Women at USC may be getting a new chance to break the glass ceiling.
USC is the latest university to found a chapter of Smart Woman Securities, a national nonprofit organization that focuses on finance and investment education for female undergraduate students. USC is the 25th school in 2017 to start an SWS chapter, through the efforts of four co-founders who felt empowered to create a chapter to improve female students’ financial literacy.
“The driving incentive for initiating a SWS chapter on USC campus was largely due to the gender imbalance within the finance sector,” co-founder Aimee Xu said.
In addition to Xu, a junior majoring in applied mathematics and business, the USC chapter of SWS was co-founded by business administration students — junior Simran Singh, junior Michelle Dai and sophomore Amanda Douglas.
“I think the biggest [incentive] is honestly just the lack of a community on campus that really supports women interested in finance — whether it be for professional career reasons, or just for personal finance reasons,” Xu said. “You see a handful of women’s leadership groups on campus … but none of them really focus on ensuring that women are financially literate, and can pull off managing their own personal finances.”
USC founded its chapter at a time when SWS is building its presence on the West Coast, with Stanford University and UC Berkeley chapters founded in 2015 and 2016, respectively. The organization is popular among most Ivy League universities and East Coast colleges due to their close proximity to financial centers like Wall Street.
USC does not lack professionally oriented finance organizations, Xu said, but the demographic of women in finance at USC is incredibly small compared to the number of men.
“SWS is unique in that it focuses both on financial careers and the skills that are technical and qualitative that are necessary to enter a financial career,” Singh said.
But the organization also emphasizes personal budgeting and financial literacy that is applicable to individuals of all educational backgrounds.
“I think finance in general is an industry that requires a lot of understanding of both qualitative and quantitative factors on several different levels,” Singh said. “I think that even for students who aren’t planning to go into financial careers, learning the rudimentary skills of financial analysis to help them think more critically about these issues is really important.”
Gaining SWS membership requires a rigorous process; there is a year-long educational seminar series and a requirement to pitch projects to improve members’ understanding of financial skills and investment strategies.
The program also invites experienced female figures in finance to connect with current members through hosted talks and panels.
“I think our speaker outreach efforts are really a testament to the fact that the Trojan Family is really there to support every other member of the Trojan Family,” Xu said. “A lot of the speakers are actually alumni [and] I think really it’s been a pretty organic process in just trying to reach out to alumni who graduated a couple of years ago, hearing their thoughts on the organizations.”
Furthermore, the chapter also provides an array of constructive programs for members, such as opportunities to attend annual national conferences in New York City, corporate treks and national stock pitch competitions.
The most notable opportunity, according to Xu, is the annual trip granted to join Warren Buffett for lunch and tour Berkshire Hathaway companies to speak with corporate executives. The trip is offered to any female student who completes the seminar series, and about 20 students meet with Buffett in Omaha, Neb. each year.
The founders of SWS at USC hope to foster an educational and supportive climate where female students of all majors and backgrounds can thrive.
“I think in a few years down the line, we would really love to have our complete structure set up,” Xu said. “We will be able to act upon the pitches that girls are presenting from a higher level. I would really like to see a community that is incredibly tight-knit.”
As this year brings in the chapter’s first class, the founders hope to build upon a strong sense of community, even as a professional and educational organization.
“Most fundamentally, [it should] be a social support network for the girls,” Xu said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article attributed the featured photo to Anthea Xiao. The photo caption has since been updated to credit Brit Stein. The Daily Trojan regrets this error.