12 questions to:

Aleksandra Włodarczyk

Founder and ambassador of 30% Club Poland Chapter

Ola first of all, we did it!!! Collectively with all those involved, we launched the 30% Club Poland. Inform our readers what the 30% Club is and why we took the decision to introduce the campaign to the Polish market?

I am very pleased that we have managed to launch the 30% Club in Poland. I remember that we started brainstorming and throwing first ideas almost two years ago. It was a project that required a lot of commitment and a lot of work, but we strongly believed in it from the beginning, which led to the successful launch. The 30% Club is a global campaign engaging most influential people on the top of the corporate ladder to take action to increase gender diversity at board and senior management levels of the world’s biggest companies. We believe that only organizations that foster a truly inclusive culture that include women can use their full potential to positively impact their employees, markets and communities.

30% Club is expanding its international footprint with presence in 18 Chapters around the world. The campaign works a bit differently in each region or country and adapts to the needs and realities of the local market. What are our goals in Poland?

Before we set our goals, we looked at our starting point and examined the problems that the Polish market is facing. It turned out that in 2020 the share of women on boards of 140 largest listed analysed companies amounted to only 15.5% and in almost every fourth company there was not a single woman on the management board or supervisory board. We have set the main goal of the campaign in Poland to achieve at least 30% of women on boards of the largest listed companies by 2030. Our goal is long-term; therefore, we have also set an additional medium-term target. We want to ensure that by 2025 there are no all-male supervisory or management boards in companies included in the WIG20, mWIG40 and sWIG80 indices, and that the average share of women on boards reaches at least 20%.

What attracted you to this initiative? What have you learned while working on its launch?

I have always had an activist streak in me. I was looking for an initiative that would combine the ideals I believe in with the business world in which I operate on a daily basis. I like the business aspect of the campaign based on the measurable impact of diversity on business performance. It seemed that such a message could target a broad audience. Working on launching the Club has taught me how to persuade those who do not yet see the benefits of building a diverse work environment to take action and how to spread enthusiasm to those who are still unconvinced. On my way I met with many unfavourable comments, but today I know that you shouldn’t worry about it, but look for real ambassadors of the cause and do your own thing. I also had to overcome my fear of public speaking as the number of public appearances increased.

We also had the opportunity to work together on the report „Women on boards and company performance” and on its promotion. What surprised you about these activities?

Conducting the study brought back memories from my student days: building models, writing reports. I forgot how much work it takes to write a few good pages. It was a pleasant return to scientific work, which is completely different from what I do on a daily basis. I was also surprised how eagerly the subject of the report was picked up by the press and how it warmed up the discussion in our financial environment. It shows that we are still lacking such analyses and the topic of diversity has not yet been thoroughly researched. More and more foreign institutions create reports devoted to this subject, but we still lack data in Poland. The data collection took us the most time while writing the report.

I must admit that I envy you that you already found your voice many years ago. You are also involved in many prosocial activities. Where do you find the strength and time for such actions?

I think I got the activist approach in my blood. I can’t sit still and I have a great need to act and change the reality around me. I was the school president in primary school, I organised a theatre festival in high school. During my professional career, I became involved in the Warsaw Banking Institute project called „Bakcyl”, where I conducted lessons in finance for students in junior high and high school. We complain that the knowledge of Poles in the field of saving and investing is very poor, which later results in problems such as Swiss franc loans or Amber Gold scam, but in fact it’s not difficult to change it. The students were extremely interested in the lessons and absorbed everything I taught them, and I had a great satisfaction to be able to share my knowledge with them. When I see that such small steps can bring a real change, it gives me an incredible strength to act.

Recently, your extracurricular activities have been dominated by women and gender equality issues. Where does this interest come from?

Choosing a career in financial markets meant working in a male-dominated environment. After studying at the Warsaw School of Economics, where there was no such disproportion among students, working in investment banking was a big change. The more I specialised into the financial markets and the higher I got promoted, the fewer women were around me. In 2017, I obtained an investment advisor license and out of curiosity I looked at the statistics for today. Out of 787 people with the title of investment advisor, there are only 48 women. And it’s not an issue specific for Polish market only. In 2019, Morningstar published a study which showed that there are still more funds run by men called Dave in the UK than there are female managers in total. I began to wonder why is this the case. After all, I know many women who are equally well educated, have high ambitions and do not lack any competences. In the meantime, Polish political scene was dominated by events, which sparked mass street protests for the defence of basic human rights in 2020. Organizations spreading education and awareness of gender equality began to emerge all around. I felt the need to act as well.

In addition to pro-social activities, you also devote your time to self-development. One of your hobbies is playing the piano, learning French and sports. Have these interests been with you for a long time? Do they help relieve stress from work?

I try to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Trading is a very intense and high-speed job which can be stressful at times, so when the market closes, I’m trying to leave it behind and not think about it anymore. Playing the piano turned out to be perfect, because it cleans your head and allows you to focus on one thing only – music. I also proved to myself that it is never too late to start developing new passions. Educational resources are widely available and it all depends on our willingness. I didn’t have any basic music education, so I found an online course „Introduction to Classical Music” at the American Yale University and after one semester I had a good base to start learning to play the piano. Sport is also a great way to release stress after work, and even a necessity in sedentary work. I cannot imagine my life without exercise, I regularly play basketball, rollerblade, run, practice pilates or go to the gym.

You have already mentioned that you work in the financial market, you are a trader of government bonds and interest rate derivatives. Can you tell us more about your job?

My job is to manage bank’s interest rate risk. This risk may materialise from transactions with investment funds which purchase government bonds for their portfolio. The bank may also take over the interest rate risk from corporate clients who want to secure the cost of financing an investment or want to raise capital for investment in more liquid foreign markets, and then swap it into the local currency. There are many possibilities, and therefore I trade with entities from all over the world, from Japanese insurers, through the central bank of Thailand or American hedge funds, to international corporations operating also in Poland. The interest rate market is an over-the-counter market, so I’m a market-maker and I have to be ready to price any instrument needed by my client.

Working in banks’ dealing rooms is available only to a few. Who, apart from traders, can you meet there? What are the functions of these people?

Together with the technology advancement, the composition of dealing rooms has been systematically shrinking. In the past century, traders gathered on the floor and concluded transactions between physically present people. Now we all sit glued to our monitors and hardly ever see the other side of the transaction. In addition to traders, there are also sales in the dealing room. They provide customer service and transfer prices to clients coming from traders. They are most often divided into institutional sales covering other banks, investment funds or insurers, and to corporate sales covering large companies who want to eliminate interest rate or currency risk, because this is not their core operating activity. In dealing rooms, you can also hear the noise coming from the speakers. These are brokers who constantly provide quotes for financial instruments and combine the interests of different entities on the interbank market.

Is work on financial markets strictly assigned to a given market or a country?

Traders are usually assigned to specific markets or currencies. Next month I am starting work at the ING bank, where I will be trading Polish and Czech government bonds. However, it is impossible to analyse the Polish market in isolation from global trends. Global financial markets are highly correlated, so you need to be familiar with what is Fed doing, follow the inflation level in the Euro zone or observe economic activity in the entire region. This is particularly evident in times of the pandemic, when the whole world is going through a crisis caused by the same factors, and by examining the number of new cases in other countries or the reactions of other governments, conclusions could have been also drawn for Poland.

Now you work in Poland, but you also completed an internship at Bank of America Merrill Lynch – one of the largest investment banks in the world. What experience did you gain? What are the differences between working in Warsaw and London?

The nature of the work was similar to what I do now, but everything was on a larger scale; the trading floor was bigger and louder, there were more products, larger transactions and more clients. Working for an American investment bank certainly gave me boost of confidence. While still in university and considering a career in the financial markets, I wasn’t sure if I would be a suitable candidate, because I only saw men there. The recruitment process for Merrill Lynch was long and demanding, and I observed that from a group of over a dozen people, I was the only woman at the last interview round. When I received a job offer, I realized that in our industry there is a lot of stereotypical thinking, which I also subconsciously replicated. You don’t have to be an aggressive, audacious male taking risk in every field to be a good trader!

What in your opinion has changed in the last decade on the financial markets and what will change in the next 10 years?

As technology advances, markets are becoming more automated. When I was working at Merrill Lynch, equity trading was located in a huge hall which stretched across the entire floor and already back then, the biggest team there was algorithmic trading. The vast majority of stock transactions today are done by algorithms. Another important trend of the last decade is the increase in regulations that followed the 2007-2009 crisis. Lawmakers around the world have passed many legal acts aimed at increasing the security of trading, including over-the-counter markets. The regulations resulted in a thorough reconstruction of the financial system in order to increase its stability. When it comes to the future, I think that one of the most important trends in investing is the inclusion of non-financial criteria. In the past, the investment world was viewed in two dimensions: return and risk. Now investors are starting to include environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) criteria in the decision-making process. External pressure coming from both regulators and clients forced a shift towards sustainable development and taking it into account when making investment decisions.

Ola, I am glad that you consider ESG to be one of the most important trends. This is a very good forecast for the 30% Club Poland. Thank you very much for the interesting conversation, your energy, commitment and support! This is just the beginning of our path.

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