Women in Asset Management: proving gender is no longer relevant

For our Women in Asset Management Awards we spoke with two inspirational women about how to succeed, while supporting other women in the industry.

Kicking off the series Carmen Wellso, Head of Research and Portfolio Manager at Janus Henderson Investors. Carmen is one of the nominees for the category: Global Equities in the Women in 2019 Asset Management Awards New York.

Carmen, tell us about your experience in Asset Management and how you got to where you are today?

I have always been focused on international and global businesses, given that my parents are not American and we travelled a lot as I was growing up.

I am fascinated by other cultures, their traditions and values. I started in the development sector and joined the Peace Corps in Africa. When I returned to the United States, I pivoted away from development work and focused on private business.

My first job was in New York, investing in debt and emerging markets. This was during the late ’80s when there was a lot of turmoil in emerging markets. I was able to work with a handful of countries that were going through debt restructuring and had an opportunity to move to Hong Kong, where I ended up working for one of the top equity firms. I spent the next six years in Hong Kong, managing a team of nine analysts, all of different ethnicities, in nine different countries.

With so much time spent abroad, to be closer to family, my husband and I decided to move back to the U.S. and landed in San Francisco global equity category where I assumed a sector specialist sales position. After some time, we decided we wanted to start a family. We had difficulty conceiving, so I ended up leaving the industry for a couple of years to take the necessary steps to improve our chances.

It was fortunate that when I wanted to come back to the industry, one of my prior clients hired me to work with a hedge fund, where I was promoted to partner within a year. I worked there for a while, before moving to Janus Henderson. One reason I came to Janus Henderson was the collegial culture here. Increasingly over all my experience, I have learned that culture is so important and it is something to focus on keeping and enhancing during my career here.

After a few years based in Denver, CO, where the majority of the firm’s U.S. investment team is located, I offered to move to Singapore to help establish investment operations for the firm. After two-and-a-half successful years I was asked to return to Denver to take the Head of Research position. Currently, I continue to manage money and I am the head of the portfolio oversight team on the Janus Henderson Global Research capability.

What challenges have you faced in your career because you were a woman?

Only once was I even aware of overt discrimination. My husband had lost his job when we were in Hong Kong and I went to my boss to tell him that we could not live on my salary alone. My boss responded by saying, “Well, we have been paying you a wife’s salary.” I was shocked, not knowing this could even be a ‘thing.’ I can honestly say that I have been lucky enough to work for amazing, supportive people, both men and women.

About two years ago, one of the guys that reported to me told me something along the lines of, “I don’t really think of you as a woman.” To me, that was the ultimate compliment because it showed me that I was a peer and my gender was irrelevant. I’ve never had any problems with harassment.

One of the few challenges as a woman has been my desire to have and be committed to family, while simultaneously continue investing in my career. As I mentioned previously, I had to stop working to have children. I took that risk knowing that I might have a hard time getting a job upon my return. In trying to balance raising children with work, there is a constant question in the back of my mind, which is “Am I somehow hurting my kids by working? Or are they not getting enough attention?” I have always had supportive bosses that have stepped up when I needed their assistance, and have been so grateful for that support.


What does the Asset Management industry need to do to encourage women to join the asset management industry?

I think to bring more women into asset management, we have to start at the high school age. We need to show them that even though they may have a hard finance class, they can get through that. That is just one skill you need for a job in this industry, not the only skill. I have recently signed up to start coaching kids in local high schools for the DECA programme, a programme that pushes students to start thinking about what you do in business. The students are thrown hypothetical issues that they have to find solutions for. Having more women instead of men coaching these teams provides students with a role model that a lot of them do not currently have.

We need to make sure we always have more women and diversity in business. I have a rule here that in our finals for any position, we must have a minority in the mix. People of colour, people of different socio-economic backgrounds, people of different age, and people of different genders. I don’t believe in quotas. I think we need to hire the best person, but we also need to mentor people so that they can get the job. I am working with the local university and have helped set up a Women in Business mentoring programme. I think women have the same talents as men, but I don’t think women have enough role models and coaching to walk into an interview and nail it.

One reason women don’t get into the industry is that they think they can’t have children and do this job at the same time. We need to come up with more flexible work situations to allow women to continue to do their job after having kids. Businesses need to hire women who have been out of the industry for a while because they have the skill set that is needed. Their skill set may not be current, but it is easy to train those people.


Why is diversity in asset management important? What advantages do you think it brings?

I had a junior analyst that was working for a website called matrimony.com. It was an Indian website to help find people of similar minds to get married because there is a long history of matchmaking in India. I had another analyst that could not understand this concept. I knew we had an analyst in Singapore that found his spouse through this website and I told the analyst to talk to him. It is hard for an American to understand these cultural differences. You need that cultural difference in business, especially in a global role, which makes diversity really important.

It is also important to have age diversity. If you would have asked me if “Fortnite” was going to be successful, I would have said, “Who needs another game.” We have an analyst who is a former gamer and he checks these things. He explains why one game is going to be more successful than another. I can’t relate to it, but I need their views or I might make an ill-informed investment decision.

With women specifically in asset management, I have found women tend to have a better understanding of the risks they are taking. I find women tend to balance out more risk-taking personalities taken by some of their male counterparts. While making generalisations can be dangerous, I’ve found women consider a much broader range of outcomes, which is a powerful component of any investment team.


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