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Women’s History Month Spotlight with Paige Johnson

BY Team Practifi

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we want to shine a spotlight on the incredible contributions and journeys of women within and outside of Practifi. In this special series, we are honored to feature five remarkable women leaders who have forged their own paths within the wealth management and finance space. Through their stories and insights, we aim to not only celebrate their achievements but also gain valuable perspectives from their experiences navigating and excelling in a traditionally male-dominated industry.

Meet Paige Johnson, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Alliances at Practifi, whose journey demonstrates resilience and perseverance. From growing up in the heart of Kansas to her pivotal roles at renowned firms, Paige’s narrative unfolds with a blend of determination and ingenuity. In this interview, Paige invites us to explore her early career, unveiling the transformative moments and challenges that propelled her to the forefront of the financial services industry.

Forging Pathways: From Heartland to Financial Sector

Paige’s journey into financial services started in— a small Kansas town far removed from the bustling financial hubs. Fueled by a desire for exploration, she was determined to carve her path in an industry ripe with opportunity. Paige’s early career journey is a testament to her ability to navigate uncharted territories with grace and resilience, setting the stage for her ascent in the world of finance and wealth management.

Q: Can you tell us about your journey into the finance industry and how it began?

A: My path hasn’t been exactly intentional. I went to the University of Kansas and majored in Fine Arts and after college I found myself broke and not sure what I wanted to do with my life. The one thing I was certain of is that I wanted to move to the West Coast. I waited tables and even worked at a nuclear power plant for a couple of months to make money so I could move. I handed out tools to mechanics that were working on the reactor core and then cleaned them when they turned back in, to remove any radioactive material. It was a much safer job than it sounds, and it paid well. With about $2,000 saved up, I moved to San Francisco in an old Subaru wagon with my Dalmatian. I had no job and no idea what I was going to do, but I was ready for the adventure.

When I got to San Francisco, I signed on with a temp agency.  My first placement was with Montgomery Securities.  Keep in mind this was years before Google even existed so I couldn’t research the company. I was so naive, I had no idea what they did but they were an investment bank and worked in Shareholder Services for their mutual funds.  This was back when people had to call in to check the mutual fund’s NAV at the day’s close. We’d answer the phone, talk to them, help them invest in mutual funds. I got my Series 6 and 63. I began learning the fundamentals of investingand they eventually hired me. That was my first experience in financial services. 

I loved the energy of the industry and craved more responsibility so I moved on to another company called Miller, Anderson, and Sherrerd, which was quickly acquired by Morgan Stanley Asset Management. We were in charge of managing the merged companies’ institutional clients and consultants on the West Coast. My title was Marketing Associate, but on any given day I might be binding a presentation or presenting to a client. We were a small office with a handful of people and we wore a lot of hats. It was the mid-90s, a completely different work environment, even more male-dominated than today, but we were Swiss army knives that would take on anything.  We were keenly aware that we had to work harder than men to be recognized for our work, but I was lucky to work with amazing, strong women and we supported each other. My boss, Mary Ann Milias St. Peter, was the best mentor I’ve ever had. She knew how to draw out her employees’ skills and she believed in us. She threw us into the deep end because she knew we could handle it and grow from it and that’s helped influence decisions in my life and career

One day she approached me about an open position in London, to be the Product Specialist on the Global Value Portfolio team.  It sounded exciting, and I went for it. I moved to London for a few years, which was a great experience. Throughout my career, I’ve often thrown myself into newly created roles that were very challenging. I learned that these were opportunities for me to identify needs and provide a solution that may not have existed before and I liked that. Sometimes I’ve been apprehensive, but I dive in, figure it out and make the most of it. 

After returning from London to be with my now-husband, I switched gears a bit. I worked at a company called PGI, which dealt with conferencing and collaboration software. I eventually landed at Docupace. They had no one managing relationships with their integration partners and once again I was presented with a role no one before me had done. I was now back in financial services but in a completely different realm – the technology side. I’m now with Practifi and I’ve been managing fintech partners at several firms for about eight years now, and I love it. I’ve always enjoyed managing relationships with clients and consultants, and I believe in the power of partnerships. That’s how I ended up here, seizing each opportunity that came my way, even if it all started somewhat accidentally.

Confronting Industry Realities

Q: Reflecting on your career, what were some challenges you faced and how did you navigate them?

A: In the mid to late 90s, the financial services environment was vastly different. For instance, at Montgomery Securities, during slow times, they would ask me and another woman on the shareholder services team to clean the monitors of the male traders on the trading floor. It was so degrading, and it’s unbelievable to think they made us do that; no one would dare request such a thing now. Any woman my age or with decades of experience could share similar stories.

Back then, I often found myself as the only woman in meetings, which can be intimidating and challenging. But you adapt; there’s no other choice. Even now, on tech-related calls, I’m often one of the few women. Thankfully, more women are now entering the technology and wealth management fields. 

Q:  Can you share a specific accomplishment or milestone in your career you are particularly proud of?

A: Taking on any new role requires diving in, learning, improving your skills along the way and hopefully enjoying what you do. It can be exciting and daunting, and women have a different set of challenges to face than men.  I’m proud that I’ve forged ahead in situations where I had self-doubt and I’m grateful for the support of my mentors and colleagues.

Championing Diversity: Advancing Inclusion in Finance

With a keen eye on the evolving landscape of financial services, Paige Johnson provides thought-provoking insights into the industry and underscores the pivotal role of leadership, diversity and inclusion in driving innovation within the industry. With a forward-looking mindset, Paige offers her vision for the future of finance, stressing the importance of adaptability and inclusivity in shaping a progressive and dynamic sector.

Q:  At a leadership level, what are your thoughts on the current level of representation of women in leadership roles in the industry?

A: There are more women in leadership roles now compared to before but progress is slow, and the representation of women in leadership roles across various sectors, including wealth, tech and financial services, is still painfully low — maybe around a third, if not less.

Companies are starting to realize the value women bring to the table, with their different dynamics and skill sets, particularly in areas like emotional intelligence and soft skills such as empathy and inclusivity. Women often bring a relatability and diversity that is essential in today’s world. While progress is being made, there is still a long way to go to achieve true gender parity in leadership roles.

Q:  Do you feel companies have an obligation to promote and support women to take leadership roles?

A: Absolutely, I do believe that there is a social responsibility for firms to promote diversity and inclusivity but it’s essential to approach this responsibility in a way that is genuine and non-tokenistic. Firms shouldn’t simply hire a woman or a person of color to fulfill a quota; instead, they should genuinely value and prioritize diversity and inclusion in their hiring practices and company culture.

True inclusivity means bringing everyone to the same level and recognizing the value that diverse perspectives bring to the table. Embracing that diversity leads to a richer tapestry of perspectives and ideas, which can only benefit a company in the long run. 

Diversity and inclusion isn't just about checking boxes; it's about honoring the unique attitudes, feelings, and experiences that each individual brings to the workplace.

Q: What changes or improvements would you like to see in the industry moving forward?

A: My views on diversity and its benefits extend beyond any specific industry. diversity is crucial across the board. Diversity brings fresh perspectives, stimulates creativity and drives progress. 

It's imperative for all of us to embrace diversity and inclusivity if we want to move forward collectively.

Q: What advice would you give to young women aspiring to enter the wealth managment tech sector?

A: I’d emphasize the importance of trust and authenticity. I’d say, “Trust in yourself more, give yourself more credit, and be authentic. Don’t feel pressured to be someone you’re not.” It’s essential to understand that setbacks will happen, but they don’t define you. Instead, view them as opportunities to pivot and adapt. When faced with challenges, pick yourself up, adapt, and keep moving forward.

I’ve also learned the importance of asking questions and advocating for yourself. It can be challenging, especially for women, but it’s crucial to speak up when you have doubts or deserve more. Be authentic, pursue what you want, and be strong.

I highly recommend the work of Brené Brown, particularly her insights on leadership and vulnerability. As she says, “The courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing; it’s about showing up when you can’t predict or control the outcome.” 

Paige’s journey through our industry is a reflection of her resilience, adaptability and unwavering commitment to progress. Her insights have not only shed light on the challenges inherent in the industry but remind us that as an industry, we need to prioritize diversity and inclusion. We extend our deepest gratitude to Paige for graciously sharing her experience and wisdom. Her contributions have enriched our understanding and inspired us to seize opportunities for growth and transformation.

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