September 11, 2023

Can women have it all? Yes, but not all at once

Inaugural class says it’s important to be honest about work-life balance

By Cheyenne Ligon and Arleen Jacobius

Many of the women who climbed their way to the top of the ladder in institutional investing make success look easy — from the outside, they appear to balance billion-dollar portfolios, family responsibilities and self-care with ease. 

But many of the 65 women featured in this year’s inaugural class of Influential Women in Institutional Investing said the challenges are real, even as the industry aims to place more emphasis on attracting and retaining women to ensure greater diversity of thought and, as a result, better performance. 


Lingering taboos remain against working part time or talking openly about the child- or elder-care responsibilities women might have, even though many said the COVID-19 pandemic did help normalize discussions about work-life balance. 

To support and encourage women, members of the 2023 class have led a variety of efforts in their firms and within the industry — developing and leading employee resource groups, speaking at industry conferences, actively mentoring younger women and diverse candidates, putting younger women in front of senior leadership and pressing for more inclusion and transparency in hiring, among other initiatives.

But a number also stressed the responsibility that high-level women in the industry have to their younger counterparts to be brutally honest — providing a realistic perspective on the demands of the job and advice on how to manage them.

“I often have people, even now, say to me, ‘Oh, you look like you’re so cool, calm and collected and like things going on outside don’t bother you,’” said Jennifer DeLong, head of defined contribution at AllianceBernstein. “And I’m like, ‘I might look that way, but I don’t feel that way. Come sit down.’” 

Over the course of her 24 years at the firm, Ms. DeLong, among other things, has served as a mentor in AB’s Career Catalyst program for VP-level women and is a member of an employee resource group dedicated to helping women build and expand their leadership roles at the firm. 

For Olaolu Aganga, the newly named U.S. CIO at Mercer, honesty is a key part of mentorship, because not being truthful about what it takes to be successful at work can make younger women feel like they’re doing something wrong or failing when they run into obstacles, she said. 

“Can you have it all? Kind of? But not at the same time — not at the same time,” she added. “You can have the husband, you can have kids, you can have the career — but can they all exist perfectly well at the same time? Impossible. That is a reality that women in this industry live with.”

Before joining Mercer in September, Ms. Aganga was managing director, lead client CIO for endowments, foundations and health care within multiasset strategies and solutions in the Americas at BlackRock Inc. Within her division, she was one of 12 individuals on its Talent Leadership Team, which focused on recruitment development and DEI, according to her nomination form. 

She also mentored nearly two dozen junior employees from underrepresented communities — working with them on training and skills development and providing forums for them to connect with senior leaders.

‘You’ve got four nannies’
Ms. Aganga said she had to discover for herself, over the course of her career, how successful women in her field were staying afloat. 

“What you’re willing to give up is something that no one talks about, in a sense,” Ms. Aganga said, adding that many senior women make sacrifices — such as frequent travel and long hours — and have infrastructure at home that makes those demands possible, whether that is hired help with child care, a supportive partner, or living close to the office. 

“You sit there, and you’re like ‘Oh you’ve got four nannies, got it!’” Ms. Aganga, who has an au pair for her 4-year-old daughter, said with a laugh. “More honesty in what some of these ultra successful women have done to get there I think would help.”

Linda Gibson, CEO of PGIM Quantitative Solutions, talked with P&I the week before her daughter’s wedding. She had just wrapped up negotiations on a business deal in London, and described the chaos of juggling business calls with pre-wedding preparations, such as proofing stationery. 

“You know, it takes a lot to be a good mother for my daughter as she’s picking out her dress and doing all this stuff (for the wedding),” Ms. Gibson said. “I’ve always been with my children a more quality vs. quantity kind of mom. My daughter said when she was 21, it was the first birthday that I’d ever been home for because I’ve always traveled so much.”

Ms. Gibson said that her busy schedule didn’t stop her from celebrating special occasions with her children — “We always have a birthday party, it’s just not on the day,” she said — but that she’s had to make the most of the time she does get with them. 

“That’s another thing that women shouldn’t beat themselves up about. I’ve said this to many women — they immediately leave the house and say to their toddler, ‘I’m so sorry, Mommy’s gonna leave, I’m so sorry,’ and then they come back and they’d be apologizing again and all the toddler thinks is, ‘Mom’s doing something wrong,’” Ms. Gibson said.

“I never once said that,” Ms. Gibson said. “I always said, ‘Bye honey, have a great day. I’ll see you later!’ and then when you get home, you’re full on in. You’ve clearly got to rest, but you’ve got to be full on in and engaged when you’re there.”

At PGIM Quantitative Solutions, Ms. Gibson was instrumental in creating its Inclusion Council and multiple business resource groups  as well as including DEI as a component of performance management. 

Being open with staff 
Alisa Amarosa Wood, a partner in KKR & Co. Inc.’s private equity business, is a mother of three young children. One thing she realized early when balancing her career and motherhood is that “maybe you can have it all but you can’t have it all, not all at once, not all on the same day.”

Ms. Wood said she leads by example in being open with her staff that there are times when she will leave for a hockey game and resume work later on in the evening. By setting this example, it gives her staff permission to do the same, Ms. Wood said.

An advocate for diversity and inclusion, she has served as a mentor to women across KKR and was a member of KKR’s Inclusion and Diversity Council.

Externally, she helped establish the Private Equity Women’s Investor Network in 2007 to connect and support women in the private equity industry and develop DEI principals by sharing best practices and case studies to help advance the industry’s diversity, especially in senior positions.

“There are days when I am an awesome KKR partner and days that I am an awesome mom,” Ms. Wood said. “It takes a village to do what I do at work, and I have a team at home.”

Moving to part time
For some high-level career women, however, nannies and live-in child care weren’t an option, and some sacrificed their full-time hours for a part-time schedule to stay home with their children.

Several, including Andrea Lisher, said that without that flexibility to go part time when they needed to, they would have left the industry.

“There is no question that I would have left J.P. Morgan. I was prepared to leave if I was not able to work a flexible schedule for a number of years when my children were younger,” said Ms. Lisher, who is managing director, head of the Americas client business at J.P. Morgan Asset Management. 

But instead of leaving, Ms. Lisher said she got “extraordinary support,” and was able to continue working. 

“I got promoted a number of times, they made me a managing director, I ran our U.S. intermediary business while working a flexible schedule — and this was before COVID,” Ms. Lisher said. “And as I said, I was prepared to leave because I just wasn’t able to see my way through the job that I had at the time and having two young kids and a husband who had a very demanding career and travel and everything else.”

Ms. Lisher acknowledges that while she was able to make shifting to a part-time position work for her, other friends in the industry who did not get the same support opted to leave, even though they loved their jobs.

“You know, there’s so much happening in your personal life. Even with the best spouse – you can read all those books and try to negotiate all this stuff, but I can just speak for my family, you know, the vast majority of it falls on my shoulders,” Ms. Lisher said. “I don’t even mind that. I don’t want to miss this stuff. I don’t regret any of those decisions, and I would do it again the same way, but it does make it really hard if you don’t have that support system.”

‘Hanging on by a fingernail’
In addition to being honest about what it takes to get to the top, Ms. Lisher is a firm advocate for being open about what it feels like to maintain it all — especially when things aren’t necessarily going to plan. 

“My whole career, probably to a fault, I’ve been pretty open about when it’s hard with work.”

It’s easy for people to assume that an executive woman has her act together after she’s reached a certain level of success, she said. 

“It’s important to be honest about how on some days you feel like you’re hanging on by a fingernail,” Ms. Lisher said.

On one of those tough days a year and a half ago, Ms. Lisher sent an email from the back of a taxi to 30 of her female colleagues. The email contained a photo of Ms. Lisher’s mismatched shoes — one black and one navy with animal print. 

“They looked pretty different,” Ms. Lisher said with a laugh. “I literally sent a picture and was like, ‘The shit has hit the fan. I don’t have time to go home and change so if you see me today, just give me some grace. It was a rough morning with my kids.’”

Though Ms. Lisher also serves as a mentor to women in more formal ways — she is JPMAM’s executive sponsor for Asset & Wealth Management Women on the Move employee network, a retention and development forum, and she launched the Women’s Travel Pairing program, which pairs junior female talent with client advisers to get a look at life on the road — she believes little moments of honesty and camaraderie are equally important. 

“Letting people know they’re not the only ones who feel like some days it’s just harder or impossible, and on some days it really great — but the days where you have the wrong shoes or whatever else, and you feel like you’re failing at all aspects of trying to keep the pieces going, I think being very visible about that in an appropriate way is super helpful,” Ms. Lisher added. 

.Reprinted with permission from Pensions & Investments. © 2023 Crain Communications Inc. All rights reserved. 
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