Despite strides in the right direction, asset management remains an overwhelmingly male-dominated industry. While the number of females in leadership roles has nudged upwards, women still represent less than 12% of portfolio managers.
1. Where brave women go, others will follow
Warren Buffett, Sir John Templeton, Peter Lynch, Mark Mobius – just some of the household names in the investing world. Only Cathie Wood, CEO of ARK Investment Management, has made it into the otherwise male pantheon of iconic investors – and that may have more to do with bitcoin and Tesla exposure than her investment philosophy. But her presence at the top table will inspire young women around the world – and show them this is a club they can join.
The bottom line is we need more women managing portfolios and in senior positions – as, in my experience, there is no more powerful demonstrative recruitment tool than women in leadership roles. Ultimately, having women in senior positions will attract other women.
But what is also crucial is that this process is not about promoting all women – it is about expanding the overall talent pool, so there is a bigger universe of female candidates from which to draw. And when women manage to occupy these senior roles, we need to ensure they are mentored and champion their development, while ensuring the women beneath them get the opportunities, if deserved. We need more beacons for women that signal this is the right career for them.
2. Flexibility can support gender democracy
COVID-19 disrupted every industry on the planet. For asset management, disruption has had profound implications. One major way the pandemic positively impacted asset management is around gender democracy.
The introduction of videoconferencing has had an astonishing levelling effect. All of a sudden, all employees had an equal square and platform. Many people are not aware of the gender power structures that underlie meetings and interactions within the asset management space.
This is improving, but the phenomenon can often manifest itself in exclusionary practises. For example, speaking in more overtly male-orientated language – such as men gathering to discuss football games – can alienate women from relationship building and industry integration if adopted as corporate culture.
Zoom showed us how an objective setting can give more people their voice – not just women, but others that feel alienated by power dynamics within asset management. The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of hybrid remote working. This flexibility will help women navigate challenging periods, such as child-bearing years, where losing track of career development becomes a real issue.
3. Support advocacy groups
I firmly believe asset management is one of the best careers for women – particularly if they have a growth mindset and like a challenge. It never gets old and never gets easy. I wish women knew more about asset management and how they could cultivate a career in the industry. This is where asset managers and advocacy groups have a big role to play.
Organisations such as ‘Girls Who Invest’ and ‘100 Women in Finance’ are on a mission to enable women to explore the industry and champion internships. It is all about teaching them the possibilities and giving them development opportunities.
I previously volunteered with Cornell University’s ‘Women in Investing’ programme – which hosts mentoring and coaching conferences. This is a platform where women work collaboratively in teams on investment ideas, learn to pitch and deliver compelling investment cases. This acts as a great funnel for bringing women into the industry.
The responsibility lies with me and other women in senior positions, as well as our male allies who have positions as portfolio managers or on company boards, to champion these young women. We have two employee resource groups within our diversity, equity and inclusion initiative at Polen Capital. One of these groups WISE (Women Inspiring Success and Engagement) is completely dedicated to women. As co-chair of WISE, I have the opportunity to reach out to every female in our organisation.
4. Overcome the awareness gap
Women are not as empowered as they should be in finance. I think this goes all the way back to childhood, where young girls are not passed down the same level of financial literacy as boys. But there has also been a notable failure to involve women in the STEM subjects. What we are seeing is women entering business schools, but then not seeking careers in asset management.
A lack of financial initiation at an early age can also hinder women during interviews when pitted against men that have grown up with investment terminology and philosophies. This is something we need to factor into the hiring process.
We also need to understand that the Gen-Z generation are technology natives, and investing is only just beginning to capture their imagination through investment apps and trailblazers such as Cathie Wood. This is not gender specific, but growth in overall industry awareness is building a level of comfort with investment language – and this will help bring women into the industry.
5. Make investment relatable
Men and women share a lot in common, but they do often tend to have different ambitions and characteristics. Women will feel more compelled to join the industry if it appears as a more goal-oriented environment and presents a long-term and sustainable path to career development.
Women tend to be motivated by longer-term projects such as investing early for children’s education or philanthropic endeavours. Brokers and advisers must also play their part to enable women to feel more comfortable with investments – as this will trickle down to family and friends. They need to build a better level of trust with women and understand women’s journeys, whether they are single, mothers, divorced or widows. We need to move away from a situation where everything is viewed from the male experience – which has become the de facto neutral perspective.
Ultimately, there is a growing acceptance that diverse investment teams deliver better results – both women and men need to understand that a collaborative culture will deliver the best outcome to clients and corporate culture. Thus, both men and women need to ally and open the doors to more female talent.