Women in fund management: Call to action, not reason to despair

Women in Fund Management

The findings of the FTfm survey into the experiences of women in the fund  management industry make for sobering reading. It is depressing that in the 21st  century so many women report sexism in any workplace, let alone my own industry.  The survey results are not, however, entirely surprising. There is an overt  commitment to create an inclusive environment at most firms, but we all know it  takes a long time to change deeply ingrained behaviours.

The expected standards are also considerably higher than when I joined the  market 25 years ago.

Attitudes towards women, ethnic groups and other “minorities” have definitely  improved across the whole of society since then. Some of my male friends and  colleagues remind me – encouragingly, rather than resentfully – that “women have  never had it so good”.

Certainly over the past three years since the 30% Club, which  campaigns to bring more women on to boards, was established and the publication  of the Davies  report, I have felt increasingly optimistic that the pace of real change is  accelerating. The survey suggests that the distance still to travel is greater  than I hoped, but I see this as a call to more action, not a reason to despair.

In all honesty, my main concern is that the findings may put young women off  joining our industry. That would both exacerbate the problem and be a great  shame; not only do we need a better gender balance to shift the culture, but  fund management can undoubtedly be a great career for women – and good for  clients.

Rothstein Kass, a consulting firm, has developed a “women  in alternatives” index to measure how female hedge fund managers fare. The  results suggest their funds often perform comparatively well. The latest Rothstein Kass study was completed in September 2012,  when the WIA index was up 8.96 per cent year to date versus 2.69 per cent for  the Global Hedge Fund Index – and women were also ahead over five years.

Women’s relative aversion to risk and tendency towards conscientious analysis  are ideal attributes for successful fund management.

Meanwhile, the wonderfully objective measurement of portfolio performance  means that good ideas, not necessarily long hours, are rewarded – ideal for  those of us with families or frankly for anyone who wants to live a full life.

I fell into fund management after studying philosophy at university and now  realise I have been lucky to be able to think and contribute any time, any  place, anywhere in the world, rather than work in a transaction-orientated,  chained-to-the-desk profession. It is tremendously varied and stimulating work,  too, and you can become senior and respected through results, rather than  playing office politics.

So how can we break what appears to be an impasse: a male-dominated culture  apparently creating an uncomfortable environment for many women, leading them to  withdraw to such an extent that they are simply not going to have the power to  change things? While it may not seem fair to ask the women to take the first  step, it is essential that women do not let their discomfort beat them down.

It is a cliché, but my top tip for women wanting to progress is to be true to  yourself, to use your distinctiveness to stand out, rather than to feel any need  to suppress your personality or femininity. Never hide or try simply to fit in,  particularly in asset management, as a great fund manager is not like everyone  else.

Sadly, the survey results suggest that women in our industry are too scared  of retribution to speak up. While I can truly emphasise, if you do not say  anything, it is very hard for your company to address poor behaviour. It is not  your fault, and you cannot be expected to correct the problem, but you must say  what is happening.

I think you will be surprised how receptive your company is; human resources  teams in particular know they must listen and act.

I learnt early on that people would make, and still do make, assumptions  about me because I am a woman. While I hated doing it, I learnt to either speak  up or just beat the other person in the market – a great leveller.

Companies, meanwhile, should take these survey results  seriously. They should not just assume the findings are about another  organisation. We all need to look again to ensure the working environment  we have created is safe and that everyone, not just women, knows who they can  turn to if they need to escalate a problem.

Helena Morrissey CBE is chief executive of Newton Investment Management  and founder of the 30% Club