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November 24, 2021

Gender Equality in Asset Management Benefits Everyone

By Bonnie Wongtrakool

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Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.
~ Stephen R. Covey

Gender bias continues to be a complex challenge in the finance industry. To address this, I recently joined forces with Monica Erickson, Pooja Malik and Jerilyn Castillo McAniff to launch the California Chapter of the Bloomberg Women’s Buy-Side Network (BWBN). With the generous support of Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Network seeks to increase female representation in portfolio manager and other senior-level investment industry positions through education, mentoring and networking opportunities. While the California chapter is the first of its kind in the United States, it joins a thriving network of similar groups in Singapore, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil.

Our inaugural event took place last week at the newly opened Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. As impressive as the museum’s unique exhibits were, the true star of the evening was Ellen Carr, Principal and Fixed Income Portfolio Manager at Barksdale Investment Management, Adjunct Professor of Finance at Columbia University’s Business School and co-author of Undiversified: The Big Gender Short in Investment Management.

In a lively fireside chat with my BWBN co-founder Jerilyn, Ellen analyzed the numerous obstacles that women in finance face as they attempt to advance to portfolio manager roles. From the start, many young women are deterred from entering the field by myths and misperceptions of the investment industry1 (“Wolf of Wall Street,” anyone?). Further, once women do join the industry, Ellen explained how unconscious bias and microaggressions limit their professional progress, or even cause them to exit altogether. She also noted how across all experience levels, women are disadvantaged by their own lack of self-confidence and advocacy skills, exacerbating the effects of gender bias in the industry. The end result: women comprise a mere 14% of portfolio managers on a global basis. In the US, female representation is even more anemic at 11%, which is actually down from 14% in 2000.2

How can we address this persistent gap in gender parity? First, executive leaders across the asset management industry need to commit genuinely to acknowledging and addressing the issue. Second, firms must pursue a number of paths in parallel, including improving recruiting and hiring practices, creating mentorship and sponsorship initiatives, providing career coaching for female talent and publicly celebrating female role models.

Alongside these efforts, women should seek to widen and strengthen their networks, not just with other women, but with anyone who supports gender equity and can contribute as allies, sponsors and champions.

All too often, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are viewed as a zero-sum game, in which one person’s gain must be offset by another person’s loss. Yet in practice, the opposite is true. A truly inclusive culture advances the discussion and analysis needed to achieve superior long-term investment returns. Through diverse connections, all genders can educate, inspire and uplift each other. Over the coming months, BWBN will strive to bring these values to life.

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