Amy Y Zhang on why asset management is the “ultimate meritocracy”

Zhang has dealt with sexism, but maintains hard work will help female asset managers thrive

While the business world is waking up to social injustice, including racial and gender inequity, asset management is one sector where there is still more work to do.

McKinsey’s research from 2020 found that women are vastly underrepresented in decision-making roles and represent only 19% of C-level and president roles at US-based asset management firms.

Even worse, around 59% of US asset managers do not set diversity and inclusion-specific targets for their leadership positions, meaning little executive action is being taken to change the status quo.

While statistics around gender inequality in asset management are plentiful, Amy Y. Zhang, Executive Vice President, Portfolio Manager at Alger, wants to shift the narrative by telling readers about her positive experience, giving hope to women thinking about careers in the sector.

DiversityQ caught up with Zhang following her Active US Equity Manager award win at the Women in Asset Management Awards USA this autumn. Here she speaks about her role as a female mentor in the sector, why Alger celebrates cognitive diversity, the power of empathetic leadership, and much more.

Since you started in asset management, what have been the biggest shifts in female representation?

The biggest shifts I have witnessed have been the entrance of young women into the industry and the progression of more seasoned female professionals to executive positions. There are more women now in asset management than there were when I got started in the industry. I still believe there is room for even more expansive female inclusion,
but I think we are on our way to greater gender diversity.

Is sexism something you’ve ever had to deal with? If so, how did you deal with it?

Unfortunately, I have dealt with sexism from time to time. I imagine my peers have as well. I have personally experienced a double standard in the way some analysts treat male portfolio managers versus female portfolio managers. Quite simply, it’s disrespectful to other women and me.

As a leader, is empathy a trait that you think is crucial to modern-day leadership and diverse and inclusive workplaces?

Yes, absolutely. Empathy is a mark of a good leader because, at the end of the day, people want to be respected and acknowledged for what makes them unique members of a team. Diversity is very important in creating a strong team capable of making nuanced decisions. Leading with empathy is important in facilitating a healthy environment that encourages everyone to contribute and feel fulfilled and valued.

How do diverse teams make better business decisions? What is the evidence of this?

I am a big believer in cognitive diversity. We celebrate all forms of diversity at Alger because we believe in challenging the status quo, especially as investors who are always on the hunt for a differentiated view. We have the best of both worlds with both dedicated teams and central research. We work together with teams of analysts to make our investment decisions.

The ability to bring different viewpoints to the table has helped me make better final decisions as a portfolio manager. Our team comprises individuals of different genders, races, religions, and educational backgrounds, making for richer analysis and better investment capabilities.

In what ways is Alger striving to become a more diverse and equitable business?

One of the most striking statistics that I can share is our portfolio management team is more than 50% minorities or women. That’s quite remarkable in this industry, and this is largely attributable to our CEO/CIO Dan Chung’s leadership. He fosters a strong culture of supporting women and diversity within our organisation.

As a woman of colour, what has your experience been like as you’ve moved up through the industry?

I feel fortunate because asset management is the ultimate meritocracy. Our investment performance speaks for itself.

Does the sector have to work harder to be a more welcoming place for women?

Investing is still largely a male-dominated space, so we must work hard to bring women into this industry and make them feel welcome. Representation is important in showing other women that they are not alone in their careers, which is why I am a proponent of participating in industry events and networking opportunities. I hope to encourage more women to do the same. However, employers that support female talent, like Alger, are absolutely critical in providing women with progressive careers in the industry.

Have you benefitted from mentorship in your career? If so, what was helpful about it?

I believe two pivotal moments in my life helped me in my career. The first was my childhood. Growing up in China, I was able to look up to my grandmother, a scientist in China long before women held such jobs, and my mother, who was an engineer. They instilled a powerful message that women could do anything. The second moment was when I first entered the asset management industry. I was fortunate to have female leaders in the industry to look up to as a young analyst.

What do you love most about working in the industry, and how does Alger make you feel you belong?

I say to anyone interested in a career in investing: being a portfolio manager is awesome because if you are determined to work hard and are passionate about what you do, you will thrive. My career as a portfolio manager allows me to dig deep into businesses and industries that are changing the way we live, work, and play, which means there is never a dull moment. I am grateful to have the opportunity to build a small and mid-cap franchise at Alger. I am very passionate about uncovering companies that I believe have huge potential. One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is mentoring our analysts, many of whom are women, and training them to invest the Alger way.

How did it feel to win the Active US Equity Manager award at the Women in Asset Management Awards USA? What do you hope winning this award will achieve?

Winning this award is an incredible honour and validates so many years of hard work carving a space for myself in an industry full of so many talented individuals, many of whom are women who have also worked very hard! Paying it forward is my greatest joy. I intend to continue to mentor other women in this field in the hopes that more of us can celebrate these achievements together.

To find out what was discussed at the associated 2021 Women in Asset Management Summit USA, click here.

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