Colleen Collins: Breaking the Glass Ceiling for Women in Finance
UMass Amherst student Colleen Collins has spent her college career dedicated to breaking the glass ceiling for women in the finance industry. As a senior in the Isenberg School of Management, she recently founded a UMass chapter of Smart Woman Securities, a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching women about investing, markets, and organizing their personal finances with chapters at thirty schools across the country.
“It gives women a platform to learn about financial knowledge and investments in a space that’s not male-dominated or aggressive,” Collins said.
The finance major has the largest gender disparity in Isenberg, with only 18% of students being women. When Collins noticed the inequality, she wanted to do something about it, so she started the Women in Finance Society with the help of professor Mila Getmansky Sherman.
“I started it because I was the only woman in my finance class, the Investment club, and the stock pitch competition, and one of the only women in the Minuteman Fixed Income Fund,” she said. “I was the only woman in so many things within finance and there are so many good opportunities in the industry.”
The Society was started with the goal of ultimately becoming a Smart Woman Securities chapter, but being inducted was no small task- Collins had to prove that a chapter could succeed on campus.
“I had heard about SWS and I wanted to start it, but you have to do a lot of paperwork and testimonials to prove yourself to be inducted as a chapter,” Collins said. Over the course of her junior year, she spent time garnering interest for the club, meeting with SWS directors, and planning events to work toward a launch. Last spring, they were officially allowed a ‘soft launch’ and were recognized as an official chapter this past summer.
Today, the club mainly focuses on financial education for its members and within the community. In addition to teaching it's members about investing and personal finance, the club has an alumni mentor-matching program, goes on networking trips around New England, and visits local high schools to teach younger students about money.
The club currently has fifty members. While Collins works with other women on the executive board to educate the members as a group, they’ll meet and talk to members individually to help them organize their future career plans.
“We meet weekly and present on technical analysis— how to look at and value a stock, learning the markets, and accounting terminology,” she said. “We’ll also do one-on-one coffee chats with students to talk about their goals, what they want to do, and social trips. It can be a lot of fun.”
Collins hopes that the club will embolden women to seek out careers in the finance sector, and connect with alumni to help place current members in internships or jobs. The club is open to all majors in hopes that more women will discover an interest in finance.
“The generation before us were the pioneers to get more women into finance. In the past, a lot of women have been in marketing, sales, or investor relations.” she said. “Those are great jobs, but there weren’t a lot of women actually doing the finance— investing, portfolio management, research, or analysis. Those are still male-dominated today.”
Leveling the playing field for women in business benefits everyone, including clients, Collins said.
“There’s a lot of academic studies that have proven when there are more women making investment decisions, you have better returns,” she said. “So when there’s more women at the table in deciding what stocks or bonds to buy or sell, people make more money.”
Collins says she’s experienced huge benefits from founding the club, both on and off campus.
“Inside the club, I’ve found a community that are like-minded and driven. It’s great to have a group that motivates you and is working towards the same thing,” Collins said. “Externally, we’ve had firms reach out to us and invite us in for interviews, when we may not have gotten those interviews before. We’re able to place women in firms we couldn’t have before because we have access to such a great network.”
Collins’ official title as CEO of the chapter requires biweekly calls with other leaders at universities across the country to update one another on chapter happenings, and working with club members to figure out the kind of careers they hope to pursue after graduation.
“I’ve learned as a leader to work with all ages, backgrounds, and demographics, and organize chaos to make it efficient,” she said. “Personally and professionally, I’ve learned not to get complacent— there’s always room to grow. I’m getting ready to pass this position on to an underclassman, and I love seeing the underclassmen grow and develop into future leaders.”
The success-oriented nature of the club has taught Collins to seek out people with ambition in her future career.
“The executive board and members of this club are people of high integrity and compassion. I’ve learned that in my future career, I want to work with people who are kind and want to see you grow.” she said. “Who you surround yourself with is who you become.”
Overall, Collins is most thankful for the like-minded people she’s found through Smart Woman Securities.
“I’ve met some of my best friends in the club, and they’re people I would have never met otherwise— some sophomores, juniors, and seniors,” Collins said. “Everyone comes from diverse backgrounds, and I’ve found a community to connect with and lean on.”