Oxford Executive MBA alum Christine Li-Auyeung is one of many professionals encouraging women to join the finance industry. While the landscape has vastly improved in recent years, the industry continues to suffer from a gender imbalance.
Working with women both still at school as well as those embarking on their early career journeys, Christine wants women from all backgrounds to have access to education and the confidence they need to pursue their professional dreams.
We asked Christine about her mentorship work, how she managed to keep up with her fulltime job while pursuing her Executive MBA, and what it takes to overcome challenges on the way to board-level roles.
Why are there still so comparatively few women in the finance industry? What should we be doing to increase representation?
Whilst there are more women entering the finance industry today, many leave after a few years due to the long hours and the need for better work-life balance as they start families. This is more so in the U.S., where there are fewer legislations and policies in place to support women with families than in Europe. It is only in the last few years that we have begun to see longer paid maternity and paternity leave offered by large companies stateside. Many smaller companies still do not offer such benefits. In New York where I am based, state legislation mandating private employers to offer up to eight weeks of paid family leave only came into effect in January 2018.
For women who pursue careers in financial services, it is very important for them to have the proper support system to succeed in the industry in the long term. I considered myself lucky as I was introduced to the Financial Women’s Association of NY (FWA) early in my finance career by a senior manager and mentor. The organization was started in 1956 when a group of women were denied admission to an all-male investment organization. As a result, they decided to form an association of their own. One of FWA’s founding members, Muriel Siebert, went on to become the first woman to purchase a seat at the New York Stock Exchange in 1967.
I have been involved with the FWA’s college mentoring program for over a decade now. As female finance professionals, we are paired up with third-year female university students. During the two-year-long program, we help these young women with their professional and leadership development. Many of them, like myself, are first-generation university students from immigrant backgrounds, who often do not have professionals in their immediate social circle to turn to for career guidance. As mentors, it is important for us to educate these young women about the different opportunities in finance and how to overcome the various challenges they may encounter. Many of the young women from the earlier cohorts have gone on to become successful executives and are now returning to help the next generation of students launch their finance careers.
How does mentoring help underprivileged high school girls enter the business world? What do you love most about mentoring other women?
When you come from an underprivileged background, you are often unaware of the different professional opportunities that exist, and how to go about launching a career for yourself. You do not have any professionals in your immediate social circle to talk to for guidance and support. I have seen many high school girls from immigrant families, who also have the extra burden of overcoming a traditional value-system, where girls are deemed less important than boys. Many are not encouraged to pursue higher education – the gateway to many professional careers.
Mentoring plays a crucial role in changing the paradigm for these girls. At Speak Mentorship, where I serve as a senior advisory board member, we empower underprivileged high school girls at inner-city high schools in the U.S. and abroad through one-on-one mentoring with professionals. Additionally, we put on a web-based speaker series featuring successful professional women in STEM careers from different backgrounds. By participating in these presentations, students expand their horizons by learning about different STEM career paths they can potentially pursue.
As a mentor for many underprivileged women through different mentoring programs over the years, the greatest joy is to see these young women overcome great socio-economic adversity and succeed in becoming professionals. When they walk across the stage to receive their university degrees on graduation day – often the first in their families to do so – you know that it is not just their lives that will improve but that of their families as well. By guiding them along the way, I know I have helped provide social mobility for them and their families.
What skills did you develop at your time at Saïd Business School that have helped your work in promoting equality and diversity in education and the workplace?
During my time at Saïd Business School, I was surrounded by both men and women from all over the world, who shared my passion for promoting equality and diversity in education and the workplace. Over our many afternoon tea breaks and dinners, we would share our best practices and ideas for programs that have increased equality and diversity in our home countries. For example, one of my classmates affiliated with a women in banking organization in the U.K., ran a successful peer mentoring program that would later inspire a similar program to be implemented at the women in finance organization I volunteer for back home in the U.S. Even now, we continue to send articles related to diversity and equality in the workplace to one another. The cross-pollination of ideas remains very valuable post-graduation.
Inside the classroom, our discussion of unconscious bias in our leadership and negotiation courses brought to light a major hurdle that stands in the way of greater equality and diversity in our society. One of the most important takeaways for us as leaders and executives is to be aware of our own unconscious bias and not let it misguide our decisions.
Additionally, Saïd Business School has an Inspiring Women series, where the school hosts female-only panels in major cities around the world. They have been coming to New York annually for a few years now. I believe this is an important initiative for increasing the diversity of the School’s student body. I remember learning about the Oxford EMBA for the first time when I attended an Inspiring Women event in New York four years ago.
Studies have shown that there is a confidence gap between men and women. As women, we are often insecure about our abilities and do not want to showcase our accomplishments for fear of coming across as arrogant. I remember my own insecurities when I was contemplating whether to apply to the Oxford EMBA program, even though I am a finance executive with numerous credentials and extensive experience. An alumna at the Inspiring Women event encouraged me throughout the application process.
Today, as an alumna ambassador myself at these panels, I meet many women who feel the same way as I did about applying to Oxford. As Saïd Business School alumnae, it is imperative we all do our part in encouraging more women to pursue the opportunity to study at Oxford and increase the diversity on campus.
What were the major obstacles you had to overcome on your career pathway to board-level roles? How did you deal with them?
Board-level roles are often not advertised. Therefore, it is important to let your network know about your interest in board positions and the causes you care deeply about. So far, every one of my current board of directorships came from referrals within my network.
Most boards are still dominated by middle-aged men with relatively few women. This can be intimidating, especially for a younger woman, who is eager to contribute to the organization. As a new member on my first board, I found it helpful to invite other board members out to coffee, to get to know them better and learn about their experience on the board. I also made sure I reached out to the other women on the board and asked how they overcame the challenge of being one of the very few female board members. As a younger board member, I quickly learned that one of the greatest contributions I can make to the organization is to assist with social media marketing and crowdfunding campaigns, since I am well-versed with the technology.
How did you juggle working full-time while completing an Executive MBA?
Looking back on my EMBA experience, the key to balancing a full-time job and the EMBA course load is to have both a supportive partner at home and team at work. Initially, when I was hesitant about applying to the EMBA program, my husband was the one who encouraged me to go for it. Whilst I was busy studying and working full-time, my husband took care of the household chores. My husband also came along on my international modules, so he had the opportunity to share in my EMBA experience. We always had several partners and family members in our cohort who travelled with the class on international modules. They enjoy sightseeing whilst we are busy attending lectures and visiting companies!
Meanwhile, at work, after extensive negotiation, my manager and team understood how important the MBA degree was for my long-term professional growth. They agreed to take on the additional workload during the weeks I was away for class. In the process, my team members grew as they were handling new tasks and a few even have received promotions as a result. This arrangement also paved the way for me to transition into a strategic role post-EMBA. It was not always easy but somehow, we made it work, and created a win-win situation for everyone.
Christine Li-Auyeung, CPA, CGMA, MBA
Senior Vice President – Strategic Initiatives & Project Management, StoneCastle Partners, LLC
Christine Li-Auyeung is Senior Vice President at StoneCastle Partners, LLC, a New York based impact investment and Fintech firm specialising in the community banking sector. As an early employee, Christine scaled up the operations, accounting, client services and relationship management functions of the StoneCastle Cash Management start-up. She is currently a project manager who oversees strategic initiatives, post-acquisition integrations and corporate turnarounds.
Christine is a trustee of the Baruch College Fund, and an advisory board member for Speak Mentorship, a mentoring program which helps high school girls from immigrant families at inner-city schools with college preparation and pre-professional development. She is also a college mentor, and chair of the Graduate School Partnerships Committee at the Financial Women’s Association (FWA) of New York.
Christine earned a Master of Business Administration with distinction at the University of Oxford, Saïd Business School, where she was awarded the Oxford EMBA Scholarship for Women in association with the 30% Club for her work on equality, women’s rights, diversity and economic empowerment issues. Her career interests include start-ups, venture capital, innovations, impact investing, social entrepreneurship, and Fintech.Back to top of article