Vice Chairman, Investment Banking, Barclays
No. 3 on the 2015 Most Powerful Women in Finance list
The upcoming indie film "Equity" turns our expectations about gender and finance on their head. It's a movie about Wall Street, and virtually all of the key players are women.
The lead character is a female investment banker who's taking a technology company public. The film's director, writer and producers are all women. Much of the financing for the project came from women too. It's fitting that Barbara Byrne, an investment banker who herself has expertise in the tech sector, is a key investor.
But don't confuse Byrne, vice chairman of investment banking at Barclays, with the movie's protagonist. "The character is a different kind of woman than I am," Byrne says, noting that she raised a family during her banking career, while the film's character is single with no kids.
Byrne has spent nearly four decades in the banking industry, mostly at Lehman Brothers, where she rose to vice chairman before the firm's collapse in 2008. In recent years she has found atypical ways to support the careers of women. Before her foray into the film business, she launched the Barclays "Women in Leadership" index, which allows investors to back companies that either have female chief executives or boards that are at least 25% female.
"Equity," a drama that was filmed over the summer in New York and Philadelphia, will star Anna Gunn, who played the wife of drug kingpin Walter White on the hit TV drama "Breaking Bad." It is expected to be released next year.
A short blurb from the film's production company refers to Gunn's character navigating scandals and sexism as the company's IPO approaches. It also promises that the movie will spark conversations about the issue of unequal pay for women, and about the current image of Wall Street.
In the wake of movies that portrayed a male-dominated, often misogynistic culture — see "The Wolf of Wall Street," for example — "Equity" could mark a turning point in Hollywood's portrayal of the financial sector.
Another film that's currently in development, "Opening Belle," is slated to star Reese Witherspoon as an investment banker who's juggling family life and work responsibilities in the run-up to the financial crisis. Byrne has no involvement in that movie, which will reportedly be a comedy.
Byrne says that she was drawn to "Equity" because it is by women and about women. She invested an undisclosed amount in the film earlier this year.
"I've always believed in backing women," she says. "I had a lot of faith in these young women who were actresses and directors."
At the same time, Byrne was aware that the film's producers might have a hard time getting their movie made. She notes that Hollywood, much like the banking industry, doesn't have a lot of women in senior leadership positions.
Byrne's interest in the project only grew stronger when a skeptic warned her that the filmmakers would not be able to raise the funds they needed.
"I just started laughing. 'Oh, really? Sure they will,'" she recalls.
"I thought, 'Well, let's tell the story. Let's back the story that couldn't be told.'"
Byrne's work on the film went beyond her financial backing. She also provided feedback on how to make the movie resemble the day-to-day reality of Wall Street life as closely as possible.
And she spent time with Gunn, offering thoughts about the lead character and how she might behave in certain situations.
"She's a fictional character. But what about her rings true and doesn't ring true?" Byrne says.