Leading the way for women in finance

Geraldine Sundstrom (MSc Finance 1998), Managing Director and Portfolio Manager of multi assets at PIMCO, is a leading figure in the world of finance. She is a mother of two teenage boys, a passionate advocate for increasing the visibility and empowerment of women in finance and committed to building a portfolio of investments that support a green recovery.   

Geraldine Sundstrom in conversation

After majoring in maths and physics at school, Geraldine was alarmed when she was told that when training to be an engineer, she would be the only girl in the classroom. So instead, she embarked on an undergraduate degree in Politics. She still appreciates the irony that her worry about being the only woman in the classroom was the beginning of events that have seen her forge a career in an industry dominated by men.  

Geraldine studied an MSc in Finance at Birkbeck part-time, but almost gave up after her first year. Looking back on her studies, she gained a lot for her career, learned a great deal from expert academics and met classmates from all over the world, but she still has nightmares about showing up to exams having missed all the classes because of work. “When you start working without Birkbeck in the background work will feel like the Club Med!  I would say that literally once you have done this in your life you will be able to juggle the kids, the household, the job and still perform. I don’t mean to say it’s easy, but I suppose the hard, hard years of Birkbeck gave me the strength, the organisation and the power to push through.”  

Having been in the finance industry for over two decades, at the start of her career, Geraldine was often the only woman in the room. This is now beginning to change and she, alongside other women in finance, have played a critical role in this shift. “This is something I have done very consciously, helping many women around me with the hope that all these little drops would eventually form a river and things can get bigger and greater [and] many women in the industry have been doing the same.”  

While progress has been made, Geraldine agrees there is still more to be done. Her advice to the next generation of women in finance: “What we have seen is this embracement of diversity – which is fantastic news. But I would say this is just putting a foot in the door […] I don’t know if it was my education, my character, maybe because I am a woman or a mix of all of this – I tend to think if I work hard and I deserve it, it is going to come – but more often than not you will figure that it is not going to come unless you say it, or you ask for it […] When you feel like you’ve achieved something, you deserve it and you are ready for the next step — ask for it!”  

At a time of significant economic uncertainty, Geraldine’s predictions for the future are unusually optimistic and she sees a real opportunity for meaningful change. “I won’t say this lightly but it’s the most positive and exciting time I have encountered in my entire career. I don’t know if the pandemic acted as a catalyst, but it seems that world leaders have finally embraced climate change and there is a genuine tsunami of green. We see countries one after the other pledge to net-zero CO2 emissions and right now roughly speaking there is over 60% of the world GDP that is going to l recover from the pandemic and grow with the pledge of net-zero […] From both investment and employment outlook I believe this will bring lots of opportunities for future generations [and] from a human point of view, looking at my children, we can look finally at a better future.”