COMPLY CTO And Pathfinder Winner On Bias, Barriers, Career Success And The Inspiration Gained From Mentors And Teachers
Many of our Pathfinder Awards winners began with a focus on financial services and find a niche within the industry, or started from a particular field of expertise and moved into financial services. The winner of the AAPI Wealthtech Leader of the Year, part of the Top AAPI Industry Leaders of 2023 awarded in celebration of AAPI Heritage Month, started with both in mind.
Helen Johnson, CTO of COMPLY, gained her inspiration from experiences, teachers and mentors that aimed her both at computer science and financial services since high school. She shares that story of inspiration, speaks to us about bias both in financial services and technology, describes language barriers and relates how women of AAPI heritage can reach the C-suite in wealth management.
WSR: What inspired you to a career in technology and financial services?
Johnson: Looking back, it wasn’t one individual event or person that inspired me to go into this field of technology and financial services, but a series of events, people and their opinions and advice that led me to where I am today.
I grew up thinking I was going to follow my parents into medicine. However, my interest in technology and financial services was sparked during a high school summer internship with NASA. During this time, I was introduced to computing and, even more importantly, I met a woman mentor who spoke to me about the field of financial services. She encouraged me to pursue a major in computer science and economics, with the goal of eventually working on Wall Street.
During my senior year of high school, two concurrent events helped to solidify my path forward. First, I had the opportunity to take a computer programming class – led by one of my favorite teachers, Uncle Adam, during which I discovered my knack for programming. Second, my astronomy teacher recommended that I consider Cornell University, home to the first NeXT computer lab. My interest in programming and technology was piqued, and I never looked back!
WSR: How can our industry improve with respect to persons of AAPI heritage?
Johnson: This is a really hard question, especially in technology. There is a reverse bias that persons of AAPI heritage are assumed to be mathematical or technically oriented. We are assumed to be good in this space – an assumption that is detrimental to AAPI individuals who do not fit into this stereotype.
Another significant component that needs to be acknowledged and understood is the culture, especially as it relates to bias in promotion, reporting and salary decisions. I have witnessed too many examples of AAPI women being overlooked or left out of the conversation.
Finally, there needs to be a recognition of the language barrier that AAPI individuals may face. People are often judged based on how they speak and communicate, and AAPI individuals who speak with an accent may feel dismissed or less knowledgeable. It is important for the industry to create an inclusive environment that values diversity in language and communication styles.
Creating an inclusive and equitable workplace will benefit both individuals and the industry as a whole.
WSR: What advice would you give to a woman of AAPI heritage who wants to aim for the C-suite in wealth management?
Johnson: My advice is simple: always be true to yourself. Recognize your strengths and play up to them. Recognize your “blockers” and work to diminish them.
At the end of the day, you have to be the best version of you and don’t be apologetic!
Michael Madden, Contributing Editor and Research Analyst at Wealth Solutions Report, can be reached at email@example.com.