Nikki Earthrowl is used to working in male-dominated fields. She used to be an exploration geologist at BP until she had “a lightbulb moment” a few years ago and switched to the firm’s trading floor.
Only around 15 per cent of traders are women, but Nikki, now Senior Vice President of Physical Oil at financial services firm Macquarie Group, says this has never been an issue for her.
“Geology is very male dominated so gender didn’t come into it for me,” she says. “I was drawn by the mental stimulation of the job.”
Nikki joined Macquarie shortly after returning from her first maternity leave and says the firm has been very supportive. She has just returned from having her second child and just before she went on maternity leave, took on a new role as a physical trader.
Her return to work has been eased by Macquarie’s maternity policy and by the fact that she is sharing her leave with her husband. He is now at home with their children, aged six months and four, and she is keen to let him get on with it and not “micromanage” him. She went back after six months off with her first son too and says it felt right for her.
Nikki and her husband have always shared childcare. Before her maternity leave she would do the first part of the day and her husband used to leave at five to do the pick-up from nursery. That meant they both had time alone with their son. “I couldn’t do it without him,” she says.
Before going on maternity leave Nikki was given maternity mentoring to help her think out of the box. She also kept in touch during her leave and says her team were very supportive.
Nikki will do three days a week for the first month and is working flexi hours so she can drop her children off and stay later which means she can catch the later physical market as needed.
Nikki can remember exactly when she decided to make the switch from geology to trading. She was sitting on top of a hill during a field trip with a group of geological experts and realised she found herself more interested in selling products than collecting fossils. “I felt I was not doing the right thing any more,” she says. She plugged into her networks and moved into the trading arena in a control role and later into Crude Oil Operations.
After joining Macquarie, two and a half years ago, Nikki was running oil operations in EMEA. Last year she stepped in as a physical trader to fill a vacancy left by a colleague in the physical space in EMEA. “It was a baptism by fire,” she says. She had to learn all the background including how things are priced and what drives the market.
Nikki says trading is fast paced with daily changes. She likes the buzz of daily work as well as the medium and long term strategising. Although the macho image of trading didn’t put her off, she agrees that she is still unusual as a woman trader and feels that the lack of women across the industry is due to the pipeline not being managed effectively and firms not attracting more women into the trading space. “A lot of junior traders are not women. There is something wrong with the pipeline into the system and how we attract women into trading. We need people tapping them on the shoulder and directing them into trading,” says Nikki.
She herself was encouraged to step into the physical trader role. “It was important to me to have someone say give it a go. It gave me faith that I could do it,” she says. “They let me get on with it and helped when I needed it. It felt safe, not like I was stepping into the abyss.”
She adds that she watches interns and graduates at Macquarie and how they are supported and mentored through the system. “I think it’s fantastically important, enabling them to try something in a relatively safe environment so you can then let them get on with it,” she says.
Nikki has had the same mentor since she started at Macquarie and has had multiple mentors in the past, many of whom have become friends. “It’s important to have someone you can trust, whose opinion you value,” she says.
Her focus for now is getting on top of her extra role. “When an opportunity like that comes along you can’t turn it down,” she says.