Voice of Experience: Hanna Derry, Managing Director, Technology, Blackrock

hannaderryBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

“Be visible,” advised Hanna Derry, Managing Director of Technology at Blackrock.

Derry, who is a COO for one of Blackrock’s global software development divisions, encouraged senior women in financial services technology to recognize their capability for leadership. By talking about their own story, she explained, women can illuminate new pathways for young people advancing their careers.

“Be a visible female leader to set an example for younger women – as well as younger men,” she said. “Be available to mentor so people can hear your story. People want to know your story.”

Career Path in Technology

Derry had an unusual start for someone who now leads technology for a financial services company. She studied International Relations with a specialization Latin American and Hispanic Studies. “I wanted to work for the State Department,” she explained. “Then I discovered computers in college and I thought they were cool,” she said with a laugh.

She graduated college in the height of the dot-com era in San Francisco and found herself implementing trading platforms. “The guy who hired me really gave me a break and taught me along the way,” she recalled. Fifteen years later, she’s a managing director for technology at Blackrock. In between, she worked at several financial companies, moving though software development roles at the Pacific Exchange (now part of NYSE Euronext), to GAP Inc., to Barclays.

One of Derry’s proudest achievements was a project at the Pacific Exchange that broke new territory and laid the groundwork for a trading platform that is used today. “It was a program I worked on to automate the trading of equities options,” she recalled. “The fact that we achieved success is something I’m wildly proud of. It was also really cool technology. We had complex technology and complex business problems to solve.”

“But besides the business impact, I’m proud of, quite frankly, how stressful it was and I survived it.”

Derry continued, “My job is to meet the needs of both Blackrock’s asset managers as well as the other asset management firms that use our product, Aladdin, to manage their investments and risk.”

She continued, “It was certainly a non-linear path, marked by taking some risks along the way, raising my hand for things, learning, cramming, and taking some crash courses. It also meant working for organizations that gave me some great opportunities.”

Changing Field

“One of the things I’m most interested in is the fast rate of change we’re all dealing with,” Derry said. “How do we respond to change?”

Mentioning issues like new regulations, she added, “It seems like change is happening more quickly than ever before. We have to be nimble to change systems and prepare staff, sometimes very quickly.”

She is also interested in issues like privacy and security. “It’s a hot topic and it’s definitely of interest to me.”

Derry is enthusiastic about coaching her female colleagues. “I’m mentoring other women in the technology department. Having the chance to watch them grow – it’s something I wish I’d had. I’ve met a great group of gals in the process – it’s definitely exciting.”

Women in Technology

Are there challenges for women in technology? “Yes and no,” Derry said. “I think it is easy for women to look at the lack of senior women in financial services technology and see that as a barrier, without realizing that there’s no reason to not get to those positions.”

“Some of it is standard – it is a challenge being the only woman in the room. There are different lenses through which people view that. There are also questions like finding the right niche or how you prove what you know,” she continued. “But there are certainly no organizational barriers to being in this industry and being successful.”

“I also think there’s a growing recognition that women bring a unique view to the financial industry, in how we connect with clients and the kind of trust we can develop with them. It’s a great time to be in the industry,” Derry continued. “It can be daunting if you’re standing on the outside. There are long hours and it’s intense. But it’s worth it.”

She encouraged women to take ownership of their advancement. “You can be successful. There are many competent and amazing women in financial services and in the technology portion. But you have to say that you can get that seat. Go for it, and don’t hold yourself back. There are great opportunities and it’s great fun.”

Derry also encouraged junior people to be aware of office politics. “Like most people, I think I was naïve starting out,” Derry said. “I didn’t understand the depths to which politics play out at work.”

But, she says, don’t let that stand in your way. “Don’t let it get to you.”

Women at Blackrock

“Having worked at other firms, I will tell you this is the most female-friendly firm I’ve worked at,” Derry began.

She was enthusiastic about Blackrock’s women’s network, WIN. It was started seven years ago in San Francisco. I’m in awe of the women who founded it. It’s now expanded across the globe. It’s all run by volunteers. In terms of that, I’ve done a little bit for the technology focus for women.”

The network has become a model for other affinity groups at the firm, she added.

She continued, “Just this past year, we ran what we called a women’s leadership forum. It’s a year-long program for senior women in the firm, with coaching, training, mentoring, and sponsorship.”

In Her Personal Time

“I’d like to have more time for my passions outside work. I’m passionate about women having all of the opportunities possible, especially the education of young women,” Derry said. “We as a culture don’t encourage our girls to take math and science and that is something I’m passionate about.”

She has been involved with two organizations whose goals are to encourage women to go to college and to take math classes in high school.