Discovering the stories behind the numbers and finance for the greater good with Camila
Updated: May 16, 2021
The goal of EDHEC Women in Finance is to promote gender diversity in the financial industry. We aim at creating a platform to exchange on the various opportunities that exist within Finance, by relying on professionals willing to share their experience. We seek to help women interested in Finance find out what the right path means for them.
Camila Rodríguez-Campo was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia. She has a B.A. in Finance and International Relations from Universidad Externado de Colombia and an MBA from the George Washington University. Camila currently works as the Senior Director of Finance and Compliance at Waxman Strategies, a public affairs firm located in Washington D.C. She moved to the United States 10 years ago where she has been assuming different financial roles in organizations that have one thing in common; a mission to make the world a better place.
Although Camila has an academic background that fits traditional roles in the finance industry, she decided to use her knowledge and experience to follow a different path. In this interview, we discuss her biggest motivations as a professional, the challenges faced and sacrifices made by women in finance, how gender parity is key today for finance and any other industry, and, of course, her advice for women pursuing a career in finance.
What motivated you to study finance and why did you choose to follow a non-traditional path in your professional career?
I chose my bachelor’s degree because it provided me with the opportunity to learn about multiple fields, including finance, economics, and international relations. I decided to stay in finance because I think it is interesting how it can build a stable structure for any organization. Proper financial management allows organizations to pay for the work to accomplish a mission and provides the building blocks to shape their goals in the long term; and I wanted to be a part of that.
I was never interested in working for a bank or a hedge fund in Wall Street. Many finance professionals aim for this path because of the earnings they could make. I wanted my career to have a deeper meaning. Of course, I also want to have a good salary, but beyond that I want to support a bigger mission in the job I am doing. And finance has helped me achieve that.
I studied sustainable development during my B.A, and I also have a certificate in microfinance because I am passionate about how I can use finance to have an impact. I was an intern for some time in a financial advisory firm, but I realized I did not feel comfortable managing other people’s money. So, I chose to go on a different path.
When you work with nonprofits and organizations with a social or environmental mission, you know where the resources come from and where they are going. You know that the grants will be used for “the greater good”, and for me, that is more rewarding than just making monetary profits. I have always been interested in using finance to help the world.
I am now very interested in learning more about impact investing, and I feel the world is kind of taking that turn. I am hopeful that in the future, the economy will be led by investments in projects and programs that improve people's lives as well as protect the environment.
From your perspective, how do you perceive gender parity in the sector you work in?
When I was doing my MBA, I noticed that I was one of the few women in some courses. Some graduate level studies demand too many sacrifices for women at a certain age and some feel they have to choose between having a family and becoming a successful business professional. Without anti-discrimination protections and good parental leave options, women are sometimes obliged to choose between a family and being considered to top level and managerial positions.
My experience has been hard sometimes, but I have also been very lucky to have met women during my career that were excellent bosses and mentors, who were interested in sharing their knowledge with me and their experiences balancing work with family. I have also had amazing male mentors, and this is important too: not only women can help other women and you can find men who are also committed to gender parity.
I do not know how it works in other parts of the industry, but I would love to have more women colleagues to support each other. People in top level positions should make room for women and people of color who want to learn and apply their skills. Many times, they invited me to important meetings and asked for my opinion and this is very valuable when you are the only woman, especially when you are the only immigrant woman in the room.
What challenges have you faced as a woman, as a Latin American woman, to get to where you are?
For certain positions I have worked in, being Colombian has been useful because I have a different perspective on things. Some organizations appreciate that diversity of thought.
When you are an immigrant, the cultural differences can also be an obstacle. There are many stereotypes about women, and about Latin American women. Sometimes people try to put me in some boxes. It happens especially when I want to express disagreement, and people would say I’m “too passionate” in the way I speak… This observation is so ambiguous. Am I being rude? Am I being Latina? Or I am just being assertive, and people can be biased about the things I say. My job is to provide information, and I need people to trust me. Luckily, I have accomplished that overtime, and people started looking at my skills more than my gender or nationality.
Another challenge is to grow within organizations, because sometimes they assume that you are going to settle for less. But I have learned that only you can advocate for yourself, only you can fight for yourself and going through these situations make you grow and make you know your own worth.
So, it is hard, but sometimes having a different background opens doors for you. I landed my first job with the help of a Latina friend that worked with me in another internship. We have to take advantage of the networking between women and, in my case, with the Latin American community. Many mentors of mine were also Latinas, as you relate much more with their experience. It has helped me to bond with others because sometimes people want to learn from you. You know you are in a good organization when they want to know more about your potential.
Have you made any sacrifices to follow your career? You consider that women have to make sacrifices to achieve their professional goals in finance careers?
I think for me, firstly, was leaving home and coming to another country to follow my dream of working with organizations that have a global impact. I didn’t know anyone when I came here and that is not easy at all.
In terms of my career, my biggest sacrifice has been the really hard work I put into it to show everyone that I am good. This is very time consuming, and, on many occasions, I do not have time for myself. I do not know if this is entirely related to being a woman, but I sometimes feel that I have to try harder to show that I am good and committed.
In my case, I am 33 and married. The expectations of some people around me is that I should have kids already, yet I don't feel there yet. I don’t know if not having kids would be considered a sacrifice, as it has allowed me to study and do my MBA. I have also seen women that have kids and do these things! And I truly admire them because it is very demanding.
Sometimes even my own family or friends question my role as a wife, because I work too hard. I have never heard anyone in my family telling my brother that he is working too hard. I love everything that I have done, but sometimes I feel guilty because I do not want to be a mom yet, or because I’m not “that type of wife”.
We have a lot of work to do as a society to allow women to feel proud of who we are, and the choices we have made so that we can achieve everything we want.
What can we do to contribute to gender equality in finance?
I think that just the fact of having these conversations already creates spaces for people to feel connected. Stories of women in certain positions and their experiences really help other women to learn how others have achieved their goals. Even with sacrifices we can see that it is possible, and we still can be moms, have a family, and be professionals.
Opening spaces to connect really matters, that is why I think that WinFin’s mission is very interesting. To see the stories of women from different backgrounds that we can look up to is important. I think it is great that you are involving women with different perspectives and cultures, and who have lived different experiences.
I have met women who were not even allowed to study or work in their cultures, and now after breaking down all those barriers, they are the ones promoting education for girls in their communities. So, the message is not to keep to ourselves our experiences, but to share them with others, and invite men in the conversation too.
It is important to let ourselves be vulnerable and to be honest with our thoughts. It is not easy, but it is OK to question how people are treating women at work and stand up to demand respect. When you speak for yourself and show your point of view to someone else, you might become important to that someone, and that is how you start building trust.
We have to normalize relationships with men, and also look for mentorship and networking with them. Because there are things that only men have lived in professional settings, and things that only women have lived, and we both can learn from these experiences.
What are your biggest achievements as a financial professional? How did finance help you achieve your biggest goals?
In my current role, I understand what is behind the numbers, I can see what stories they tell, and I can make a financial analysis from them, make a budget, and then show this to an organization to help them accomplish their goals. This is very rewarding because my job becomes more interesting. When you understand finance, you can help a lot of people find solutions, how to think out of the box. Of course it can be hard sometimes to be the “numbers person”, because you will also have to deliver the bad news, and while there are some things you can fix, some are just out of your control.
One of my most rewarding experiences while in school was creating a business plan for a coffee cooperative in Rwanda that needed investors. It opened many doors for them to export coffee to the United States and France. I was able to understand what they needed to make their business work, and then I took this plan to stakeholders in the field. I was able to see the direct impact.
Do you see the industry changing in the coming years?
I think lots of changes are coming to the field. Investors are now better informed of companies they invest in and they are now demanding better practices in their operations. There is a lot of potential for investments to have a positive impact on the future. There are many opportunities in finance to drive positive change in the economy and the environment.
What are your long-term career goals? Where do you see yourself?
Currently I feel good where I am. I am learning, and I see myself growing. I am interested in learning more about technology, automation and leadership. I would like to be the Chief Operating Officer of an organization, that would be a very interesting role. I think I would also like to be in a role where I find promising projects for investors interested in changing the world.
Any advice to women pursuing careers in finance?
The most important thing I would have liked someone to tell me is that learning and staying relevant is key. In finance, technology matters a lot. Do not settle for Excel, go beyond and learn Python, SQL and other programming and data tools. Also see beyond the numbers and discover your passion behind that job so that it never gets boring. Find a value in it to keep going every day.