Why Representation Matters: A Conversation with Invesco’s Stephanie J. Larosiliere
Stephanie J. Larosiliere has a career she enjoys in an industry she didn't even know existed when she was a kid—and the resilience to stay in that industry, even when she looks around and doesn't see many people like her in her field.
She has her grandfather to thank for that.
"My family has greatly affected who I am today, and my journey," says Stephanie, whose grandfather emigrated from Haiti to Michigan in the early 1950s to pursue a degree in agronomy, where he was the only Black man in his program. "Nothing I could go through today could come close… this helps to drive me to fight to be represented in spaces where I may not be welcome."
We sat down with Stephanie, whose long career in financial services has led to a role as the Head of Municipal Business Strategies & Development at investment firm Invesco, to talk about her personal and professional journey. Read on to hear why she decided to pursue a career in financial services, and her top piece of advice for other people who aspire to find success in a field they have to navigate on their own.
Paving the Way
Faine Jean-Baptiste, Stephanie's maternal grandfather, and his class at Michigan State University, then Michigan State College, where he ultimately received his degree in Agronomy from what was widely regarded as the best such program in the U.S. Photo circa 1953.
Stephanie's parents were born in Haiti. She is a first-generation American, but thanks to her grandfather, her family already had a history of attending American institutions of higher education. When it came time to decide what she was going to do with her life, Stephanie says she felt she had "no choice but to continue the legacy."
"Being Haitian I've always known that I come from a brave and bold people that established the world's first independent Black republic. Haiti has a very rich history; that history gives us a sense of ownership over our being, over who we are, and that has resonated in the way that Haitian people engage in the world."
Stephanie sees that ownership in her grandfather's story. He came to the U.S. when he was 45, a married father of seven daughters, and was the only Black man in his class. "There was somewhat of an audacity on his part to think that he could leave Haiti and go to Michigan. And why not?" says Stephanie.
Why not, indeed?
Stephanie asked that same question of herself when it came time to plan her own career.
No one in Stephanie's family knew anything about financial services. She only found out about the industry through the cooperative learning program offered by her New York City high school.
Through the program, she was matched with a company during the summer between her junior and senior years of high school. Stephanie was matched with JP Morgan, and stayed working with them through her senior year, switching off weeks at work and at school.
"As a 16-year-old, I knew you went to the bank to deposit money, and that's it. I'd heard of trading, but I didn't quite connect how that even worked," says Stephanie. She soaked in everything she learned on the job—especially when it came to the incoming class of post-college analysts.
"These were people who were five years older than me. They were not so old that it felt like a far reach. I remember looking at them and saying, 'I want to do what they do,'" says Stephanie.
So she kept working for it. When her manager at JP Morgan asked her to stay on during college, Stephanie withdrew from the out-of-state school she was planning to go to and enrolled in a NYC program so that she could stay employed during undergrad.
"Now that I think about it, I have no idea how I did it, but I worked 40 hours a week and I had a full-time schedule at school," says Stephanie, laughing. "I just ran around the city. I would take early morning classes, go to work, take evening classes, get home at 10, do my homework, and get up and do it again. It's the benefit of being 20 years old. And I would do this all in heels, which is insane to me."
Stephanie's hard work paid off. After finishing school, she was offered a full-time role at the bank. She was proud of what she'd accomplished, but it didn't come easily, and entering the world of full-time work in financial services was a whole new challenge.
"Not only was I a woman, a Black woman, but I was also the child of immigrants," says Stephanie. "I always feel like I don't belong here. I happened to have broken my way through to get here, but I'm not the person that is supposed to be here, based on how this normally goes."
Two things have helped Stephanie deal with those feelings. The first is remembering her grandfather's story.
"Whenever I feel like an outsider, or when someone treats me with less respect than I think they should because of the color of my skin, I think back to him and his bold choice to educate himself in a country that made it clear he was not welcome," she says. "He was so brave to do this and it makes me wonder how much he dealt with as the only Black man in his class. Nothing I could go through today could come close… this helps to drive me to fight to be represented in spaces where I may not be welcome."
The second thing is leaving environments she felt she couldn't change.
Finding a Place to Grow
Stephanie stayed at JP Morgan, and later JPMorgan Chase, for six years. She struggled with figuring out how to take up space, especially when an early manager told her that she was too outspoken. But Stephanie realized that was more of a comment on the manager's leadership skills than it was something for her to deal with. "I have always made it clear that I had a voice. I have value to add. I've made it my business not to let people quiet me and silence me in rooms where I feel like I should be speaking," she says.
When Stephanie realized risk management wasn't for her, she decided to switch to a smaller firm. That was "less of a rat race," she says, but also felt like a fast-path to "a cushy life and a mediocre existence." So she went back into big banks for a job at Goldman.
"My time there molded me and shaped me a lot into the person I am today," she says. But her time there wasn't without its challenges: "There was a hierarchy in place. You know, 'you don't speak before your boss' kind of thing. Although I loved the company, my career path felt unclear, and I knew it was time for a change."
When an opportunity at Invesco came up, Stephanie took it. She hadn't heard of the standalone asset manager, but was interested in the opportunity, particularly in the chance to do something completely new to her: be client-facing. When her boss's role, which required plenty of client interaction, opened up, Stephanie decided to go for it. "I kept thinking that if I have to report to someone new, I'm always going to know that I could've been that person, but because I let fear stand in the way, I'm not," she says. So she overcame that fear and now is both a senior client portfolio manager and head of a team of product managers and client portfolio managers covering the Municipal Bond business.
And she gets to do it in an environment that really works for her.
"Invesco has been extremely supportive of me, and of women in general, having a voice. That's not something that I necessarily had in my previous roles," says Stephanie. "At Invesco, I feel like I have much more ownership of my narrative than I ever had, and that has allowed me to progress in the way that I have in the last decade."
Looking back on her career, Stephanie has one piece of advice for others who are trying to build a career that fulfills them, especially in places they don't feel welcome: you don't have to have all the answers.
"People assume that I have a very specific vision," she says. "A lot of the time, I just know what I don't want. And by knowing what I don't want, it allows me to see the things that I want. So those things kind of shine a little bit brighter, and help to attract me to the things that make sense for me."