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Women in Asset Management: Better Career Outcomes

This International Women’s Day, we outline what women need to consider and what challenges they need to overcome in order to forge a successful career in the asset management industry.

Amelia Earhart

This is Amelia Earhart. She was born in Kanas in July 1897.

In 1932 Amelia became the first woman - and the second person after Charles Lindbergh - to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She was a trailblazer – among both men and women – in the new age of aviation.

She never took ‘no’ for an answer and she never gave up. Amelia disappeared in July 1937 trying to circumnavigate the globe.

She died following her dreams.

The Right Time

Despite being a traditionally male dominated field, opportunity is presenting itself to women within the asset management industry at the moment.

Women still remain underrepresented at all levels, but the industry is undergoing a transformation.

Whether from a boutique manager or a multinational investment house, investors are increasingly looking for products which are different from those offered by most other asset managers.

Products are wanted which meet the changing expectations of clients, whether they reflect the growing appetite for environmental, social and governance concerns, socially responsible investing, ethical funds, renewable energy or infrastructure.

Clients and investors are also demanding better corporate governance, compliance, regulation, transparency, reporting and diversity.

Perhaps most importantly, they want their investment managers to reflect their own demographics and society as a whole – whether this is gender, ethnicity, age or socio-economic background.

There is opportunity for you to push your career forward and change the industry, in the same way that Amelia did for aviation in the 1930s.

Defining your Career Path

Regardless of whether you have your sights set on asset management or another industry, the most important question you need to ask yourself is: what does success look like?

What is your ultimate career objective? Do you want to be a Chief Executive or a Chief Investment Officer? Perhaps you want to do a client-based role, lead a team or develop a new product? Do you see yourself working for a large, international organisation or a boutique?

If you don’t define success, if can be very difficult to achieve it.

Set your direction and stay true to your path. There will be hurdles along the way which will be out of your control - sector disruption, personal challenges, even redundancy.

But don’t let these get in the way of your long-term goal. Don’t take no for an answer but be realistic. There is more than one definition of success.

And do something you are passionate about, something that you believe in.

Work is a huge part of anyone’s life, so don’t choose lightly. Find a career where you can add value and make a difference.

Professional Qualifications

Whether you are at the start of your career or already someway down the path, it’s important to take time out and conduct an honest and thorough evaluation of your skills and abilities. 

Think what you are good at, what you enjoy and where your abilities lie. You need to ask yourself some rather direct questions on whether you really do have the experience and skills to follow the path you have chosen.

Do you need to add additional qualifications to your skill set?

If so, there will be sacrifices that you will need to be prepared to make - family, time, money. Are you willing to make these?

Seek external support and help. Speak to career advisers, experienced recruitment professionals, HR contacts, department heads. Anyone you admire and trust to give you sound advice.

Based on what your ultimate career objective is, what professional qualification or qualifications will help you achieve it?

Potential options could include:

Whatever the qualification, you need to give careful consideration on how you are going to achieve it. Will it involve part-time study while you work? Or perhaps a career break or sabbatical? Can you get support and sponsorship from your current employer?

Leave no stone unturned in ensuring you have the best chance of securing the professional qualifications you need to turn your dreams into reality.

Softer Skills

At risk of generalisation, women tend to have different skill sets to men. It’s a moot point but as President of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, stated: “if it had been Lehman Sisters rather than Lehman Brothers, the world might well look a lot different today.”

The flip side is that women – and, again, potentially a massive generalisation - perhaps aren’t as good as men at self-promotion and pushing themselves to the front.

As for professional qualifications, you need to critique yourself and look at ways to improve the following:

  • Confidence
  • Networking
  • Personal impact
  • Presentation skills 

Joining groups, professional bodies or internal forums, seeking out a mentor and hunting down opportunities to practice your presentation skills are all great ways to improve your softer skills.

If appropriate, taking on non-executive directorships roles in other industries (such as the charity sector) is a fantastic way to increase board level skills, exposure and gravitas.

Challenges

a. Work-life balance 

There is no formula for the ideal work-life balance - it really depends on the circumstances of each individual.

Based on waking hours, for some it’s 50% work, 50% play. For others 40/60 or 60/40.

I speak from a position of experience when it comes to trying to achieve a work-life balance. I’m a full-time working mother of two young children, I run my own company, and I still recruit for senior positions within the asset management industry. I’m all too aware of the challenges involved.

Yes, it is difficult to focus on your career and your family at the same time. But it’s important to do what YOU want to do and try to strike the right balance.

b. External expectations

Throughout your career, you will probably have pressures from many sides – what your family think, what your friends think, what your boss thinks, what your colleagues think. The list can go on.

But you must be strong and choose your own path. Again, having a clear career objective from the outset should help here.

What is important to you will drive the direction you take and the sacrifices you make. Push back on conforming to societal ‘norms’. If you wish to have a shorter maternity break, or decide to work full time, do so.

This does not mean you are selfish or in anyway less of a parent, wife, friend or colleague.

c. Unconscious bias

Be aware of it, as you need to push past this. “People hire people like them.”

This is one of the key reasons the fund management industry is dominated by a particular demographic.

Companies are becoming more and more aware of unconscious bias within the recruitment process. HR professionals, recruiters and hiring managers have a growing awareness of the issue, and steps are being put in place to negate the worst effects of it.

There is still a long way to go, but even the act of moving bias from an unconscious to a conscious issue is progress.

d. Self-belief

The fund management industry is a competitive environment, filled with impressive individuals who emit self-assurance and confidence.

To manage large amounts of other people’s money requires a degree of self-belief. At times, it involves making bold decisions and sticking by them in the face of adversity.

To be successful in such an industry does not require arrogance. But you do need a great deal of self-belief.

Reach for the sky

The fund management industry is changing for the better.

We have reached a point where the industry is pushing for diversity and inclusion, having recognised that a diversity of talent and perspectives is vital to success.

But there remains much to be done until we have true gender diversity. Structural barriers still remain within the industry and breaking them down is a slow task.

You will face many challenges in your career. You must choose your path, think strategically, manage external expectations, push against bias and foster strong self-belief.

But if you set your mind to it, you can do anything you want.

Amelia did.

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Betsy Williamson
Managing Director – Executive Search & Specialist
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