Riya Sharma is the founder of @WallStreetConfessions, an Instagram account that shares caustic quotes about life in finance, and posts anonymous submissions of instances of sexism, racism, and discrimination in the industry.
Sharma, 20, has never publicly revealed her full identity before, and, in an interview with Business Insider, said she’s using her social media platform to advocate for women and minorities.
One of her followers, Jefferies CEO Rich Handler, told Business Insider in an email that he admires Sharma’s “entrepreneurialism, savvy and desire to positively influence the finance industry.”
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At 20 years old, Riya Sharma has established her place as the whisperer of Wall Street.
To the ordinary passerby who isn’t acquainted with her online persona, Sharma is a student at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City, majoring in finance and international studies, and minoring in arts management.
Though she hopes to land her first investment banking internship next summer, she has no formal finance industry experience to date.
But that hasn’t stopped Sharma from using her highly-followed social media account Wall Street Confessions, which so far has racked up an audience of more than 84,000 followers, to write her way into some of Wall Street’s most sensitive conversations about racism, sexism, and anti-LBGT discrimination.
Sharma launched the account in January 2019 and, since then, has set about creating an enclave, of sorts, for Wall Street’s whistleblowers. Anonymous users send her submissions via the online portal on her website, many of which are meant to force the finance industry to face its guilty conscience.
Then, they end up on Sharma’s Instagram feed. Of the many issues her posts address, she seems to regard being a foil to misogyny as her most important role.
“It’s just so terrible the way women are treated” in finance, she told Business Insider in an interview. “Banks have to stop being frat houses.”
Rich Handler, the CEO of Jefferies Financial Group and highest-paid chief executive of a company based in New York, is among the Wall Street leaders who follow her account, occasionally leaving supportive comments on her posts.
Handler told Business Insider in an email that he occasionally comments on Sharma’s page because it “strikes a good balance between keeping it light and fun while also including serious topics that are worthy of public discussion.”
“I admire her entrepreneurialism, savvy and desire to positively influence the finance industry,” he added.
Read more: One of Wall Street’s highest-paid CEOs is hosting a virtual lunch with followers of finmeme account Litquidity. Jefferies’ Rich Handler explained how he’s ‘trying to help in a small way while the world is so upside down.’
Earlier this year, he engaged with one post in particular which referenced a complaint that an anonymous user said they made about their managing director. The MD was said to be engaging in “all sorts of Matt Lauer-type creepy behavior,” according to the post.
“Then they fired me the next day. I sued. I won,” the user wrote.
Handler responded. “Hopefully someone else was also fired (for your unfair job loss),” he wrote. “This should be a huge wake-up call for HR and the firm. The victim can’t be punished.”
A sampling of a few of the other posts that Sharma has recently shared helps illustrate the seriousness with which she approaches her platform.
“I told an MD that my sister got a full scholarship to a prestigious school and he told me to check out programs that help inner city kids read their financial aid packages. Mind you, I am black and grew up in the suburbs,” reads one post sent in from an anonymous user.
“When I started as an IB analyst out of university, at the first dinner with my MD, he commented after being served by a gay waiter that they should ‘go back to the day where they kill themselves,'” wrote another anonymous user. “I’m gay. I’ve since transitioned to [real estate private equity], but the homophobic behavior is even more prevalent. I’ve stayed in the closet.”
Sharma did say that, since the submissions she receives are anonymous, it’s impossible to independently verify their authenticity.
But, “if someone really does want to lie about something like assault or racism or misogyny,” she added, that’s “on their conscience.”
Along the way, some detractors have emerged. One even accused Sharma of making “every man on Wall Street look like a predator, by posting stories about #MeToo,” she said.
The mudslinging hasn’t distracted her from her goal, though.
“From the very beginning I have wanted to give women a voice,” she said. “If someone feels confident enough or vulnerable enough to send in something about what happened to them, they should be supported.”
Sharma sees herself as an advocate for women of color in finance — one reason why she started the page
Born to Indian parents who emigrated from New Delhi in 1999 to New Jersey, Sharma grew up speaking Punjabi, Urdu, and Hindi at home, describing her childhood as a “blue-collar upbringing,” where she was “thrown into this place where there weren’t that many people of color.”
It was as a teenager that her budding fascination with finance began to emerge. At 16, she bought a copy of the book “Investment Banking for Dummies.”
Reading it, “I was like, ‘Wow, mergers and acquisitions are actually really interesting,'” she said. She was hooked.
Away from finance, Sharma has a passion for fiction writing and said that “one thing that I want to accomplish in my life is to write a great American novel.”
She loves fashion and has an interest in pursuing opportunities in the sustainable clothing sector.
And like most young adults, Sharma’s had her fair share of experiences with online dating: At any given time, she’s got six dating apps on her phone. “A girl has to have not only options in ETFs,” she said, “but options, in my opinion.”
This interview with Business Insider marks the first time that Sharma has publicly revealed her full identity and gone on the record about why she’s taken on her role as Wall Street’s de facto confessor.
“I don’t think there’s enough space for women of color on Wall Street, or there’s a very clear-cut vision of what the typical banker is — a white, heteronormative male,” she said.
“I think it’s really important to create a space for conversations that people are uncomfortable having otherwise.”
See more: One of the most powerful women at Bank of America explained how to defeat racial inequality at work: ‘It’s one thing to say Lives Matter. It’s another thing to say, with clarity Black Lives Matter.’
‘The culture is the biggest problem’ for women to achieve equity in finance, Sharma said
For women, the finance industry remains one where they are glaringly underrepresented, especially in the C-suite. Sharma said that industry “culture is the biggest problem” to blame.
Research released earlier this year by the nonprofit group Catalyst found that roughly 31% of senior or executive officials and managers working at finance or insurance institutions in the US were women.
Of them, the vast majority were white (26%), followed by Asian women (nearly 2%), and then by Black and Latinx women (both at 1.3%).
And women control just one-third of the world’s wealth (32%), according to a Boston Consulting Group report released in April. Though the report predicted that number to rise in the years ahead, it is a clear reminder of how stark the gender disparity around wealth continues to be.
In light of this, Sharma said, she plans to continue running her page for the foreseeable future — there’s too much work left to do.
But first, job applications: She’ll personally start applying for internships on Wall Street in the months ahead. She’s prepared for her alter ego, @WallStreetConfessions, to be a subject that recruiters bring up in interviews once they have read this article.
“People will likely be professional enough to hold off directly saying it to me,” she said of her newly revealed identity, “and, instead, talk about it behind my back once I leave.”
But it will all be worth it, she said, if her work on social media helps women continue to forge inroads in an industry that has a lot further to go.
“I think that we have a broader glass ceiling to break,” Sharma said. “We haven’t really won the battle yet.”
Read the original article on Business Insider