Getting More Women into Finance at Michigan Ross

August 22, 2022

By Lisa Pappas and Joel Sensenig

Smiling woman in wheelchair in sunflowers

Today, one in three BBA students at the Ross School of Business pursuing finance careers are women, compared to one in five when the Michigan Ross Och Initiative for Women in Finance was established in 2014. 

Today, one in three BBA students at the Ross School of Business pursuing finance careers are women, compared to one in five when the Michigan Ross Och Initiative for Women in Finance was established in 2014.

Made possible by a significant gift from Jane Och, BBA/MAcc ’86 and her husband Dan Och, the Och Initiative is designed to help Michigan Ross undergraduates explore careers in finance through outreach, education, and engagement.

A signature component of the Och Initiative is student treks to financial epicenters across the U.S. Whether held in person or virtually due to the pandemic, the treks allow Michigan Ross students to interact with women leaders — including numerous Ross alumnae — in the financial services industry in cities such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Throughout these focused conversations, students learn about various company cultures, gain insights and advice on preparing for their careers, and network with women working in the financial field.

Avery Kendall Toosie-Mahan, BBA ‘24, participated in Och virtual treks to New York City and Chicago during the 2021-22 academic year. Soon after, she landed a job as an investment banking summer analyst at Lazard Frères & Co. in New York. Below, Toosie-Mahan answered questions about her interest in finance, participation in the Och Initiative, and thoughts on why the initiative is impactful for students.

How and when did you first get interested in finance?

My interest in finance stems from my passion for minimizing the disparity in access to health care between marginalized and affluent communities. At the age of 13, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and I remember the expression of shock and frustration on my mother’s face when she saw the price of my expensive, life-saving medication and became aware of the volatility in pricing. Accompanying her to the pharmacy introduced me to a fundamental economic concept: Supply and demand in a market. Throughout my adolescence, I became fascinated with learning about the economics of health care and, specifically, understanding why it was prohibitively expensive to gain access to high-quality health care. My quest for an answer led me to secure a finance internship and a job in the accounts payable department at a nonprofit health system in New York City. Of course, as someone with a pre-existing condition, the availability of affordable, high-quality health care is a personal cause. However, my experience of working in a poverty-stricken community served as the catalyst that launched my passion for playing a role in health care reform. While I was an intern, I saw first-hand the financial barriers to accessible health care faced by limited income patients, many of whom are immigrants, refugees, and undocumented persons.

My experience of analyzing financial documents and learning the operations piqued my curiosity about the finance industry as a whole. While researching higher education programs during my transfer application process, I knew that Ross’ focus on individualized study, facilitated by its unparalleled academic advisory services, would grant me the autonomy to take a rich variety of courses to explore the intersection of business and public policy. Specializing in finance at Ross would provide me with the core skills necessary to analyze pressing social issues, develop innovative financial solutions, and eventually implement policy change in the public or private sectors.

Why do you feel it’s important to have the Och Initiative available for women exploring careers in finance?

There are three central reasons why it is important to have the Och Initiative. First, this initiative is a microcosm of Michigan Ross. Specifically, the Och Initiative represents how Ross is truly a collaborative, supportive, and inclusive community. As an external transfer student who attended virtually during the 2020-21 academic year, I felt underprepared in my career prospects and in building peer relationships. Through learning alongside my female counterparts, I have developed a network of support with passionate women who share similar interests and curiosities.

In addition to creating an empowering community of women, the Och Initiative provides female students, especially nontraditional undergraduates, with the opportunity to determine where and how they belong in finance. The vast array of firms that participate in the Och virtual treks and the breakout sessions allow students to directly converse with women who were once in our shoes, and is helpful to us in deciding which firms are most compatible with our values and goals.

Lastly, this initiative has enabled students who are women to overcome systemic barriers to recruiting in a traditionally white, male-dominated industry. The virtual treks provide women undergraduates the opportunity to develop rapport with professional mentors who have recently graduated and been in the industry for several years. From resume reviews to mock interviews to having conversations about the ups and downs of the recruiting process, the alumnae have helped several members break into the finance industry.

What is one thing you learned in the Och Initiative programming that will most stick with you moving forward?

I learned the incredible meaning behind the phrase “The Michigan Difference.” Growing up in the New York metropolitan area, the probability of knowing Michigan alumni is quite high. I was always aware that their passion for the university is unlike any other institution, but to be aware of, and to benefit from, the unparalleled commitment to the school of its alumni are two separate experiences. I saw how genuinely interested the alumni were in sharing all of their knowledge and providing advice on how to forge our path in finance. The support I received from drafting my first email to accepting my offer will stick with me the most as I move forward.

Is there anything you would like to say to the donors of the Och Initiative?

I am deeply thankful for your commitment to bridging the gender gap in the finance field. Your generous gifts have enabled nontraditional students such as myself to overcome the challenges associated with transferring, surmount the systematic barriers of recruiting in the finance industry, and ultimately, accept an offer as an investment banking summer analyst at Lazard Frères & Co. I look forward to the day when I can contribute my experience, knowledge, and skills to the Och community. Go Blue!

Click here to read this piece on the Michigan Ross website.