These Times They Are a Changin’

Recently, as I sat in my Chicago apartment listening to my iPod, Bob Dylan’s famous verses prompted me to consider the changing times for women in business. I started to think of the significant advances that have been made over the past 20 years, resulting in the ever-increasing pool of talented female professionals. I believe these advances are due to in no small part to the increasing availability of resources for women in business, including the growing number of organizations dedicated to helping female professionals succeed.

One such organization, Chicago Financial Women (CFW), was established to support Midwest women in the fields of finance and financial services through professional development, education, and networking. Originally a chapter of the Financial Women’s Association headquartered in New York, Chicago Financial Women became an independent organization about three years ago. I sat down with Deborah Canale, the president of the organization, to discuss the activities of the group, as well as the current state of women in finance in Chicago.

CFW, with its 53 members, as well as a 10-member Executive Board, regularly works with large companies in Chicago such as Ariel Capital Management, the CME Group, Merrill Lynch and PriceWaterhouseCooper to sponsor networking events. Ms. Canale explained that the Chicago financial world is small enough to allow for significant personal interactions at these networking events and that she is aware of at least 20 women who connected with job opportunities through such CFW events.

In addition to networking opportunities, CFW members develop their professional and personal skills at workshops and speaker events sponsored by the group. Topics have been as varied as the real estate landscape amidst the subprime mortgage crisis, the importance of a work/life balance, and a primer on alternative investments.

This year, CFW also partnered with 100 Women in Hedge Funds to organize a roundtable to enable women to discuss the challenges facing female professionals in business and finance today. Participants included women at all corporate levels from banking, hedge funds, technology, finance, and consulting. This diversity of roundtable contributors, with their vast range of knowledge and experience, informed and enriched the discussion. “I am always so amazed and excited by the women that attend these events, by the things they have done and the people they have met,” said Ms. Canale.

But CFW’s activities are not limited to networking and the professional development of its members. The organization also gives back to the larger community through philanthropic activities. Earlier this year, CFW donated enough money to the non-profit organization Junior Achievement to enable approximately 25 middle school children to attend classes to obtain a practical foundation in financial matters such as budgets, investment, money and taxes. CFW is also considering contributing to a scholarship that will facilitate the entrance of young women into financial careers.

While women in finance have come quite far over the past 20 years, Ms. Canale believes there is still have some more work to do to break through the glass ceiling. But she and the others at Chicago Financial Women remain positive that it can be done and that organizations like CFW are laying the groundwork. “I want to fast forward and see where women are in the next 20 years,” she said, “I wish I had a remote for that.” The road ahead may not be perfectly smooth but the group’s mantra will serve as great motivator, “While one woman can be a powerful force, an organization of women is even more powerful.”

Note: All CFW events are open to the public; non-members, whether men or women, can attend for a small fee. To register for the events, please visit the Chicago Financial Women’s website.