Sonny Kalsi, the Miami-based co-CEO of BentallGreenOak, a global real estate investment management adviser with $80 billion in assets under management, said that, anecdotally, South Asians are growing their representation in the junior and mid- levels of large asset management firms, but remain underrepresented in the senior and top levels at these companies.
"I think there's a number of reasons for this," he said. "One is cultural. In my own case, my father, like many Indian parents, wanted me to become a doctor, engineer or a lawyer. Only in the past 10 or 20 years has asset management become an appealing and better-understood career goal for South Asians. The pipeline today reflects these changing views."
For South Asian women, other hurdles exist.
Jaishree Singh, the New York-based director of research at 17 Asset Management, an asset management and advisory firm, said that finance, particularly venture capital and institutional management, remains a "white man's world" and that she — as a woman of South Asian descent — faces two kinds of discrimination, gender as well as race.
Ms. Singh also indicated that South Asian women likely face more obstacles in hiring and promotions compared to South Asian men.
"There are cultural biases against women, especially South Asian women," she said. "The prevailing attitude seems to be that females are not decision-makers and might not be as good with math and numbers as the men are. For South Asian females, who are also branded as docile, fragile and timid, the situation might be even worse."
Ms. Singh said that if South Asian women are to make meaningful progress in the financial services industry, they need to network more, be more assertive, and express more confidence in their credentials and abilities. "They also need to emphasize that they can make important decisions and lead a group of people," she added.
Prabha Carpenter, Arlington, Va.-based senior equity portfolio manager with Homestead Advisers, with about $7 billion in assets, said women in general are underrepresented in the asset management industry especially in higher-level positions and minority women even more so.
But Ms. Carpenter is optimistic about the future.
"Women have made progress," she said. "Asset management is performance-based as portfolio managers and analysts are evaluated on a daily basis. Gender and ethnic diversity on asset management teams enriches the investment process through cognitive diversity, and this is being recognized by leadership."
To achieve their DEI goals, asset management firms should make mentoring "a corporate priority to strengthen internal culture and external organizational perceptions," Ms. Carpenter said.