"If I didn’t love this job, I would have dropped it years ago"
Elena Agosti knows a thing or two about being a woman on the trading floor of big US investment banks. After starting her career at Morgan Stanley in London, she moved to Goldman Sachs and then to JPMorgan. In 2020, she moved back to Italy, working first with Unicredit and then with Nomura, whose Milan office she joined last August. As a managing director responsible for Nomura's sovereign supranational and agency (SSA) trading in Europe, Agosti now presides over that rare thing: an all female trading team.
Agosti says her set-up was by accident rather than design. Nomura had two female traders working on the SSA desk when she arrived. Another was hired. Another moved internally. They have big aspirations: "Nomura has the potential to be a leader in this business," Agosti says. "It's a great project, and an all-female team."
Working with female traders can create a different dynamic, says Agosti. "In my experience of being a trader, women over-think a lot and that helps in this market," she says. "Women are typically more cautious and less emotional." That can help on a trading floor when emotions run hot.
Agosti herself went into trading after she was hired by a female boss who told her: "You are very self-confident and opinionated, and you are smart, you should be a trader." - "I was like, 'Ok, I'll try," she says. She's gender-blind when she recruits: "I hire people because they're the best - I'm not interested in anything else about them."
In her current, accidental all-female team, Agosti says there's no talk about childcare or commitments outside work. She doesn't even know whether her colleagues are parents or not. The talk is about markets. "We talk a lot and there's a continuous exchange of professional information. We're not afraid to discuss our opinions or to say what we think."
Agosti didn't come from a finance family; her mother was a teacher. But she says trading is the most interesting career option for people of any gender. "As a joke, we sometimes say that this isn't a job but a mission. Every day as a trader you are putting yourself at risk, putting your convictions and your views out there and making markets for clients. You can be completely wrong or completely right. When you're right, it feels good. When you're wrong, you move on to the next trade."
Traders don't work such long hours as investment bankers, but ten-hour days are still the norm. "If I didn’t love this job, I would have dropped it years ago," says Agosti. "It's a super-dynamic and super-challenging job and I wouldn't exchange it for anything else."
Success in trading has nothing to do with gender, says Agosti. Women can do as well as men and women shouldn't be discouraged by the parody of trading floors as all-male domains. "It's about expectation," she says. "A trading floor is a place where people are making and losing money. There will be days when moods are fraught. There will be days when clients are nice, or not nice to you. Emotions are magnified and can overshoot, but if you go in with that awareness, it is a place where you can thrive."
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