“Breaking the Wall Street stigma” – 2021’s US edition of the Women in Asset Management Summit

The 2021 Women in Asset Management Summit US Edition explored stigmas about the industry, the D&I work that's still needed, and why education is key to encourage more diverse applications

This year’s Women in Asset Management Summit US Edition held on September 8th, brought together international delegates to share in a day of knowledge sharing and networking.

Women in Asset Management Summit – industry background

With over 50% of investment management respondents in North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific indicating that their company is reprioritising ESG policies, programmes, and products due to COVID-19, ESG in 2021 was a popular talking point during the summit.

Sustainable careers in asset management and addressing current DEI challenges and failures were also covered. With 2021 marking the start of the Biden administration in US politics, how this has impacted the asset management market was also explored.

Ultimately, educating diverse candidates about the industry, including its ability to do good in the world, was agreed to be crucial, where breaking stigmas about the sector was essential.

The first fireside chat of the day was “Assessing the recovery and growth of the Asset Management Industry” and was moderated by Liz Skinner, Special Projects Editor, Investment News. The speakers were
Stacy Swann, CEO & Founding Partner, Climate Finance Advisors, and Elizabeth Kent, Managing Director, Global Public Policy, Blackrock.

ESG isn’t just environmental

The speakers during the Women in Asset Management Summit talked about the impact of COVID-19 on the industry, where Swann said it accelerated an existing movement towards a “sharper sense of risk” among investors and a focus on sustainable returns and “good ESG investing.” She added that from a climate perspective, “people are starting to roll up their sleeves”, but as a “contribution to overall ESG, the S and the G are just as important in terms of accelerating impact.”

Kent agreed that “climate is only one part of ESG” and that investors should “ignore the S and G part at their peril.” She added that the “D&I aspects of S” such as respecting and supporting colleagues are equally as important as climate when thinking about long-term sustainable outcomes for businesses.

Swann added that “a lot of diverse voices” are needed in the sustainability drive and that the next generation of investors wants to see a more diverse workforce in the industry. Kent said the Biden administration shouldn’t be given ” a pat on the back” for their stance on ESG investing, as this was part of a seachange in the sector that started before his presidency began.

Women’s abilities in asset management

Later on during the Women in Asset Management Summit there was a fireside chat entitled “Developing your diverse talent to ensure career development.” The speakers were Catherine Banat, Sustainable Investing Leader and Advisor, Diversity Advocate, and Nancy Tengler, Chief Investment Officer, Laffer Tengler Investments. The session was moderated by Lisa VanArsdale, LPL Advisor & Co-Owner, Lakeview Wealth Management.

Tengler said that research showed that women identify as “savers” and view the investment business as a “game they’re uncomfortable with.” Women, she said, tend to defer to their partner in investments, and this is more prevalent among millennials than baby boomers, despite empirical studies showing that women make better investors than men by being more risk-averse and researching more than men.

She also said that studies show that women excel at multitasking, making them better portfolio managers and investors. Banat agreed that women take less risk as investment managers, yet she disagreed with those that say that women take less risk in their careers. She added that most women were given the pioneer jobs in the sector which involved ESG – where on the career side, they “had no choice but to take more risk.”

Compensation has to be tied to diversity measures, added Banat. Tengler said she has a diverse workforce of female leaders from various ethnic backgrounds because she “hires the best people” rather than setting criteria. She also said she worries that “we’re not engaging with getting women to choose this as a career”, such as educating girls in schools.

Then followed by a presentation session by Heidi Ridley, Co-Founder and CEO, Radiant ESG, entitled “Is this an opportunity for an Asset Management rebrand and culture overhaul?”

Remember diversity of thought

Ridley said the better the culture, the easier it is to retain diverse talent. Yet, without inclusivity, diversity becomes “a tick boxing exercise” without any of the real benefits of having a diverse workforce.

Ridley said that remote working, where the asset management sector has managed to pivot to effectively, has helped firms remove carbon emissions from working operations. She also said seeing colleagues in their own homes and more vulnerable has made people more accepting of others.

She also spoke of “blind spots” among colleagues concerning D&I, including diversity of thought where breaking down “groupthink” is key. She added that leaders should “invite dissent” so other people can bring their voices to the table and help move the needle on diversity and inclusion.

The morning session concluded with a C-suite interview session entitled “Evolving Investor Demand for ESG Strategies”, which was moderated by Liz Skinner. The speaker was Lisa Jones, Head of Americas, President & CEO at Amundi US.

Examining the “social” of ESG and workplace flexibility

Jones said the ESG market has grown quicker in Europe than in the US. In the US context, she says, “it’s more tangible to look at the E, and the G,” such as that investing in a company involved in an environmental disaster or one with governmental issues is a more obvious risk. However, she said that George Floyd’s murder had brought renewed attention to social issues.

She said the pandemic was a “catalyst” for keeping women in the workforce, where flexibility in the work schedule is now being celebrated, such as going to a doctor’s appointment or taking children to a ballet class during the working day. She hoped firms would continue to embrace this flexibility which could help families stay in the sector longer.

The afternoon’s first panel discussion was “Top 5 ESG metrics to focus on to ensure D&I goals are being kept.” The speakers were Sarah Bratton Hughes, Head of Sustainability, North America, Schroders, Emily Chew, Executive Vice President and Chief Responsible Investment Officer, Calvert Research and Management, and Kristin Hull, Founder & CEO, Nia Impact Capital. Kathryn McDonald, Co-Founder, Head of Investments, Radiant ESG moderated.

Disclosing diversity

Bratton Hughes said turnover by “gender and ethnicity” can tell you a lot about a firm. She added that companies should publish their own diversity data “for better or for worse.”

Chew said that moving beyond gender as the prism to assess the diversity of leadership teams was crucial. She also said diversity of age is important, as is culture and skillsets to have a “true diversity of voices at the board level.”

She added that it wasn’t her firm’s preference for “top-down mandated” diversity, as it could end up a tick box exercise. However, she said mandated disclosure of diversity data could be helpful.

A later “Addressing DEI challenges and what needs to be done” panel discussion featured Tania Allerton, Head of UK Advisory Distribution, Vanguard Asset Management Ltd, Melda Mergen, Deputy Global Head of Equities, Columbia Threadneedle, Candy Shaw, Senior Managing Director & Deputy Chief Investment Officer, SLC Management and Deidre Boulware, Vice President of Talent, Development, and Diversity, American Century Investments who moderated the discussion.

Allerton said that better representation for women and ethnic minorities is something her firm has been working on for two decades, where regulation can be used to “accelerate progress.” She said that responsibility for “cultivating difference” lies with all members of staff from the top of the organisation down. She also said that having a D&I professional onboard can be an “increased lens” to ensure changes are being made.

Mergen said “cognitive diversity” to help staff make the best decisions for clients is crucial. However, she said that more diverse representation is needed to get to all those ideas coming to the table. In terms of inclusion, she said that “technical training” should be offered to ensure candidates’ progress within an organisation.

The final session was the “DEI advocates from a leadership perspective”, the session was moderated by DiversityQ’s Editor, Cheryl Cole, and the speakers were Marc Brookman, Chief Executive Officer, North America, Schroders and Maria Dzanis, EVP, Head of Asset Management, EMEA, Chief Executive Officer, Northern Trust Global Investments.

Beating the “Wall Street stigma”

Cole asked the speakers what the “the value of having difference” was in the sector. Dzanis said that “we’re seeing assets being transferred to younger generations that value diversity.”

Brookman added that “we need to look like our clients,” he also said that we “need to beat the Wall Street stigma” and encourage diverse young people to consider a career in the industry through targeting schools and colleges and also hiring students “straight out of high school” to teach them on the job.

He also said firms need to be willing to look at candidates that “might not have the exact work experience” and to make use of peoples’ transferable skills by putting some extra time in to get them up to scratch and “get the numbers up” on representation.

He said that educating people about the industry, including the fact that many firms deploy their capital to do good in the world, will encourage more diverse candidates to apply for roles.

Dzanis said firms that truly embrace diversity show they “are comfortable with having different voices around the table.” This includes, she added, the prospect of people thinking differently and disagreeing with you. She said this also throws up ideas of where challenge sits in a company’s culture where there needs to be a mechanism where these voices are heard, which is inclusion.

You can still register your place at the Women in Asset Management Awards, taking place later today.

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