Walk into a major financial institution; on the surface, there may seem to be no visually apparent gender gap. Peel back the layers, and the higher you go up the corporate ladder, you will see the disparity.
Olga Constantopoulos considers herself a crusader for change in how financial professionals work with women clients.
As a Manager for Wealth & U.S. Initiatives at BMO for Women, Constantopoulos helps women get the financial support and stability they need. She’s a graduate of the University of Toronto and Second City’s Conservatory Program — both instrumental in her professional career.
Meet Olga Constantopoulos:
Make It Better: Are there any updates or new findings you could share with us on the 2016 BMO Wealth Management report, “Are there gender differences among entrepreneurs?“
Olga Constantopoulos: Absolutely. At BMO we are continually striving to be a thought leader in this space and work to provide research — whether in-house or partnering with organizations like The Beacon Agency — to illuminate trends and insights, which will help us better serve our clients. BMO Wealth Management’s report “Are there gender differences among entrepreneurs?” is certainly timely and relevant to the work we are doing at BMO for Women.
Let’s talk about the recent report by researchers Clare Beckon of Carleton University and Janice McDonald of The Beacon Agency: Everywhere, Every Day Innovating: Women Entrepreneurs and Innovation. Are there any insights on entrepreneurship and innovation that would be relevant to women entrepreneurs in the U.S. right now?
Most of the insights provided in this report, specifically the findings on access to capital and discrimination, can be transferred south of the border. The challenges women face in the financial services industry aren’t at all regional.
Generally, individuals, whether male or female, become entrepreneurs for the same reasons: they want greater freedom and flexibility to pursue a passion. The types of businesses they open (women-owned businesses tend to be more service-based) and the experiences they encounter (i.e., access to capital) differ. Women are also more concerned with the stability of their business, rather than the growth of their business. These observations are the same whether you’re in Canada or the U.S.
What changes have occurred in the way institutions educate, empower, and work with women around wealth since the 2015 Women in Wealth study?
The main thing that’s changed is awareness. As issues such as gender diversity, discrimination, and harassment become part of social dialogue, it’s only a matter of time before they ripple into all industries and impact conduct. While we are not at all interested in “painting the bank pink,” we are aware that women aren’t satisfied with the type of service they are getting, and we need to change that.
Can you share specific examples of how women are more empowered today?
Awareness, again; as women are poised to come into a great deal of wealth in the next number of years. Also, power. We know that women refer far more than men do — imagine the impact this will have on how companies do business.
What portion of U.S. wealth do women currently hold?
Currently, it’s about 51 percent of personal wealth, or 14 trillion dollars.
What percentage will they control in 2020?
The prediction is 22 trillion dollars! The pace of change is quite staggering: In 2015, the number of women as leading breadwinners in U.S. households was 42 percent — four times what it was in 1960. Today, 64 percent of women act as breadwinners, or co-breadwinners, in their families, with 37 percent out-earning their husbands.
In addition to BMO’s recent commitment to women-owned businesses in Canada, are there U.S. initiatives?
Our commitments are definitely cross-border. We currently run a very robust “Women in Wealth” program in all our key markets across the U.S. and are looking to bring many of our programs south of the border. For example, a dynamic workshop is coming to the Chicago market in the fall. “One Big Idea” helps women entrepreneurs hone in on the one big thing that’s holding their businesses back from greater success. We piloted the program in Canada last year and feedback was tremendous. Additionally, our BMO Celebrating Women program — which serves to honor women in their communities in the areas of leading, serving, and inspiring — returns to Phoenix and Milwaukee for the second year. We work very closely with our local market leaders to determine what will best fit their teams and communities, as well as our partner organizations: Women’s Business Development Centre (WBDC) and National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO). We want to bring events to the U.S. that are specific to the area and will resonate with the market. We’re sponsoring a very unique event in Minneapolis this December specifically focused on women on boards. While the needs and pain points of women are the same in both countries, we need to be mindful that delivery may need to change based on the market. Being mindful of this will ensure greater impact.
As a woman in finance, how has mentorship impacted your career? Is there someone that stands out in your mind?
To be honest, I can’t say I’ve had a mentor, per se. I’d say my mentors have been a cluster of inspiring managers, leaders, colleagues, and associates who conduct themselves in ways I wish to emulate. Many of these individuals don’t come from finance, which I think allows me to bring a unique perspective to my approach to doing business.
That said, I worked for many years for a very hard-driven manager in retail brokerage, and my own role at the time was managing a team of high-performing, dynamic investment advisors. His work ethic, sheer capacity, fairness, and continual drive did inspire me to own my mistakes and be transparent in decision-making — both have served me well.
What people or organizations do you particularly admire in the women, wealth, and entrepreneurial spaces?
I love, love, love what Sallie Krawcheck is doing at Ellevest. One of the few female Wall Street influencers, she’s now founded an incredible online powerhouse, which is not only redefining how women invest but looks at investing in a new light, adding humor and tying it to lifestyle. She’s also branched out with the Ellevate Network — a global network of professional women whose mandate is to close the gender gap in business. What a perfect blend of business and philanthropy. Outside finance, I’m inspired by women like actress Jessica Chastain. When she learned her potential costar was being offered significantly less than she was for the same project, she chose to negotiate their salaries together to ensure they were both paid the same. She says it was “the easiest thing in the world” — bold as the new easy. How can you not admire that?
On a more personal note, are there any habits or lessons about money and being financially responsible that you learned from your parents?
All of them! This is where it all starts. While both my parents emigrated from Greece, their own upbringing was quite different in terms of their financial means — my dad was quite poor; he and his family struggled immensely before moving to Canada for a better life. My mom, on the other hand, wasn’t wealthy, but in comparison to my dad was more privileged. This duality was a continual dialogue growing up as they each viewed money quite differently. My dad was more conservative, while my mom had a more “take a chance” view, especially with larger decisions surrounding our family business. Looking back now, I can see it was quite unique and allowed me to look at both sides of that duality, making my own financial decisions. Growing up in an entrepreneur household also played a role in how I view money, the ups and downs of owning your own business, and the strive for financial security. It’s inspiring for me to see what they accomplished and the legacy they built, with nothing more than hard work.
Do you have any brothers? If so, did your parents educate you any differently?
I do have a brother, and truthfully have never thought of this before. While we were definitely raised differently — this isn’t uncommon in Southern European households — our “money lessons” were absolutely the same: own over buy, don’t live outside your means, be financially independent and prudent. I remember being out shopping with my dad and I was looking to buy a wallet. He said, “But if you buy that wallet, what will you put inside the wallet?” I think that exemplifies exactly the type of lessons my brother and I both learned from our parents!
What led you to a career in finance?
Is it odd I don’t think I have a career in “finance”? Maybe it’s my own bias as to what that actually means — working at BMO, and this is the same for most banks, is like working in a small city, you can fashion any type of career — and most have nothing to do with financial plans, spreadsheets, and return on equity! I like solving problems, bringing people together, and generating excitement in every aspect of my work. I just happen to be doing all this at a financial institution!
There are many studies that say women are more risk-averse than men — can you comment?
Well, interestingly enough, our 2016 report, “A Force to Reckon With: Women, Entrepreneurship and Risk,” actually tells us that women are not risk-averse when compared to men; they are actually more risk-aware. So not opposed to taking risk, they just want to know more about what they may be getting into, what’s at stake, what’s to gain, and what are possible outcomes so they can make a more conscious decision rather than jumping right in.
You work with a lot of female entrepreneurs and investors as a Manager for Wealth & U.S. Initiatives at BMO for Women. Is there a particular lesson or gem that stands out about the way that women work or innovate?
The continual perseverance. So many of these women, whether entrepreneurs or investors, were told no or ignored or dismissed or spoken down to, and they just didn’t take it. They sought other avenues and really believed in themselves — it’s inspiring to hear these stories.
What’s your advice to female entrepreneurs for best practices, using specific examples from women-owned businesses BMO has worked with in the past?
It sounds simple, but get your financial house in order. Many women entrepreneurs lack confidence in dealing with their financial statements and reporting — the concepts aren’t necessarily difficult, but they can be intimidating. This knowledge is essential for all aspects of business ownership, especially future planning and decision-making. We have put together workshops on subjects like cash flow and analyzing financials, which serve to bust the mystique around these concepts.
What would you say is our competitive advantage as women when it comes to taking control of our finances?
Ultimately, the competitive advantage is the mass amount of wealth that will be in our hands in a very short time, and how the shift is pushing the narrative of how financial institutions — and all businesses, actually — are doing business. Whether it’s retraining sales teams to have better relationships with women clients, bringing tools to empower women in their own financial know-how, or amplifying women’s accomplishments, I really feel BMO is at the forefront of work in this space. It’s an exciting time!
As a graduate of the Second City Training Center, Conservatory Program, how has your improv experience translated into your work at BMO?
Being collaborative. You’ll never be a good improviser if you’re only trying to make yourself shine — it’s about your scene partner, your troop. This translates into so many aspects of life, but especially working with teams on projects.
What skills have you gained through your theater experience?
Thinking on my feet, for one! And knowing, no matter how bad things look, it will all work out in the end. So many of the shows I did came together in the last days, sometimes hours, of rehearsal. Very stressful, but very rewarding. Have faith in the collaboration.
As a woman at a major financial institution, have you dealt with issues around conflict of interest between your career and passion?
Not at all. I’ve been extremely fortunate that my passion was always supported, and even admired. My colleagues were often first row at many of my shows!
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Emily Stone is Associate Editor at Make It Better. She earned a degree in journalism from Elon University in North Carolina. Along with writing, Stone has a passion for digital storytelling and photography. Her work is published in Chicago Athlete Magazine. Stone is a supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Stone is a fluent Spanish speaker who in her free time loves a good dance class.