‘WOW’ Factor: Berkeley Women’s Finance Group Takes Off

Members of the leadership team of Women on Wall Street at Berkeley: left to right, Sophia Tung, Abigail Copeland, Robin Ying, and Rebecca Hu. The group has many members who are students in the Haas School of Business, including undergraduates and MBAs. Courtesy photo

Before beginning her final year at the University of California at Berkeley last fall, Abigail Copeland realized that something was missing from her campus experience — and that of countless others.

The epiphany hit during the summer: The missing piece was a club for women, like herself, and non-binary individuals who intend to pursue careers in finance.

Copeland, who spent last summer working at an investment bank in New York, knows firsthand that it’s hard to be a woman in finance. But she also knows that the challenges don’t begin in the workplace: They start in college. So she was determined to create a place where women could support each other in their drive to succeed in a male-dominated field.

And that’s how Women on Wall Street at Berkeley — the university’s first-ever independent student organization for women in finance — was born.


“There’s absolutely no doubt that it’s extremely difficult to be a woman in the industry,” Copeland tells Poets&Quants. “But one shocking realization I’ve had is that a lot of gender inequity actually starts on college campuses. No doubt there are challenges women face every day on the job — but it’s an epidemic around the country.”

Colleges have lots of clubs. UC-Berkeley may have more than most. But “after talking with tons of people at this school and other schools” — and through the lens of her own experience and that of her friends and colleagues — Copeland saw a glaring and unfulfilled need for a new club for women focused on finance.

“We all have these finance- and investment-related clubs in our college campuses that I think a lot of freshmen really hope they get into, and that they respect a lot,” she says, “and they think that’s the only way to get a job because these jobs are so competitive. But the clubs happen to be predominantly led by men who may be 19, 20, 21. And these people are just college students like us as well.

“So a lot of people think, ‘If this is what finance is like, I don’t want to pursue it.’ And it’s an epidemic everywhere.”


Abigail Copeland: “I thought to myself, ‘I don’t want any other women on campus to go through what I personally had to go through,’ even though it was an exciting challenge.” Courtesy photo

The first thing to know about Abigail Copeland is that she is not in the Haas School of Business, because she is not a business major. After studying Mandarin for years beginning in public middle school in Indiana, she came to Berkeley to major in Chinese Language and Literature.

“Believe it or not, Indiana offered Chinese in public schools, which I still can’t believe,” she says. “So we had to pick a foreign language to learn in middle school, and I just picked Chinese on a whim, really not thinking too much about it. And I loved it and I’ve stuck with it ever since.”

Copeland’s fluency in Mandarin has opened lots of doors — at Berkeley and, already, beyond. In 2019 she became a
National Security Language Initiative for Youth Scholar through a
U.S. State Department program; three years later she accepted a position researching Chinese financial markets with the U.S. Department of Commerce. At the same time, she was selected from over 100 U.S. Department of Commerce offices to lead the intern network of the International Trade Administration and U.S. Department of Commerce.

Government work intrigued her. But sales and trading within finance intrigued her more.

“I was like, ‘You know what? Let me just try this whole government thing before I fully commit to finance,'” Copeland says. “And I found it really interesting — but I prefer, I think, the pace of finance a little bit more. I love financial markets. I think they’re super interesting.”

In the summer of 2023, she worked as an intern at Standard Chartered Bank, an emerging markets bank in New York, where among other experiences she rotated onto the Asia Foreign Exchange Desk. After graduation from Berkeley, she’ll be heading back to the world of finance.

“I love sales and trading so much that I’ll be joining Morgan Stanley this upcoming summer as a fixed-income sales and trading summer analyst,” she says.


The U.S. population is 50.4% women, yet women account for less than 10% of senior roles at venture and private equity firms, according to the human capital management firm ADP. In the banking and finance sectors, women are paid $13 less per hour than their male counterparts, and it takes them 1.2 years longer to be promoted.

Major, long-term problems. But Copeland says the challenges for women in finance begin before they leave college — beginning with a lack of supportive environments.

Even as she realized she loves trading, she says, “I realized that there are a lot of women interested in finance in the Berkeley community. But I was thinking, ‘Wait a second, we’re such a liberal school, but why don’t we have a finance club for women?’ So that’s what led me to want to start Women on Wall Street at Berkeley.”

UC-Berkeley has thousands of clubs, a handful of which are dedicated to students planning a career in finance. “And people really like them,” Copeland says. “But they happen to be pretty male-dominated and limiting in the paths that they recommend you pursue. They’re primarily investment banking-focused. And the only club women have is Berkeley Women in Business. So I kept thinking, ‘I hope there’s a club where I can meet other women who are interested in finance as well.'”

Talking with mentors, she learned about stalled efforts to start a women’s finance club as far back as the 1990s. “So this is a big problem I feel like nobody talks about,” she says. “That’s really been my biggest insight thus far. So my goal is to create a supportive and inclusive environment and teach people that you can be inclusive and generous, but you can still have excellent results.”

Women on Wall Street at Berkeley. Courtesy photo


Another thing to know about Abigail Copeland is that she will graduate May 14 along with every other undergrad and graduate student at Berkeley — but for her, commencement comes after just three years of study.

It’s been a busy three years. Among her other achievements, Copeland was the youngest-ever editor-in-chief of Business Review at Berkeley, the school’s only undergraduate business journal; and she designed and delivered a 20-student course on global financial markets, “Investigating Financial Markets,” for the Haas School — again, despite not being a business major.

It was during her internship in New York that Copeland realized she now had the technical knowledge, the skills, and the experience to tackle what may be her most enduring legacy at Berkeley: the launch of WOW, a club for women in finance. Her offer from Morgan Stanley only added to her confidence. “I figured out how to do the whole recruitment situation myself as a Chinese major from Indiana and trying to break into New York out of the West Coast,” she says. “And that was something that was very difficult: I had to build my network from the ground up. And I thought to myself, ‘I don’t want any other women on campus to go through what I personally had to go through,’ even though it was an exciting challenge. So it occurred to me that it was time for me to start a club after my summer internship, just because I felt like I was on the other side of the power curve, so to speak.”

Practically speaking, it’s not easy to start a club at Berkeley, a school with thousands of them. The paperwork alone took Copeland months to complete.

For most clubs, the hurdles to launch often transfer to the students who seek membership. “All clubs here are extremely competitive to get into,” Copeland says. “They usually have about five rounds of interviews, so to speak, and have 10% or 5% acceptance rates, particularly on the business or finance side of things. So there’s this hyper-competitive club culture on campus, just to get in. And if you’re a freshman and don’t know how to do a DCF or a leveraged buyout, there’s no chance.”

So she decided that WOW would accept everyone, “which I feel normal people do at less-competitive schools. We accept undergrads and graduate students, so we actually have a handful of MBAs in Haas as well. Really, our years and majors vary dramatically.”


Chloe Cullen: “We are teaching our young women and non-binary members that there is a place for them in the finance world if they want it”

Copeland had help starting the club. “I realized that it wasn’t just me who wanted this,” she says. “I talked with a lot of my friends and they’re all super-ambitious and high-achieving and want a club for women interested in finance, and they just didn’t have that opportunity.”

Among her super-ambitious and high-achieving co-founders was Chloe Cullen, a Haas student and Regents’ and Chancellor’s Scholar who hails from Nashville, and who has had six internships in finance. Cullen, a published singer-songwriter, is a self-described “dedicated girls leadership advocate” who founded a scholarship competition for entrepreneurial high school girls.

“Funny enough, Abby and I never met before starting Women on Wall Street,” Cullen tells Poets&Quants. “However, both of us had just gone through the past three years at Berkeley learning how to navigate the finance world as young women, all on our own. At a school like Berkeley where the undergrad student body is over 32,000 students and the club culture is intense, it wasn’t easy to find resources or a community that fit.”

Cullen found it particularly hard to find “authentic mentorship,” she says. “This was the main issue that I personally wanted to tackle through Women on Wall Street. It seemed crazy that every new student interested in finance had to keep teaching themselves how to navigate classes, applications, and internship recruiting timelines, when the students a couple years older had just gone through it themselves. The knowledge and experience was there, but there was no system to pass it down.”


Cullen says that when WOW’s executive team met for the first time, it was clear that they all wanted to create a totally inclusive, transparent, and supportive group. It began as an education-based organization, where Copeland and Cullen led bi-weekly workshops on topics like buy-side versus sell-side roles, finance sub-industry breakdowns, recruitment timelines for each grade, and how to get an internship return offer. There have also been, since day one, one-on-one coffee chats and office hours on campus where members are encouraged to ask anything they want — like “What classes should I take if I want to grow my technical knowledge? What certificates should I complete if I’m interested in VC? When do I start looking for a junior summer internship? How do I write a cold email?” Cullen says.

“Abby and I were now answering all the same questions we had just three years ago,” she says. “Most importantly, we are teaching our young women and non-binary members that there is a place for them in the finance world if they want it. Our members already have the determination, confidence, and network to thrive in anything they put their mind to, and we are simply here to support them. I truly have never known such a collaborative and loving community like WOW, until now.”

In its bi-weekly meetings, WOW’s primary concern is professional development and good job outcomes for its members, Copeland says. It organizes resume workshops and employer events and hosts exclusive recruitment opportunities. It has a mentorship program. And of course there’s the network: The club currently has 105 members, making it the largest finance club on Berkeley’s campus.

“Abby and I were never scared of failing,” Cullen says. “We knew that if we could help just one woman find mentorship, community, a new passion, or even just self-confidence here at Berkeley, then we would be successful. I think Women on Wall Street is a stellar example of the successful community that can come from 100% acceptance and inclusion on college campuses. In just one year, we have already become the largest independent finance club on campus.”


As they prepare to graduate May 14, Copeland and Cullen hope the community they have created will persist.

Copeland will work at Morgan Stanley this summer; this fall she will enroll in a one-year graduate program in China through Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, where all the classes are taught in Mandarin. Then: “I’m excited to take a gap year, potentially work in China, travel around Asia, and then I’ll be returning back to the U.S. to pursue a job in sales and trading. And from there, I definitely see myself continuing to work on increasing gender equity in finance, doing the market-related roles. And eventually it would be really nice to move to Asia and work in finance.” An MBA might be in her future, she says.

Cullen will work full-time at Goldman Sachs’s San Francisco office as a private wealth management analyst. Both plan to stay on as WOW alumni mentors.

“Luckily we have the executive board, we have varying years on the board,” Copeland says. “We want this to stay on the Berkeley campus for a very long time, so we are working to really build out the club. We have only been around for less than a year, so we’re still growing. And we’ve also been talking about potentially expanding to other universities. I have a lot of friends at different schools, and this isn’t just a Berkeley-specific problem. There’s a lot of schools that don’t really have this community. So we’ve been thinking about potentially expanding our outreach, which would be a post-grad project of mine.”

Adds Cullen: “Abby and I have been working hard to create a collaborative and loving community that lasts. We have no doubt that Women on Wall Street will continue to support women and non-binary members that are interested in exploring the finance world.”

She cites WOW’s founding core values, which include “Total transparency,” “All welcome, and welcome for life,” and “No matter your goals/target industry, we’ve got your back” — and perhaps most importantly: “We all have something to learn and teach.”

Learn more about Women on Wall Street at Berkeley here and here.


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