Margarita Economides (MIFPT2016) has two jobs. By day she is Engagement Manager at leading management consulting firm, Oliver Wyman, while in her extracurricular hours she serves as the Global Co-Chair and London Lead of Oliver Wyman’s Women’s Network. The latter sees her create networking events; build sponsorship and mentoring opportunities; and design resources and tools that empower women at all stages of their career.
Empowering women is an important and long-held goal for Margarita. “It’s something I have always felt passionate about. We’re not yet at a time where there is equality of opportunity for men and women. Throughout my own career in financial services I’ve seen first-hand how the gender imbalance plays out and very often you are the only woman in the room. It can be daunting or difficult to feel empowered to do your best in these situations.”
Margarita’s drive to play her part in eradicating gender inequality stems from her experience at school. Attending North London Collegiate School, an all-girls school, she felt deeply empowered by staff and classmates to realise her full potential, whatever the context.
“The gender gap didn’t exist for me until I left school. We were simply unaware of it. My teachers inspired me to believe wholly in my ability and to achieve any goals I set myself. It wasn’t until I entered the world of work that I discovered things like the gender pay gap actually existed.”
Margarita knew at university that she wanted to work in finance, and secured her first job as an analyst with Morgan Stanley shortly after graduating. A few years later she transitioned to Client Solutions with BlackRock, before joining Oliver Wyman in 2016. Keen to expand beyond pure finance and into strategy, Margarita applied to join the part-time Masters in Finance degree programme at London Business School (LBS).
“I’d always been passionate about finance, but to progress I needed the business angle. LBS offered it all. There was the reputation for academic excellence and in particular, the focus on strategy that I needed to build out my skillset. LBS also offered really unique access to the kind of diversity of network that I was looking for in order to broaden my own thinking. In my cohort, in the faculty, and in other programmes there was a breadth of cultures, geographies, and industries. Everything in the School is built around an openness and willingness to engage and exchange ideas, and this extends into the alumni community, too.”
It was at LBS that Margarita’s interest and involvement in women’s empowerment took serious root. “I joined the Women in Business Club as treasurer, using my finance background to allocate budget and award sponsorships. The club was an integral part of my time at LBS and mirrored the School’s pervasive culture of engaging with others and being open to help and advise. I’ve put together a powerful network of support that I still draw from. As a consultant, I often have to start from scratch to solve businesses’ toughest problems, and so I regularly speak to members of the LBS faculty to discuss ideas and receive input.”
Margarita’s roles as Engagement Manager and as a leader of women’s issues brings her into daily contact with the kinds of challenges that women routinely face in their jobs and lives. “When you look at what women have to overcome in the workplace, I’d say the biggest hurdles are unconscious biases – those hard-wired, unspoken assumptions help by both genders that can make women more prone to doubt their skills than men.”
And then there’s the topic of sponsorship. “Sponsorship really matters for everyone, men and women alike. It works best when it’s a natural, organic process. For the people at the top of organisations, it’s usually easier or more comfortable to sponsor profiles similar to their own. The problem, of course, is that most of the senior people are men.”
At Oliver Wyman, Margarita’s work has removed many barriers to women fulfilling their full potential. She has launched training initiatives that help women self-evaluate in order to overcome stereotypes and embed confidence. Additionally, she is a passionate advocate of cross-gender sponsorship: “There’s a lot of pressure on senior women to support women coming up behind them. I believe we all have a duty to encourage others, but we need to engage with men too. Men have got to be involved in closing these gender gaps, it can’t just be down to the minority of women in positions of influence.” Margarita is now preparing to launch a new network at Oliver Wyman called “Men Matter,” which aims to engage men in conversations around gender equality.
Margarita also organises regular coaching sessions and larger panel events to explore issues like the gender pay gap. “I recently heard a great piece of advice from Alison Temperley, a career coach who spoke at an event organized by Oliver Wyman’s Women’s Network. When someone asks you how you are, instead of simply saying ‘fine’ or ‘great,’ take it as an opportunity to let that person know what you’re doing. So say something like: ‘I’m great! I’m working on achieving this specific goal and it’s really fascinating for these reasons...’ Use your answer to celebrate your work.”
Building self-awareness of self-limiting, negative thoughts and taking actions to counteract them should be part of every professional woman’s toolkit, says Margarita. “If you don’t believe you have the right experience or aptitudes, be aware that this may not actually be true, nor the way others see you. You may need to reshape your thinking to believe in yourself more and rise up to the challenge.”
“I’ve been very lucky, having had strong female role models from a very early age. At school, our headteacher Bernice McCabe, taught us all to believe we could do whatever we wanted. For anyone out there who ever doubts themselves, regardless of gender, it is my purpose and pleasure to pay this support forward to you and help you achieve your full potential.”