The [email protected] High School Investment Competition (KWHS) looked much different than originally planned by mid-April of 2020, as the world went inside and online amidst the COVID-19 crisis. On a Monday afternoon, members of the Ethical Culture Fieldston School’s Females in Finance club waited on a Zoom call to hear whether or not they’d made it to the global finals of the competition, in which teams build an investment portfolio worth $100,000 for an assigned client in an online investment simulator. The team, made up of Natalie C. ’22, Rosemary J. ’21, Vivian L. ’22, and Olivia P. ’21 had already beat out more than 500 teams over the course of the competition, and the finish line was within sight.
On the call, the host drummed up anticipation and said, “And the winners are… just kidding!” The members of the Females in Finance club, watching in suspense, groaned. “It was so mean!” Olivia laughs. But the host wasn’t giving anything up. There were guest speakers to listen to — stretching out as the tension grew. The team would have to wait.
Rosemary had always had an interest in finance, even when she was in elementary school. But as a 9th Grade student, she joined ECFS’s investment club — and found herself the only girl in a room full of boys. “It’s not possible that in this entire school, I’m the only girl who’s interested in investment,” she thought. Discouraged but not defeated, she enrolled in a summer course about finance at Columbia University and, at the end of her 10th Grade year, brought her knowledge back to ECFS in a setting specifically designed for women. “I wanted to create Females in Finance so that girls can have a safe and welcoming space to pursue their interests,” she says.
The three club members who joined Rosemary each bring a different set of interests and goals to the table. Natalie joined the club to test out a potential future career in finance. (“I really liked it, and I think I want to go into finance later in life,” she says.) Olivia is a part of ECFS’s Model UN team, and being in Females in Finance means she’s able to further her understanding of global economics and global politics. Vivian similarly takes a holistic view of finance, and is especially interested in “how flexible the finance world is and how it’s affected by everything that goes on globally.”
In twice-weekly meetings, the club worked through a curriculum Rosemary designed about the basics of finance before pivoting to a focus on their participation in the KWHS competition. The club members spent much of the year planning and executing their investment strategy, and then condensing their work into a video presentation — filmed in person before ECFS’s campuses closed and over FaceTime once the community went remote.
The group’s investment strategy is set apart by a philosophy deeply in line with the ethos of ECFS: “One of the biggest things we focused on was having socially responsible investments,” Rosemary explains, “meaning that you invest not only to make a profit, but to benefit the general community.” “We looked for the intersection between ethics and business fundamentals,” Olivia adds.
The club members are also motivated by a desire to increase female representation in the finance world — of the 12 teams that made it to the regional finals, only one other team had a female team leader. “At Fieldston, we’re not really exposed to ignorance in the world around sexism, and it’s a bigger problem than we can even imagine,” Rosemary says. So the club is a way to combat that bias, she says. “All of the trouble that we go through in proving ourselves to the other competitors is just another reinforcement of our mission.”
This fight for female empowerment has had far-reaching effects on the club members. Olivia says that she tried out for — and made — the previously all-male squash team. She was nervous, both about her skill level and about being the only girl on the court. But “being in this club has given me the confidence needed to be a stronger person outside of finance and in all the facets of my life,” she says.
Back on the Zoom call, the anxiety was reaching a fever pitch. As speakers cycled through, one specifically called out the women participating, but seemed to hint that they would have better luck next year. It was a blow — the team thought they were out of the running.
Then the announcer started calling out names: Females in Finance came in third place, qualifying for the global finals. Across the region — which included North America, Europe, Africa, and Oceania — pandemonium erupted as families tuned in. “I jumped up, and my parents were around me and started calling all of my family members,” Olivia says. “It was mind-blowing.”
The team members now have to prepare for the finals on May 8, re-edit their video, learn their presentation inside and out, and get ready to answer a series of live questions from a panel of judges.
They also have an eye toward the future: The team is looking to expand to other schools, both in Riverdale and around the country. They’re currently talking with students in Massachusetts and Texas, trying to take Females in Finance as far as possible.
And as for May 8, the team members are excited. “Honestly, where we’ve gotten in our first year is just amazing — better than what I could ever ask for in terms of teammates and results,” Rosemary says.
As Olivia puts it, no matter the final result, “we’ve already won.”