Michelle Connell of Portia Capital Management: “Women must learn to take calculated risks”

…Women must learn to take calculated risks. The risk of being a business owner is worth it. Average, self-employed individuals are four times wealthier than those employed by others. As part of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the gender wage gap” I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Connell, […]

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…Women must learn to take calculated risks. The risk of being a business owner is worth it. Average, self-employed individuals are four times wealthier than those employed by others.


As part of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the gender wage gap” I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Connell, CFA.

Michelle owns Portia Capital Management, LLC, a registered Investment Advisory firm specializing in the investments of foundations, charities and high net worth individuals. Portia Capital Management is the only investment management firm in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to be owned by a female CFA charter holder — an important resource in a world where 60% of women retire in poverty. Michelle’s expertise is backed by more than 20 years of financial experience in management positions with large investment boutiques and private banks.

She is also one of the highest-rated finance professors in the U.S, currently serving as an adjunct professor at The University of Texas at Dallas. She works with her students and clients to understand the value of crafting a portfolio that includes conventional products as well as alternative assets, including private equity, private debt and real estate, and allows investment portfolio creation with greater downside protection and more consistent returns. In addition to her work with students and clients, Michelle teaches the CFA Review through the DFW CFA Society — The Chartered Financial Analyst Designation is considered the highest designation in the investment management profession.

She also founded “Portia’s Children,” though which up to 10 percent of her company’s profits are donated to the North Texas Charity, Educational First Steps.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?

I grew up with an academic father. Every weekend, I used to accompany him to work on his dissertation at the University of Washington. Before I was 12, he became the Dean of a Business School. I always assumed that college was in the cards for me. I was wrong-at least in the short term.

My parents divorced a short time after my father became Dean. My mother, who never graduated high school, could not hold a job. At the age of 15, I was put to work at an inner-city McDonald’s working 40 hours a week. It became my responsibility to help support my mother, sister and me. Frequently, we did not have much to eat at the end of the month. I quickly realized if I was going to make a decent living, I would have to acquire an education. I narrowed my educational focus to accounting and finance. I had seen what a lack of financial literacy had cost my mother and I didn’t want to suffer the same fate.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

In the mid 1990’s, the stock market was on tear-especially technology stocks. Starting from December 13, 1994, the Dow, S&P 500, and Russell 1000 tripled within five years, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq grew five-fold.

This was a period of many private companies going public with their stock and my firm participated in several of the IPOs. If losses were to be avoided, IPO’s required an extreme level of analysis.

I was an analyst and portfolio manager for a firm that managed small and micro-cap mutual funds during this period. I had the privilege of meeting Steve Jobs when he took Pixar public in November of 1995. I didn’t get eaten alive like the analysts that were “winging it.” I had over-prepared for the question-and-answer section of the due diligence presentation. Jobs did NOT tolerate fools-even if you were providing funding for his company!

The lesson: As a female, ALWAYS over-prepare for business everywhere-especially Wall Street!

Can you share a story about the funniest or most interesting mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

My first job out of Graduate School was being the CFO for a Natural History Museum in San Diego. My job duties also included overseeing the exhibits, the retail area and the physical structure.

While managing the operations and investments of the museum was challenging enough, maintaining the physical structure was a full-time job. The building, along with the rest in Balboa Park, was built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. The buildings were built to last for the exhibitions and not permanency.

Things were always going wrong with the building and grounds.

One day, the first floor of the museum started to flood. The flood proceeded to go on for 30 minutes and then an hour. During this period of time, the exhibits stated to flood, and employees did their best to remove expensive and irreplaceable artifacts.

No one, not even the maintenance staff, could figure how to turn off the water that was pouring into the building. And this wasn’t your “run of the mill” flood; the museum’s water supply was connected to every building within a park that covered 1,200 acres! Thus, the flow of water was extremely large.

Finally, one of the maintenance people called the city of San Diego and found out that there was a master key that controlled the spigots for every park building. The key was located, and the flooding stopped. However, there was significant damage to the museum.

The moral of the story: Think about everything that could potentially go wrong regarding the areas under your expertise or management. Determine possible solutions before a crisis occurs.

Ok let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. Even in 2020, women still earn about 81 cents for every dollar a man makes. Can you explain three of the main factors that are causing the wage gap?

First, women are the caregivers in society. Approximately 66 percent of the caregivers in the United States are women. (This may be even higher due to the pandemic.). This fact results in the following (NOTE: THE FOLLOWING STATS ARE FROM 2013. THE CURRENT NUMBERS ARE NO DOUBT HIGHER.)

-42% of women have reduced their work hours at some point due to caregiver responsibilities

-39% of women have taken off a significant amount of time for this reason.

-29% have quit a job

-13% have turned down promotions.

-Due to caregiving, women lose on average 324,044 dollars in wages, pension and social security (Source: “Care giving in the U.S.,” National Alliance for Care giving in collaboration with AARP, 2009 “The MetLife Study of Working Caregivers and Employer Health Care Costs,” MetLife 2010)

Second, women comprise the highest percentage of the lowest wage-earners in the country. The following statistics and examples were cited in The National Women’s’ Law Center’s “When Hard Work is Not Enough” (2018):

Across the United States, more than 22.2 million people work in the 40 lowest paying jobs — and women make up nearly two-thirds of this workforce. (Less than 12 dollars/hour)

More than two-thirds of mothers in the low-paid workforce (69 percent) are the sole or primary breadwinners for their families.

Nearly six in 10 mothers in low-paid jobs (57 percent) fell near or below the poverty line in 2018, compared to 48 percent of fathers in the low-paid workforce, 27 percent of mothers in the workforce overall, and 22 percent of fathers in the workforce overall.

Examples of the lowest paid jobs and the percentage of women who hold them:

  • #2 (lowest paid). Combined Food Preparation and Serving Workers, (62% Women)
  • #5(lowest paid). Hosts and Hostesses, Restaurant, Lounge, and Coffee Shop (82% Women)
  • As a former boss (female) liked to say, “Only the poor would work so hard for so little.”

Third, women constantly discount their economic worth. Even the most educated and privileged:

  • According to an internal Hewlett Packard study:
  • Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.
  • 22% of women indicated their top reason was, “I didn’t think they would hire me since I didn’t meet the qualifications and I didn’t want to put myself out there if I was likely to fail.”
  • LinkedIn’s study (no date):
  • “Less likely to apply for positions that were more senior than their current position (what LinkedIn call ‘stretch roles’)”
  • “More likely to be hired when compared to men applying for the same position as them”
  • Conclusion: More often than not, women will not apply for a role senior to their current position. Instead, they will apply for an equivalent position-and get it. (Another point for consideration: Maybe women get hired more often when they apply for the same position because they’re easier to handle than their male peers.)

Can you share with our readers what your work is doing to help close the gender wage gap?

I have taught the CFA Review in Texas for the last ten years.

As of last year, I was the only female to be teaching this review in my state.

The CFA charter it’s considered the platinum standard on Wall Street. The suggested level of study for each of the three exams is 300 hours. The odds of passing all three levels sequentially are less than 12%. In addition to the three exams, four years of relevant work experience is required.

I not only take the time to teach the exam, but I also mentor students. It’s important that they see a female role model.

Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the gender wage gap. Please share a story or example for each.

One, child and elder care needs to become less of a hurdle for women:

  • Help families pay for this essential service
  • Build more accredited centers so that the quality of care is high and acceptable.
  • Employers need to work with women and other caregivers and provide flexible schedules. Also, caregivers shouldn’t be penalized or held back in their careers.

Two, women need to be lifted out of low-paying jobs. The best means of accomplishing this is by providing advanced education to more women. This doesn’t necessarily mean college. Train women with bankable and desired skills.

Third, instilling confidence and self-esteem to women (and minorities) is critical. This must occur in the schools, businesses, and society. However, it really begins at home.

Fourth, women should take hold of their own destiny by starting more businesses. Otherwise, they risk leaving their fortunes and futures in the hands of employers.

Fifth Women must learn to take calculated risks. The risk of being a business owner is worth it. Average, self-employed individuals are four times wealthier than those employed by others.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-).

Require every child in grade school to adopt a cause or charity. The requirements of adoption would be to report on the status of the charity throughout a school year or more. Have the child visit the organization or have conversations via Zoom. If possible, organized fundraising could be done at the school level and then proceeds divided among the students’ causes.

The result would be a more empathic and charitable society. Perhaps, less people would be left behind if more pitched in to lift others up.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

In 1984, the villain of the movie, Amadeus, is Antonio Salieri. At the end of the movie, he confesses to Mozart’s killing. Salieri then announces to the priest that he is “the patron saint of mediocrity.” (He was comparing his talents and music to Mozart’s.)

I am determined that no one calls my work or life mediocre.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would like to meet either Maria Bartiomo or Liz Clayman. Both women have been financial reporters since the 1990’s and have serious professional “chops.” They are good journalists and do their best to showcase minority and women experts.

This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.

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