The 26th Annual Merit Awards Dinner

The Merit Awards Dinner was established to honor the accomplishments of women in the financial services industry. On April 18th, there were over 800 guests representing the largest banks, brokerage firms private equity investment houses, asset managers, rating agencies, consulting and technology service firms, and trade organizations.

Established in 1921, The Women’s Bond Club’s (WBC) mission is to bring together experienced professional women from all sectors of the capital markets industry to assist women with advancing within their chosen fields. The Awards Dinner is about recognizing the leaders, learning from their successes and returning value back to the members and community.

The WBC gave out their two most prestigious awards that evening. Named in honor of one of their founding members, the Betty Cook Award recognizes the contributions of an exceptional woman who has devoted much of her career to helping other women. This year’s Betty Cook Award went to Rock The Street, Wall Street founder and CEO, Maura K. Cunningham. The Merit Award recognizes a woman who has made a significant contribution to the financial services community and actively supports diversity initiatives. This year’s Merit Award winner was Ellen R. Alemany, Chairwomen & Chief Executive Officer, CIT Group.

Maura with Ellen Alemany and WBC Board Members

What Maura Did To Receive The Award

Maura is the Founder and Executive Director of Rock The Street, Wall Street – a financial literacy program designed to spark high school girls’ interest in pursuing finance careers. After spending 25+ years in the financial industry, Maura was eager to turn her attention to getting more girls interested in their financial independence and introduce them to careers in finance.

Since its inception in 2013, more than 1,750 girls across 13 U.S. cities, coast to coast, have graduated from the year-long program that includes classroom financial hands-on project workshops, a “Wall Street” experience field trip, and a mentorship program. Every single classroom instructor and mentor are female financial professionals who volunteer to lead Rock The Street, Wall Street programs, and are instrumental in shaping girls’ perceptions of finance careers. If they can see it, they can be it.

What She Had To Say While There

Maura delivering her speech

Below are some excerpts from Maura’s acceptance speech that evening.

On being a woman in finance:

When I first started my career, I was often one of the few women in the room. The needle still hasn’t moved very far. Today, women represent only 2.5% of hedge fund managers, 8% of venture capital partners, 9% of mutual fund managers and 11.7% of private equity professionals and roughly only 20 -25% of managing directors.

On where gender differences in STEM form:

Here’s the trajectory of a girls’ life when it comes to math in the United States. It starts at home. If parents have a boy and a girl, many parents are still encouraging their sons to study math and science, and their daughters to study dance and literature. In grade school, where 90% of the teachers are females who have little to no certification in math, girls see their teachers struggle when they go to the whiteboard or smart board, with what is known as “math anxiety”. That math anxiety transfers to the girls in the room, but not to the boys in the room. (U of Chicago 12 year longitudinal studies.) They will even sometimes hear their teachers say, “I hate math.” The seed is planted…girls start to think it’s societally acceptable for them to then “opt out” of math.

On the effects of  “math anxiety:”

This socialization of math phobia carries over to girls’ interest in pursuing business classes. Sure, they’ll choose marketing and HR classes year after year in the business disciplines, but, not finance nor economics classes – where girls are much fewer in number. And when they finally get to college, those that have an interest in pursuing a major in finance or economics will find again that they are only 3 or 4 out of class of 20 students.

On the importance of reaching girls early:

We believe that reaching girls in high school – before they select a college, a major and accrue debt to pay for it all – is crucial to truly affecting change in both our industry and in the lives of women who will come to have a much better understanding of finance and financial products.

On Rock The Street, Wall Street’s impact and growth:

Rock The Street, Wall Street’s financial literacy program runs throughout the academic year and is DESIGNED to spark the interest of high school girls into careers of finance. In 6 years, we have grown from 1 school in Nashville to 19 schools in 14 cities, coast to coast.

On outcomes thus far:

To date, we have equipped 1750 high school girls with the tools to think and talk meaningfully about money and investments with their peers, their parents and with us. Think about that – how often are you hearing teenage girls talk to you or to their friends openly and interestingly about money, saving and investing?

On the impacts young women can have in finance:

If the financial industry is to be perceived as forward-thinking by the millenials and Gen Z’s, we need to better align with what both male and females of that age are looking for in a job – work that is meaningful. We need to talk to both 15 year old girls and 21 y/o female job candidates about how they can make a difference in finance right from the very beginning of their career! We need to speak to their interests, saying….Did you know you can change the face of a city by helping it reduce its interest rate and borrowing fees? Did you know that you can help an eco-sustainable start up company achieve its goals by helping it obtain the seed funding or the venture capital they need so they, in turn, can have a greater impact on their communities?

To read the full speech, click here

Who Was There To Hear It

Maura with Merit Award Winner, Ellen Alemany, and BlackRock CEO, Larry Fink

Featured Speaker – Laurence D. Fink

Laurence D. Fink is Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of BlackRock, Inc. Today, BlackRock is trusted to manage more money than any other investment firm in the world. Mr. Fink has been named one of the “World’s Greatest Leaders” by Fortune, and Barron’s has named him one of the “World’s Best CEOs” for 12 consecutive years.

To read Larry’s full speech, click here

Merit Award Winner – Ellen R. Alemany

Ellen R. Alemany is Chairwoman and Chief Executive Officer of CIT Group and Chairwoman, CEO and president of CIT Bank, North America, the company’s bank subsidiary. She was named CEO in April 2016, became chairwoman in May 2016 and is leading CIT’s evolution as a leading national bank that empowers businesses and personal savers.

Emcee – Leslie Picker

Leslie Picker joined CNBC in February 2017 as a reporter covering hedge funds, private equity and asset management. She is based at CNBC Global Headquarters, and her reporting appears on television and CNBC’s digital platforms. Picker has interviewed some of the most prominent investors on CNBC, including Citadel’s Ken Griffin, Greenlight Capital’s David Einhorn, Omega Advisor’s Leon Cooperman and Pershing Square’s Bill Ackman.

About The Women’s Bond Club

The Women’s Bond Club (WBC) is a vital community of experienced women across a wide range of financial services and related industries. Founded in 1921, The WBC was the first organization in New York that focused on advancing women in finance. Today they have over 1000 members and 40 of the leading financial services firms as corporate sponsors, with several new additions to their roster. Their members are united by a powerful mission: to advance women’s leadership, grow their intellectual capital, and return value to their companies, communities and upcoming generations. They accomplish this through a series of thought provoking and engaging events for their members, as well as through their scholarship program and partnerships with non-profit organizations.