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Commemorating International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month with Irvine Managing Director of Investments Melissa Lopez

The Irvine Foundation is fortunate to have talented staff with diverse backgrounds and life experiences, and we want to introduce some of our colleagues to you. We spoke with Managing Director of Investments Melissa Lopez about her beginnings in philanthropy, her “women’s agenda” and the inequities in the finance industry, and the importance of self-examination in Irvine’s pursuit of advancing equity. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Tell us about yourself. 

I joined Irvine in 2015 and am a Managing Director of Investments. My professional experience includes investment banking, equity research, and endowment management, and I identify as a distance runner, proud aunt, Texan, and a social introvert. 

How did you get into philanthropy? 

I entered philanthropy after business school. I joined the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in 2006 to support its endowment. I was thrilled, as I greatly admired Gordon’s professional accomplishments and his contributions to the semiconductor industry, an area of equity research I previously covered.

However, I had a limited understanding of philanthropy. With time, I developed a deep appreciation for the arduous task of effective grantmaking in philanthropy, including the complexities in creating value, enabling justice, and balancing the ability to measure impact without attaching strings that hamper the grantee. 

What does International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month mean to you? 

One word: resolve. My finance career began in the shadow of the “Boom Boom Room” lawsuit and settlement on Wall Street. It was an explosive lawsuit that put forth allegations of unequal pay, denial of promotions, and sexual harassment of women in finance. The defendant, Smith Barney, settled, and the broader industry incurred a black eye.  

However, logical reforms did not occur, as entrenched systems circumvented real change. So, I began my career learning to navigate spaces made by men for men – seeking to conform my point of view to the majority, doubting myself instead of my male colleagues, and striving for acceptance versus excellence. What a shame.  

So, what does this day or month mean to me? It is a time to replenish “resolve” to celebrate the capabilities, accomplishments, and inspiration of women 365 days and 12 months a year! This year, I am not “celebrating” but instead “commemorating” International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade being overturned.  

My personal “women’s agenda” right now includes: caregiving with volition not societal expectation; utilizing my seniority and influence to advocate for rising female talent; developing the emotional discipline to explain experiences of sexism to curious minds but not bear the burden of others’ educations; learning and talking about menopause now to ease the “silent suffering” that women endure; surrounding myself with dynamic and determined female friends and colleagues that feed my flame; supporting organizations and movements that support men’s ability to express emotion; and finding ways to more effectively partner and empower men’s roles on the path towards women’s equality.   

The real celebration, however, will be when International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month are no more – when women’s equality is inviolable. I look forward to a day when women’s equality is regarded as so pervasive and entrenched that the topic is perceived as downright boring. I hope my message is read as one of fierce determination; that is what I feel most.    

Note: Melissa wants to clarify that the response above is in context of her experience in the finance industry and not intended to minimize the critically important milestones achieved each year globally toward women’s equality.  

What is Irvine’s role in advancing equity? 

I believe Irvine’s role in advancing equity is critical self-examination. We have adopted the commitment to “operationalize racial equity,” which I interpret to include gender equity too. I believe we must apply a critical lens to ourselves, our shortcomings, blind spots, and past offenses before asking more of external parties.  

For Irvine’s investment team, I think this includes examining our team composition, dynamics, and inner workings. It is important to understand whether our norms are inclusive, if our performance evaluations and/or job description are racially- or gender-biased, and if our diligence processes are self-limiting or biased toward majority talent pools. These are deceptively “tidy” items that disguise a complex underbelly of entrenched systems and human psyche/self-preservation that can obstruct the progress of even the well-intentioned.  

What is required to move towards equity then? I believe it requires a mindset shift away from zero-sum to positive-sum thinking, a willingness to engage with “what could be” versus an allegiance to the proven past, and a capacity to lean into grace – for ourselves and others – with the overarching commitment to do better as we know better. And that is a lovely note to end on because grace is, arguably, the most underestimated trait of the leadership trifecta: grit, gravitas and grace…yet which I, daresay, women hold in spades.