Asset owners agree that gender diversity is a goal for their staffs and the staffs of their money managers, with some pressing managers to provide reasons for their lack of female employees.
Aoifinn Devitt, chief investment officer of the $2.6 billion Chicago Policemen's Annuity & Benefit Fund, said the pension fund asks managers to provide information on the numbers of minority and female executives they employ.
Asking for such information implicitly sends a message to money managers that diversity is valued, Ms. Devitt said. The pension fund also invests with emerging managers, many of which are owned by female and minority executives.
One of the pension fund's board members is very vocal, and asks money managers about the percentage of women working at the firms, she said.
Institutional investors have a choice and "can vote with their feet," Ms. Devitt said. They can choose not to invest with a manager and give the manager feedback that its lack of diversity was a consideration, she added.
Some asset owners say disclosure on gender diversity — including the U.K.'s new requirement that companies employing more than 250 disclose the difference in what male and female employees earn — can help induce change in behavior.
"For us, keeping women in the workforce is very important," said Diandra Soobiah, head of responsible investment at the £2 billion ($2.8 billion) National Employment Savings Trust, London. "We monitor if opportunities for them to be involved are being created and if (managers) are increasing their influence over time."
The most male-dominated sector in money management is real estate, she noted.
"But one of our managers, SEGRO (PLC), surprised us because their chairman was very cognizant of the diversity issue," Ms. Soobiah said. "They are actually pretty good at bringing women from junior to more senior roles. But we found they are just not very good at reporting it."
Some institutional investors say investing in emerging managers is a way of boosting representation of women investment professionals in their portfolios.
Officials in the New York City Office of the Comptroller, Bureau of Asset Management, which manages the $194 billion New York City Retirement Systems, "spend a lot of time to invest in women- and minority-owned firms," said Neil Messing, head of hedge funds, speaking on a panel at the Pension Bridge conference in San Francisco this month.
"It's a part of every asset class," Mr. Messing said.