The Perks of Being an Outlier

Dear reader,

I wanna start this post talking about the financial habitat. I’ve had the opportunity to visit some of the most important financial districts around the world, and there were three main things that caught my attention: the number of coffee shops around the area, the few women that seemed to work there, and the number of young guys wearing a pair of navy chinos + a Patavest.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the outfit (actually I kind of like it), but it completely reflects how standard and homogeneous the industry can be. Walking around these places got me thinking whether I need to change my personality and looks to fit into the finance status quo; however, two months ago I met a Fearless Woman that helped me understand diversity is not just about gender. Dear reader, please meet Dr. Sarah Ruggins.

Sarah is the head of multi-asset research at St. James’s Place Wealth Management (SJP) which works across portfolio construction, asset allocation, and strategic development ecosystems. She is an internationally published and awarded researcher specialized in designing frameworks to increase the speed and quality of decision making in investment executive teams. Before joining SJP, Sarah was the Principal’s Fellow at the University of Edinburgh and Research Scholar for Queen’s University, Canada.

Derived from her previous experience, we asked Dr. Ruggins why she decided to pursue a career in finance, and she told us that in 2007 she had the opportunity to do an internship as a USA portfolio researcher with a Private Client, where she realized the impact of finance in people’s life. Moreover, after the crisis, Sarah understood the fiduciary duty finance professionals have with society, which make her feel more interested on this industry.

When she was a little girl, Sarah dreamed about being a paramedic or a firefighter, but at the age of 16 she had an experience that made her focus more on academics.

“Be confident that you belong everywhere” is what Dr. Ruggins would tell to her 16-year-old self, as she recognizes how shy she was around that age. “Usually when you are a teenager, you feel nobody will support you, so my advice would be to don’t be afraid to take up space and ask questions because your opinion matters”.

Sarah started her career around 2010-2011, when the financial industry was more male dominated than it is now. Back then, diversity was not considered key for taking better investment decisions, and it was really hard for minorities to find a role.

“I believed in seeing things through until I understood the industry enough” was one of the reasons for Sarah to keep on with her path on finance. “It is true that at the beginning some of your ideas would be brushed off, but 5 months after, your ideas might be considered and that will definitely give you a boost of confidence to keep giving suggestions”.

Sarah shared with us that her biggest challenge has been to decide which path to take, in terms of where she wants her career to go and how shape she wants it to take (dear reader, we are not the only ones!!!). However, she is quite keen on helping people; therefore, right now she wants to focus on strategic management.

“Mentorship with female colleagues who are willing to share their own stories and experiences has been very helpful to understand what I want -and don’t want- to do”, shared Sarah with us. “The biggest insight so far is that after speaking to very successful men and women, I realized nobody has figure it out”, commented Dr. Ruggins about her mentorship.

In terms of female participation on finance, Sarah mentioned that even if there is more women representation (derived from quotas, positive discrimination, etc.), there are no real programs to promote minorities.

“You need to make them feel that they belong in the industry and help them develop their careers up to seniority levels; otherwise, hiring minorities becomes just a ticked box.”

Sarah, who holds postgraduate degrees in Philosophy of Economics and Financial Sociology, mentioned how important diverse representation in finance is, as it leads to better investment decisions and better returns.

“Diverse education is very important, as well as individuals with different backgrounds… basically relaxing criteria of what people in finance should be and how should be qualified will promoted the so much needed diversity”.

As a minority coming from a very diverse (non-financial) background, Dr. Ruggins talked about the responsibility of being the first one:

“You will be stuck out and you need to feel comfortable on being an outlier… In order to create a legacy for the women coming after you, you need to challenge stereotypes and create a path…”

At the end, we asked her about how she has stayed so true to herself (and avoid the temptation of buying blue chinos and Patagonia vests), for what she responded:

“I was raised to never be apologetic of how I live my life, so live your life in an intrinsic way instead of considering what people think about you. Fight the impostor syndrome with positive self-thoughts and confidence, and practice!!!”