th annual New York 100 Women in Finance gala November 7.
As Pullinger steadies initiatives to ensure the representation of women in finance globally, it is a fitting coincidence then that the Bank of England is now considering putting her role model, Margaret Thatcher, on the face of a polymer 50-pound note.
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldonwww.micheleweldon.com