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#WomenInFinance Are Looking Out for Each Other - an Interview with Cathleen Stahl

State Street

July 31,2018

#WomenInFinance celebrates strong women in all corners of the financial services industry who are using their talent and power to change the game.

Cathleen Stahl, CMO of PIMCO, has spent much of her career as the only woman in the room…and she is working to change that. Her strategy is to get more women on both sides of the equation — as investors and as investment managers. As The New York Times reported, “While women may be less likely to enjoy investing, studies show that they may inherently be better investors than men. Females are less prone to risky behavior, for instance, and, unlike their confident male counterparts, they’re more likely to fess up to their own ignorance.” When women manage money, things tend to work out. Cathleen and her team at PIMCO are doing what they can to empower their female clients and propel qualified women to the top.

You studied political science in college. How did you end up in finance a few years later?

I grew up on Long Island outside of New York City, and most of the people in my network were in finance. I’m not personally market-centric, but I was always attracted to the intensity of the field.

My first job in investment management, after time in the Peace Corp, was at OppenheimerFunds in Corporate Affairs. The hiring manager there was the only one I met with who told me that my Peace Corps experience put my application at the top of the pile for him. While I was there I worked on a program focused on women and investing, as well as launching a philanthropic initiative. I saw a direct line from my liberal arts degree to my service work to corporate marketing in investment management; I was glad the team at OppenheimerFunds did, too.  

What is it about the financial services industry that has kept you engaged and interested for the bulk of your career?

Markets change all day every day, so there are always new challenges and opportunities.  I love the speed, hustle, intensity and volatility of the industry. I have been able to experience a lot of communication and strategy challenges over the years that really have kept me on my toes.

Investment management is not yet at the leading edge when it comes to gender diversity.  Having worked in the industry for more than two decades, I assume you found yourself in the minority at times during your career?

Absolutely. I’ve been the only woman in many meetings throughout my career.  But I was fortunate because when I joined OppenheimerFunds in the mid-1990s, both the CEO and CMO were women. So even though I’ve had mostly male managers, I had those women as role models right from the start. Seeing women in senior levels had a huge influence on me because I knew it was possible. I now have four sons plus my husband, so being the only woman in the room has not changed that much for me!

Just give me a level playing field and I am comfortable competing with anyone.

We still need more women in asset management at every level, and particularly in leadership positions. Given that women are such a powerful segment of the investor universe, it only makes sense that their influence should extend to the investment management industry.

On the other side of the coin, I think the industry has room to evolve when it comes to engaging women as investors. Women control an increasing percentage of wealth in the US. They have different goals, realities and needs when it comes to investing, and it’s not just about preparing for retirement. I don’t know if our industry is built for how women think these days. When I started in the industry working on a “Women and Investing” advocacy program, I didn’t envision there would still be work to do in 2018! Women have a genuine desire to take control over their financial futures and finance as a whole could do better to accommodate their needs and priorities. I am really looking forward to helping female investors as their impact on our industry continues to expand.

If you could change any one phase of your career (knowing what you know now), what would you do differently?

In hindsight, I could have gotten places a little faster if I had had more self-confidence and just took the chance when I had it as opposed to hedging my bets. I am not big on regret; every choice has led me to where I am today and I’m happy and healthy and blessed. But looking back, I would say there are things I could have done sooner or faster. I had and took a lot of great opportunities, but I was lucky enough to have a network of champions behind me who encouraged me to seize each opportunity. I would say the same thing to any young woman in the field – you just have to go for it. 

1. Siegel Bernard, T. (2010, April 23). Financial Advice by Women for Women. The New York Time. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/24/your-money/24money.html

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