Although progress has been made on gender diversity in the investment management industry, work still needs to be done to promote women into senior roles.
In interviews conducted ahead of International Women's Day on Wednesday, sources in the money management industry highlighted efforts to recruit and retain women, but said mentorship and sponsorship — where senior employees advocate for a more junior person in their industry — are key developments in reaching gender equality.
And those managers that do go the extra mile to create truly diverse teams — with a goal of improving decision-making through cognitive diversity and the avoidance of groupthink — got extra confirmation on Tuesday that they were doing the right thing from a fiduciary point of view, with the publication of Willis Towers Watson research showing that top-quartile investment teams in terms of gender diversity achieved 46 basis points of outperformance vs. bottom-quartile teams across equity, credit and real assets strategies.
"As investors, we know that cognitive diversity improves company decision-making and many thoughtful programs and initiatives around recruitment, succession planning and mentorship exist," said Luba Nikulina, chief strategy officer at IFM Investors. "But the industry now needs to create pathways into senior positions for the next generation of female leaders. Male role models committed to this advancement are very important. With the (COVID-19) pandemic challenging all kinds of assumptions about working lives, now is the time to take this next big step forward to the benefit of the industry and society."
Other sources agreed that mentorship and sponsorship have played a big part in promoting women for success — and the sponsors don't always have to be women.
"The best parts of my career where I had sponsors and mentors came much later on, and they were mainly men ... Having mentors created a sense of loyalty and belonging that these people invested in you. I think that's very important, particularly for our financial industry, which is a fast-changing industry that's evolving all the time," said Anasuya Dhoraisingam, head of institutional and wholesale distribution for Asia-Pacific ex-Japan at Nordea Asset Management. "You've got to upgrade yourself to stay relevant — that's not a call that should come from the government. That should come from mentors who can tell you the organization is moving this way, and you need to improve in certain areas," she added.
It's all about building a pipeline, said Lynn Chen, vice president and senior portfolio manager at American Century Investments. "We often hear that we cannot promote a woman because there's nobody qualified. But nobody has ever done it, so how do you know? Putting women in those positions (through mentorship) can build that pipeline," she said.
And Danielle Welsh-Rose, abrdn's Asia-Pacific head of sustainability specialists, thinks sponsorship is more important than mentorship. "That's someone saying a woman would be great for a position, let's get her in the room. It's really having a network that men have, where people are automatically looking out for them and helping be the voice and advocate for them," she said.