Investing in women
What, and how, women can contribute to investment management
Investment management encompasses cultivating an understanding of everything from high-tech stocks to real estate, distressed corporate debt to government bonds — and don’t forget investor psychology. “The work itself is incredibly stimulating — it’s about our world, which is ever-changing,” says Patricia Basso, manager of global talent acquisition and co-lead of diversity and inclusion at MFS Investment Management. Jessica Schoen, MBA ’08, assistant vice president in equity research at Barclays Capital, describes the job as “interesting, intellectually stimulating, and fast-paced.”
But, appealing as it might be, investment management is not attracting enough female candidates. That’s the consensus of investment-management firms and business schools alike. “Women tend to be particularly underrepresented in investment decision-making roles,” says Stephanie King, executive vice president at PIMCO. Lakshmi Bhojraj ’95, MBA ’01, director of Johnson’s Parker Center for Investment Research, decided to address this situation last November by launching the Women in Investing conference in Boston: a forum for top female MBA candidates from around the country to network with and learn from investment-management professionals and corporate recruiters.
Participating firms that sent high-ranking investment officers to share their experiences and offer feedback on students’ stock pitches included Capital Group, Fidelity Investments, MFS Investment Management, BNY Mellon, PIMCO, Putnam Investments, State Street Global Advisors, and Wellington Management. “The wonderful thing about it all was a real commitment to try to address this issue, to inform and educate the next generation of female investors,” says Bhojraj.
“Now, more than ever, there’s recognition of the need to include more women in this industry,” says Basso. “Women are having more and more of an impact on business, investing, and finance, so companies are recognizing the importance of having women involved in the investment process.”
A cycle that needs to be broken
Women are clearly an asset. Firms welcome them. So, why the low numbers? One explanation is that female mentors are hard to find. “With fewer women in the industry, there are naturally not as many role models,” King says. “This, in turn, is reflected in the media, thus reinforcing the historical statistics.” Even before they reach business school, young men and women may have a strong perception of investment management as being a “man’s world.”
“In addition, especially when the work environment is minority female, women may need to work harder to build relationships with their colleagues, as men may naturally have more in common with their male peers and supervisors, making it easier [for them] to build a network for career support,” says King.
Women’s perceptions of the field also play a role. Laura Nieder, an associate director at Johnson’s Career Management Center, points out that many women may assume a career in investment management is akin to working in investment banking, and would demand a huge sacrifice of family time. But that is not always the case, as Basso of MFS confirms: “There are jobs in the industry that are pretty hardcore and intense, 24/7. Not all jobs are like that, and not all companies are like that. Our portfolio managers and research analysts have the opportunity to make decisions about how they manage their day.”
Basso observes that women tend to gravitate to client-oriented roles in the business world in general. “That’s one of the challenges we have when recruiting at business schools: Many women immediately lean toward consulting,” she says. Even within investment management, women tend towards the client-facing roles, perhaps because they see a higher proportion of women in those roles. And the pattern continues: Women see other women in those jobs and continue to stay in those roles, rather than considering all options.
Basso encourages women to explore all possible roles, including those more directly involved with investing. “Women can excel in all of these roles. It’s finding the right one, and the right company, for you.”
For her part, Bhojraj plans to make the Women in Investing conference an annual fall event. “With this conference, we hope that women are encouraged to participate in front-line roles in investment management and go on to enjoy what can be a very rewarding and lucrative career,” she says. “We’re trying to encourage and inform the next generation of female investment professionals. What better way than to target each MBA class that comes in the door?”