Empowering Women in Asset Management

Women may account for more than half of the entry-level financial services workforce, but that doesn’t mean they will face a level playing field further along in their careers. According to Women in the Workplace, an initiative between McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org, women are significantly underrepresented in the upper ranks of financial-services companies, accounting for a mere 19 percent of C-suite positions.

Yet the same study found that companies who rank in the top quartile in terms of gender diversity on their executive teams outperform on profitability by more than 21 percent — underscoring the real financial benefits of empowering women in asset management.

“There’s a war of attrition happening in the middle management space,”Swatika Rajaram, Vice President, Regulatory Products at Broadridge, said during a breakfast session on women in asset management during the 2019 NICSA Strategic Leadership Forum. “We have to figure out what we need to do to take that 20 percent up to the correct level.”

Rajaram moderated the panel, which was sponsored by Broadridge and also included leaders from BlackRock, Eaton Vance, and Northern Trust. Elaine Sullivan, Chief Marketing Officer at Eaton Vance and a founding member of the firm’s Women’s Leadership Exchange, said she’s seen a shift in the way we talk about inclusivity.

“It’s no longer a conversation taking place between 10 women in a conference room; now it’s a conversation at a conference with men and women from all across the country,” she said. “There is a lot for all of us to learn in terms of the broad range of opinions, perspectives, and experiences that people have, and how we can bring them together in the workplace to ultimately make the best decisions on behalf of our investors and shareholders.”

Jenifer McGovern, Managing Director at BlackRock, said her firm has done an exceptional job integrating diversity and inclusion throughout the organization.

“The D&I agenda isn’t owned by HR — it’s owned by the businesses, and the businesses have resources,” she said. “Every single business, as part of its annual objectives, has a focus on D&I. In addition to that, there’s also a big push to hold managers accountable. By pushing the initiative down within the organization, I think the firm is able to accomplish a lot more.”

Shaelyn Otikor, Senior Vice President, Global Business Strategy Specialist, Northern Trust, noted the importance of internal networking in encouraging D&I. “I have seen senior managers, for example, that come to all the employee resource groups and events just to network with diverse staff,” she said. “When an opportunity comes up, they can tap into their expanded network and say, ‘What do you think about this idea, or do you have someone that could fit this role?’”

Otikor also cautioned against viewing D&I through a primarily North American lens. “A third of our workforce is in India; they are the nuts-and-bolts of the ship, yet we almost never talk about the Indian culture, work ethic, or building collaborative bonds overseas,” she said. “It’s an old-school perspective that just needs development.”

The NICSA conference included several diversity and inclusion-focused sessions for attendees. In addition to the panel showcasing female leadership in asset management, another panel tackled unconscious bias in corporate culture, and the event keynote featuring Morgan Stanley’s Carla Harris homed in on “relationship currency” and the benefits of authenticity in the workplace.

NICSA is the sponsor of the Diversity Project North America, an initiative launched in late 2018 whose mission is to promote a an inclusive asset management industry to deliver the best possible results for clients,reflect a diverse society, and ensure long-term business sustainability. Twenty-five firms have joined the Diversity Project to date since its launch.


Note: Although the observations contained in this work represent the best thoughts of the individuals comprising the NICSA panel, they do not necessarily reflect the views of NICSA or any of its member organizations. Matters addressed in this work may touch upon legal or regulatory matters, however nothing herein is intended to be or should be construed as legal advice. You should contact your own counsel in order to obtain legal advice regarding these or any other matters.

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