Investing is about logic and curiosity – not academic background

Alger welcomes lawyers, doctors, and humanities majors on their teams for diversity of thought

Women in asset management is a growing conversation, but some regions are doing better than others on investing in representation. While regions in Asia including China, Singapore, and South Korea are seeing women account for around 20% of fund managers, in the United States, it is closer to the global average of 14%.

While the US has some catching up to do on numbers, how does this encourage women from diverse racial and academic backgrounds to feel there is a path for them in the sector?

Ankur Crawford, Executive Vice President, Portfolio Manager, Alger, wants to assure women that there is a future in asset management for them. She speaks to DiversityQ about how hybrid working can empower mothers in the sector, why a successful career is down to personal traits and not academic background, and the diversity of female talent in her own workplace.

What has 2021 been like for women in the asset management space? Has remote working empowered some female groups such as working mothers?

I think COVID-19 has forced us to think again about balance, for men and women alike. During the pandemic, my two-year-old son would come and fall asleep on my chair behind me as I worked. I cherished those moments – just for that hour it felt like you could ‘have it all.’ Remote working has given many parents the opportunity to be present at home, but also be highly productive. A new hybrid structure that most firms are adopting will perhaps allow all of us to maintain a bit of that going forward.

You come from a STEM background. For women looking to enter the asset management sector today, is it easy to pivot from non-related sectors and academic disciplines?

Investing is about logic, common sense, curiosity, and a passion to succeed. None of those characteristics is tied to any one educational background. Success in asset management is a function of the individual.

At Alger, we embrace individuals from many different backgrounds; we have lawyers, doctors, and humanities majors on our team because their perspectives are different. Their contributions enable each of us to broaden our own thinking and also make better investments.

How important is allyship from male colleagues to help women progress in the sector?

Until there are enough women in senior roles, we are going to have to foster an awareness of unrecognised biases. Verbal cues and actions can discourage women, especially younger women. Advancing women in every industry must be a shared goal at all levels of an organisation. I have been fortunate to have a CEO who has been my mentor for 17 years and who is truly gender blind. In my experience at Alger, asset management is a merit-driven business; and for us, merit has no gender.

Are clients really becoming more interested in the diversity of the teams who are managing their investments?

Yes, clients are interested in speaking with diverse managers and teams and in my opinion, that demand will only increase. If you have a diverse team, you have the opportunity for better outcomes. A diverse team enables differentiated discussions and perspectives, which help shape and shift thinking. They enable everyone around the table to share insights through a different lens and broaden peoples’ views.

What workplace support could you have benefitted from in your career progression journey?

After the birth of my third child, I wished I had direct lines of communication with other women in my position to help me navigate my return to work. The stress of having a family and a demanding career was taxing and isolating at times. Recognising the absence of a female network, with Alger’s support, I started a women’s group called ‘grit, wit and grace’ that brings together senior women in finance to support one another on our individual journeys.

While gender equity is a growing topic in asset management, how much attention is being paid to the intersection of race and gender and recruiting and retaining more women of colour?

At Alger, 25% of our portfolio managers are women (the industry average is 12%), of which we are all minorities. I support our female associates and analysts and share my own experiences with them, so they understand that they are not alone.

It can be intimidating to be the only female asking questions in a group of 20 males, but it can also be a source of pride. Hopefully, as more firms and individuals support women, we will fill the funnel of talented women in the industry. Filling that funnel will take some time as some of the gender inequities and biases are fostered from a young age, so as the younger generation of all ethnicities and backgrounds sees more role models in finance, it should become a less formidable path.

Does it take a particular personality type to succeed in your sector?

The characteristics needed to succeed are a willingness to learn, a passion to win, and a natural curiosity. But these characteristics aren’t necessarily aligned with a particular personality type. An array of different personalities and backgrounds at my organisation make for robust debates about investments. We challenge each other to think differently.

What are the biggest falsehoods about working in the sector that you’d like to clear up?

Finance and asset management are often perceived to be like ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ but they are a far cry from that. This job is about finding amazing businesses, investing alongside them, and being part of their success for our clients. It may be the most intellectually stimulating job there is, in my opinion.

My advice to anyone, including all young women, is to find your voice and find your passion. If this business is your passion, then nothing can stop you from your own success.

Have you ever experienced discrimination due to your race, ethnicity, and/or gender?

Women deal with biases all the time but we have often developed thicker skin as a result and we learn how to deal with it. I’m sure you could ask any woman and each of us will be able to point to many examples; however, it is more important that we focus on the solution.

I believe it is our generation’s responsibility to correct these biases by speaking up, raising awareness, and holding ourselves and those around us accountable. I hope that for the next generation the focus won’t be on race and gender but purely on what each of us brings to the table as investors.

In what ways can female leadership improve financial performance, workforce wellbeing, and productivity in asset management firms?

Greater representation of women in leadership roles cultivates more inclusive cultures, in which everyone has a voice and where all ideas are heard. That should result in everyone—regardless of company or industry or role—having better decision-making and outcomes.

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