June 15, 2017; EfinancialCareers.com
In recent years, women who have managed to crash the asset management glass ceiling have focused on programs to increase their numbers. With the financial industry’s global stature, this lack of female presence is a global concern. Diversity in gender, race, ethnicity, and culture has been a corporate, education, and national goal for decades. It is not always easy to achieve acceptable levels, but most organizations sincerely tried even as others gave lip service to the effort. The silence in the asset management sector spoke volumes.
In spite of the global belief that U.S. companies would show leadership in this area, the U.S. has one of the worst records. According to the organization More Women In Asset Management’s website, “Women make up less than 15 percent of investment professionals in the institutional investment industry. Women are 16 percent of analysts and 11 percent of portfolio managers.”
France erred by requiring quotas, which alienated companies and France’s industry. Globally, initiatives have focused more on increasing the presence of women and minorities in asset management fields. In 2016, the London-based Diversity Project, comprising thirty global financial organizations, was created to accomplish that. In the U.S., we’ve seen plenty of conferences and seminars, but the rise of female-focused organizations to increase the numbers is a more recent development: More Women in Asset Management, established in 2013; the Women in Investment Management Initiative in 2016; and, most recently, Girls Who Invest, a ten-week summer program with a four-week residential boot camp at the Wharton School of Business, created by Wall Street women and backed by industry heavy hitters. The program includes a six-week paid internship and ongoing pre-employment support. The goal is to, as near as is possible, guarantee success.
The lack of women in leadership and other roles in asset management is not surprising. Asset management—and portfolio management, to a lesser degree—is one of a few white-collar employment areas where male employers and employees really believed gender discrimination was valid. The notion that managers must be chained to their desks, tethered to their phones in front of their screens, virtually at the clients’ beck and call, was what the “old boys” wanted people to believe, especially women. According to their worldview, working in asset management would hinder having and raising children. Women simply could not perform in the manner required by clients.
That was the old story, and they stuck to it. As other financial services sectors added female employees, asset and portfolio management remained suspended in time. Two factors have moved the industry’s needle. One is the increase in women as clients who want a female perspective and sounding board. Women know women, and they believe their more data-driven approach, versus the boy “gut instinct” predictions of an asset management superstar, will better serve their organizations. The second is the explosion of technology. For this global industry, the Internet and social media have provided employees, including women, the freedom to work from home and achieve work-life balance. But with the perceived “wolfyness” of Wall Street—its self-inflicted meltdowns and Bernie Madoffs—asset and portfolio management careers are becoming a hard sell to savvy female MBAs. The industry realizes it has an image and optics problem and is reaching out to other majors. There is the potential for nonprofit collaboration.
This latest initiative could be forward-thinking and jump-start the pipeline by reaching out to STEM initiatives for high school girls. Those “girls who invest” who are mentored might consider mentoring a STEM student with identified potential. This is a great opportunity to learn and teach leadership and management skills. Many STEM programs reach out to minority girls, whose lives would be drastically changed with a career in asset management, where women earn high incomes and bonuses and where money earned is based on percentages and not subject to the whim of a male-dominated board.—Mary Frances Mitchner