Storytelling with William Blair: The Evolution of Women in Finance

Rita Spitz
CFA, Partner, Global Research Analyst, William Blair Investment Management

William Blair partner Rita Spitz has seen a lot of changes over more than three decades at the firm and in the financial industry. But solid goals and hard work are still keys to success.

“I was the only woman analyst when I came to William Blair and I don’t remember anybody laying out a plan for me,” she says. “But my personal goal was to become an equity owner as opposed to an employee and that made a huge difference in my career.”

Active first as a sell-side analyst when she came over from Northern Trust in the 1980s, Spitz later moved to the buy-side as an analyst and subsequently became a research director. As an entrepreneur inside the firm, she made her mark as an analyst spotting trends, evaluating companies for success, and creating teams and tools within the firm that continue to drive client success.

“Early in my career I was very deliberate in finding a role where there was some objective measure of my contribution, and a stock price going up or down was that,” says Spitz. “There was a clear record of what I recommended, what happened, which may have made it easier to establish a track record and be recognized than it might have been in a different role.”

“My premise was there were going to be obstacles. I didn’t resent it; I accepted that was the condition and asked, ‘OK, how do I fit in? How do I maneuver?’ You can whine about it or get with it. It was important to find a win for clients, the firm, and me.”

She made partner in 1992, joining a small but growing group of women at the firm. Then, around 2000, Spitz switched to the buy-side with investment management, expanding both the fundamental and quantitative research talent and investment tools that provided clients leading insights.

“I hired a lot of people and we were able to take the firm to the next level,” she says of the buy-side days. “It was a period where we really established our group as a strong internal presence.”

Spitz, who earned a B.A. in finance from the University of Wisconsin, an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago, and her CFA, believes women have made strides within the financial industry and business in general, but “we have further to go.” Organizations are more transparent today and women share information. That makes it easier to figure out which companies are willing to be fair and promote women.

She is impressed and encouraged by the millennial generation, which includes her two daughters. One is 31, training to be a surgeon, and the other is 30, working in marketing. “They’re much more aware of the scope of choices and making choices fit with what they want as opposed to accepting things they find suboptimal. It’s clear you have to do your homework,” Spitz says. “Otherwise you will be slowed by gender bias. It’s still pretty pervasive.”

Spitz encourages women not to be afraid to change when things aren’t going the way they want. “A lot of times women won’t take on a challenge because they don’t feel like they’ve demonstrated competence. Whereas men do not have the same point of view, they just say yes. Women can do the same thing. It’s definitely in their interest to step up.”

In juggling life and career, Spitz says William Blair has been important. “I made partner when I had three young children,” she says. “I asked for help, I got good help at home, I had a supportive husband, I always found the firm to be very supportive. What came first, the most important things in my life, was my family and children. I didn’t feel compromised on that.”