Named trailblazers, 20 Chicago women are setting the pace for improving diversity

Named trailblazers, 20 Chicago women are setting the pace for improving diversity


They manage multibillion-dollar pension funds and portfolios for top asset management firms and work closely with clients across the nation as investment advisers, to describe just a few of their careers.

But the 20 women recently honored as trailblazers by the Chicago chapter of the National Association of Securities Professionals share one common mission: improving diversity in the financial services industry.

Honorees celebrated at an April 11 luncheon were joined by colleagues, peers, early career professionals and members of the Washington-headquartered NASP, which aims to increase opportunities for women and minority groups in financial services.

“These women are not only trailblazers in their careers, but they are using — and have used — their platform and their reach to encourage diversity in our industry,” said DeAnna Ingram Jones, a consultant at NEPC and president of the Chicago NASP chapter. “As these women lay this foundation for diversity, what we hope is that all the next generation of diverse financial professionals find their perfect self in our our industry,” she added.

The Chicago chapter started the annual program in 2023 to recognize women who have made an impact on diversity in the industry. Nominations were evaluated and selected by the executive committee of the Chicago chapter, as well as board members of the national organization who are members of the Chicago chapter.

Working at public pension funds, consulting firms and investment managers, honorees interviewed by Pensions & Investments said they couldn’t have become who they are today without the support of family, mentors and colleagues — especially those who took a chance on them.

In interviews, they shared what they do to support diversity in their work. They also discussed how they got to where they are today and imparted advice for aspiring professionals starting their own journey.

“This is a group of women who don’t call attention to themselves. They just get stuff done,” said Kila Weaver, vice president of sales and client service at Xponance Asset Management, a $16.6 billion multistrategy manager. She is also a member of the Chicago chapter of NASP and a board member of the national organization, for which she will serve as its president in January 2026.

To Weaver, a trailblazer is a “doer” or “someone who is not afraid to make change.” This year’s honorees are highly interested in mentoring young and diverse professionals and “trying to be part of something that’s bigger than just themselves,” she added.

Upon taking Ingram Jones’ phone calls telling them they were being honored in this year’s class, the women said they were surprised, having not considered themselves a trailblazer before.

“It took me a minute to really believe and understand. I’m like, ‘Really, you’re serious?’” Jacquelyn Price Ward said. She is a teacher for students with disabilities at Bond Elementary School and a vice president of the board of trustees at the $12.1 billion Chicago Public School Teachers’ Pension & Retirement Fund.

Price Ward said she attended the inaugural celebration in support of her peers at CTPF who were honored in 2023, including fellow trustee Lois Nelson, former trustee Patricia Knazze and Angela Miller-May, chief investment officer of the $53.2 billion Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. Before joining IMRF, Miller-May was CIO of Chicago Teachers.

During the luncheon, honorees did not give acceptance speeches. Instead, they heard remarks about the work they have done to promote diversity and inclusion from people who have been impacted by their actions, which underscored for many the importance of their efforts to support diversity.

“I need to live up to being named a trailblazer,” said Farzin A. Khan, relationship manager for the client group at Wellington Management, a $1.2 trillion multiasset manager. “I’m being called one today, which sets the bar very high and motivates me to continue to make sure I live up to what it means.”

Promoting diversity at work

When named a trailblazer this year, Samantha Grant thought she had not accomplished enough to receive such an honor. Some of her fellow honorees include women she has looked up to, she said.

Grant has worked at firms including Northern Trust, where she started in 2008 as an intern out of “intellectual curiosity” and served as a portfolio manager on a “very diverse team” analyzing quantitative equity. She also has spoken on panels on diversity in the industry.

For the past two years, she has been a senior consultant at Verus, where she helps identify the needs of clients across the U.S.

Having worked predominantly in the Midwest and the East Coast, she can point out how people in those regions approach topics — such as ESG and DEI — differently to her Seattle-headquartered employer’s West Coast-based clientele. This enables the $750 billion adviser “to build an infrastructure to support what those clients need in regard to helping expand diversity,” Grant said.

“My job really is to challenge and to make sure that when I’m presented with the list of search candidates that it is a diverse slate,” she added. “I think it goes both ways, and we all have a role that we can play in advancing diversity in the industry.”

When she learned she was being honored, Wellington’s Khan took a look at her career and realized she pursued many different opportunities.

Originally from the New York borough of Queens, she started her career in 2005 at Delaware Investments, which was rebranded as Macquarie Investment Management after it was acquired in 2010. Globally, Sydney-based Macquarie managed $A892 billion ($575.7 billion) as of Sept. 30. Not coming from a family familiar with the investing world, Khan entered the industry out of college and hoped she’d figure out what she’d want to do next. But through training, learning and networking, she realized “this is actually really cool and interesting.”

While at Delaware Investments, she volunteered for the Philadelphia chapter of NASP and worked with high school students from underrepresented communities to give them exposure to the industry. She “ended up getting a full-time job there” as director of programming and communications.

Through the organization, she got to know Wellington, where she has worked since 2018. At Wellington, she has stayed involved in NASP activities and encourages the firm’s involvement in the organization’s programming across topics from investments to professional development.

Coming from a community known to be a “melting pot” where “there’s everyone from everywhere,” Khan said her upbringing contributed to her commitment to DEI and she wants to see the industry become more diverse. She encourages others to feel empowered by DEI and “see it as their responsibility” to speak up.

Advocating for a better city

After the closure of the upscale department store Charles A. Stevens on Chicago’s State Street in 1986, CTPF’s Price Ward pivoted from managing $40 million worth of merchandise to teaching in a “self-contained cluster classroom” for students with autism and intellectual deficits. What she loved about her previous job was teaching her staff, for whom she wrote a training manual.

“I am just grateful and blessed to be doing what I’m doing right now, and I’m doing the best that I can do,” she said.

After nearly 30 years of teaching, Price Ward was elected in 2018 as a trustee to the Chicago Teachers’ pension fund.

In addition to ensuring the growth of the fund for teachers’ retirement, one of her goals include committing to voting to invest with diverse managers, which she said are overlooked, despite strong returns.

At an April 5 meeting at the fund, there were discussions on hiring managers that invest in affordable housing, which Price Ward said is needed to help people “who are scrambling to find a place to live.”

“We need to make this city better,” she said. “We need to level the ground, and it should not be the haves and the have nots. And the have nots? Oh well, too bad for you. We don’t care because we’re sitting on these big sacks of money, but you can watch other people on the street and then watch them suffer.”

On letting people live on the streets, “I don’t think that’s what was intended for us to do,” she added. “That’s why my efforts go toward a foundation of service and a humble servant. I’m empathetic.”

Uplifting younger generations

In June 2023, Tiffany Junkins became the first woman to serve as the executive director of the Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago in its 103-year history.

Junkins started her career working on the front end of WorldCom’s escalations department until the telecommunications company closed following an accounting scandal in 2002. After obtaining a master’s degree in educational administration and supervision, she began working for the city in 2005, doing various jobs in finance, mostly in the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services.

When a fellow employee took an abrupt leave of absence, Junkins was encouraged by then-Deputy Commissioner of Finance Kenya Merritt to fill in. Thinking this was “a big mistake,” Junkins initially said no. But by pivoting to the role, she said this was how she “got her foot in the door” in regard to running the city’s educational program finances.

When the employee came back after three months, Junkins was asked to stay and work with that person by Merritt, who acted as a mentor. Later on, having witnessed Junkins’ work for the municipality, the Chicago Board of Education approached her, telling her “we need you over here” doing exactly what she was doing for the municipality. She would become its fiscal manager.

“That was when I knew, wow, everything I managed to learn in this space is really paying off, and it’s just been up from there,” Junkins said. Merritt, who is now deputy mayor of business and development for Chicago, still keeps in touch with her.

Today at the $3.6 billion pension fund, Junkins is excited about hiring young and novice employees, especially since “they are really quick and they’re savvy when it comes to technology.” But she said it’s “tremendous” when they’re paired with her more seasoned staffers who act as teachers, creating an experience similar to what Junkins had with her mentor.

The honorees also take the opportunity to be mentors outside the workplace.

By attending career sessions hosted by big banks, Ghiané Jones learned about the opportunities she could pursue for her career while a student in New York’s Hamilton College.

She was accepted into a competitive program hosted by Goldman Sachs Group that targeted young women at liberal arts colleges in the Northeast. The opportunity gave way to an internship in her hometown of Chicago, where she has built her career since.

Now the deputy CIO of the $71 billion Teachers’ Retirement System of the State of Illinois, she takes as many opportunities to mentor colleagues and young professionals.

“Every time I’ve taken them under my wing, I always tell them, ‘I want you to not make the same mistakes I did,’” Jones said. “Every generation is supposed to be better because we’re supposed to be passing down all of the wonderful lessons we learned throughout our career to ensure that they are set up for even better success, and even at a faster clip than the prior generation.”

Being true to one’s self

In blazing their own trails, honorees kept true to themselves and encouraged others to do the same.

“Whenever I’ve tried to emulate what I thought I should be doing or what other people were doing, it never worked because I never felt like myself,” Verus’ Grant said.

A colleague once told her what she should say when preparing for a business opportunity, and she said she wasn’t going to repeat that — especially since it didn’t sound like her or sounded natural.

“The older you get, the more comfortable you feel,” Grant added. “This is me, take it or leave it.”

To develop into one’s authentic self, CTPF’s Price Ward encourages others to obtain the training they need.

“Do not be afraid of what anybody has to say,” she said. “Be bold and step out. Don’t be afraid to be who you are, and believe what you believe. Be the best at whatever you choose to do — but also, don’t be consumed yourself. Stay humble.”

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