E-Trade Financial Corp. sits at the intersection of two of the world’s most persistent boys’ clubs: Wall Street and Silicon Valley. But behind the layers of computer code that enable at-home investors — another mostly male crowd — to buy and sell stocks online, there’s a group of female tech wizards at E-Trade that make it possible.
Fostering a culture that attracts and advances women in the STEM fields is one more way that E-Trade, one of the earliest online brokerages, has been a pioneer in the industry.
That little-known trait is something its new corporate parent, Morgan Stanley, would be smart to preserve — and emulate — especially as it looks to reach a wider set of customers.
Morgan Stanley agreed on Thursday to acquire E-Trade for $13 billion, fusing together an old-school brokerage business of wealthy Wall Street clients with a digital Main Street brand that resonates with younger people.
It’s an opportunity for the white-shoe firm to gain a new type of customer it wasn’t equipped to reach in a corner of the market that’s growing — and one that’s bound to draw more prospective female customers over time. E-Trade had 5.17 million retail accounts as of December and an average of more than 300,000 trades each day.
Female Tech Leaders
I first learned about E-Trade’s impressive roster of female tech leadership in mid-2018, when I had the pleasure of interviewing them and hearing their stories in the company’s New York office just outside Times Square.
They reflected on working their way up in an industry where they initially saw few other female faces, then later a few more, and more yet when they joined E-Trade.
Women still head up key teams, such as the innovation lab, run by Jeanne Jang, an alum of International Business Machines Corp. Liensa Vidra has risen up the E-Trade ranks to vice president of product management, and Heather Munoz is senior vice president of tech development, following a career at CME Group Inc.
Alice Milligan, who’s made stops at American Express Co. and Citigroup Inc.’s North America consumer bank, was named E-Trade’s chief customer officer last May, overseeing all retail products and how digital customers use them.
As with any business, some employees I met have moved on, but the leadership in the chief customer office — the core of E-Trade — is currently 60% female, according to a spokeswoman. That’s almost unheard of in financial services, where it’s hard not to notice that almost all the firms are named after men (Morgan Stanley included).
A few of the women I spoke with stressed the importance of informal mentoring — from both male and female leaders — and having it happen organically.
Alison Li, a web development manager for whom English is a second language, said that she had never had a female mentor until joining E-Trade and that it brought her out of her shell. “I felt the difference,” she said in our 2018 interview.
Diversity helps the intimidation factor of being a woman in fintech fade away, is how Eileen Kane, now vice president of IT project management, put it at the time.