Why is fund management still a man’s world when 41% of investment trust directors are women?

by | Mar 8, 2024

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Only 12% of investment trust managers are female, according to research from the Association of Investment Companies (AIC). This figure remains unchanged since 2022 and is in line with the global average for the funds industry, according to Citywire data.

However, 41% of investment trust directorships are held by women, up from 36% in March 2022.

Annabel Brodie-Smith, Communications Director of the Association of Investment Companies (AIC), said: “The investment trust industry has made great progress when it comes to the gender diversity of investment trust directors. Quotas and targets have helped at board level, with 41% of investment trust directors now female. The industry is continuing to address ethnic and other forms of diversity on boards.

 
 

“However, this highlights just how much more work needs to be done to increase the number of female fund managers. We need to break down the barriers that stop women progressing – whether that’s welcoming flexible working and parental career breaks for both genders, or doing more to tackle unconscious bias. The Diversity Project’s Future Female Fund Managers Programme, which is aiming for 20% female fund managers by 2026, is an important step in the right direction.”

Ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March 2024, the AIC has spoken to leading female investment trust managers to ask why there aren’t more female fund managers, why fund management is a good career and why more women should consider it.

Comments are collated below from: Georgina Brittain, Portfolio Manager of JPMorgan UK Small Cap Growth & IncomeHelen Steers, Co-Lead Manager of Pantheon InternationalJean Roche, Lead Fund Manager of Schroder UK Mid Cap Fund; Kate Fox, Co-Manager of Keystone Positive ChangeAbby Glennie, Co-Manager of abrdn UK Smaller Companies Growth; and Rebecca Maclean, Co-Manager of Dunedin Income Growth.

 
 

Why aren’t there more female fund managers?

Helen Steers, Co-Lead Manager of Pantheon International, said: “The picture is getting better, but traditionally there have not been enough women entering the fund management business, and even when they do get into the profession, the industry has not been good at retaining and promoting women. Speaking particularly about private equity, the pipeline of female candidates is now better than ever, but in the past recruitment has focused too much on people coming from investment banking or accountancy, and the wider talent pool of capable women has not been sufficiently tapped. That is changing, and at the more junior levels, many private equity firms now have almost equal intakes of men and women. 

“However, at the mid-level there are far fewer women (less than a quarter of investment roles), and the percentage of senior investment roles held by women is still only around 12% in the UK. This is an improvement from five years ago, when only 6% of senior investment roles were held by women.

 
 

“Pantheon is in a much better position than the industry average, with 42% of our international investment committee being female. The industry is more aware than ever of the issue, and there are initiatives which are aimed at increasing the pipeline of female private equity managers, helping them progress and become more senior. Level 20 is the non-profit organisation which I helped to co-found in 2015, and which aims to improve gender diversity in the private equity and venture capital industry.”

Kate Fox, Co-Manager of Keystone Positive Change, said: “I think it’s a combination of two things: when I started as a graduate in fund management 20 years ago, there was still a lack of appreciation of the benefits of diversity; and the industry is not good at articulating what the role involves. Therefore, amongst young people, there’s often misunderstanding about what a fund manager does.

“That’s why at Baillie Gifford, rather than describing the role as financial, we describe it as being about deep qualitative and quantitative research, with a requirement for curiosity and creativity.”

 
 

Abby Glennie, Co-Manager of abrdn UK Smaller Companies Growth, said: “Change takes time to work through, but the industry’s efforts to attract more females at the graduate level appear to be improving. This is especially evident when you examine the composition of our current graduates at abrdn. In fact, I’ve consistently worked in teams with a robust female presence. For instance, our small-cap team at abrdn consists of five females and three males, and we have just one British white male. Furthermore, half of our team represents either ethnic or international diversity and only one team member is over the age of 50. These statistics demonstrate that there are indeed pockets of diversity within the industry.”

Jean Roche, Lead Fund Manager of Schroder UK Mid Cap Fund, said: “For those who may be unaware, only around 12% of fund managers across the industry are female and this stat is moving at a glacial pace. This stubbornly low figure is presumably off-putting for potential new female entrants. But this is true of many perceived high-status careers. This feels like a very risky position for financial markets to be in – a bit like a fund manager having 88% of their exposure in one sort of stock or theme.

“At Schroders we are actively engaging with this issue and are a founding and continued supporter of the Diversity Project’s Pathway Programme which focuses on developing female portfolio managers of the future. I have been delighted to be a part of the launch event for the Project and have regularly spoken about my career and experiences over the last two years with women who are considering becoming fund managers.”

 
 

Georgina Brittain, Portfolio Manager of JPMorgan UK Small Cap Growth & Income, said: “One of the things I like most about fund management is that it ultimately boils down to you and your track record. And one of the (many) advantages of this career is that there is no place for gender discrimination – your track record is yours alone and answers all questions.”

Why is fund management a good career for women and what is the best part of your job?

Rebecca Maclean, Co-Manager of Dunedin Income Growth, said: “Each day brings new challenges and exciting opportunities. There’s never a dull moment, and I consider it a privilege to collaborate with talented colleagues, engage with executives from outstanding listed companies, and have insightful discussions with our valued shareholders.”

 
 

Georgina Brittain, Portfolio Manager of JPMorgan UK Small Cap Growth & Income, said: “I always try to get across the buzz and the excitement of this career. The purpose of this job is to help people have a happy retirement, buy their kids a car, help them with their first house and support many other milestones in life. And while it’s a serious job, because you’re ultimately being entrusted with people’s savings, I also get to meet CEOs and the top decision makers of companies in the process.”

Jean Roche, Lead Fund Manager of Schroder UK Mid Cap Fund, said: “Fund management is a highly stimulating and challenging career suitable for anyone sufficiently interested in financial markets and who is comfortable with numbers. For these reasons it should not suit men more than women or vice versa. Without a doubt the best part of the job is being correct about a stock when the market is not – discovering a mispricing because if you do, you will make money for your clients, and that is very intellectually satisfying and makes the clients happy too! As a UK mid cap fund manager, given where pricing is currently, there should be plenty of opportunity to do this.”

Abby Glennie, Co-Manager of abrdn UK Smaller Companies Growth, said: “Fund management requires a diverse set of skills, including communication, analytical thinking, social awareness, numerical proficiency, teamwork, and the ability to engage in effective debates. Importantly, these skills are equally applicable to both females and males. Diversity in terms of backgrounds and educational focus is crucial. After all, our work involves interacting with companies across various sectors. If these companies have a mix of female and male demographics, it makes sense for the investment teams to reflect the same diversity. 

 
 

“Being in the minority can work to your advantage. Companies may remember you more distinctly due to your unique perspective and contributions. Analysts might engage with you differently, appreciating the fresh viewpoints you bring. These unique conversations can lead to valuable insights and connections. Additionally, clients may perceive you as having an alternative approach compared to other portfolio managers, which can be a powerful asset in building trust and relationships. Remember, diversity brings strength, and embracing your unique position can lead to meaningful opportunities.”

Kate Fox, Co-Manager of Keystone Positive Change, said: “Fund management is a great career for anyone. It is a privilege to be entrusted with client and shareholder capital to grow it on their behalf, so they can save for a better future. 

“The work is fascinating and full of variety. There are endless opportunities to learn about the world, emerging industries, evolving technologies – and to meet inspiring people. Furthermore, through channelling capital towards innovative companies, you can help support societal progress. That’s incredibly exciting. For me, the best parts are the variety and ability to drive progress – this is why I am still so passionate about it, two decades in.”

 
 

Helen Steers, Co-Lead Manager of Pantheon International, said: “Successful fund management, especially private equity fund management, requires a huge range of skills and expertise which I believe many women possess in abundance. In addition to an aptitude for robust quantitative analysis (the ability to slice and dice track records, look for patterns in data, and evaluate information from multiple sources), effective fund managers need to possess a talent for strong qualitative analysis, being able to assess investment strategies, team and organisational dynamics. Being a good listener, observer and communicator, able to consider all the evidence to form an investment opinion, and then translating this into a winning portfolio strategy is hugely challenging, but also deeply rewarding. I think women enjoy this multi-faceted and demanding profession, and excel at the collegial and collaborative aspect of the job.

“Since I am an engineer by background, you would expect me to say that I enjoy the numbers side of the business, but actually the best part of my job is meeting interesting and successful private equity investors, assessing their capability to produce great investment returns in the future, and building long-lasting and profitable relationships with these managers.”

What would you say to women considering a career as a fund manager?

 
 

Georgina Brittain, Portfolio Manager of JPMorgan UK Small Cap Growth & Income, said: “To any women considering a career in fund management, I say – go for it! We need more women in this industry, and research demonstrates that women are superior investors.”

Abby Glennie, Co-Manager of abrdn UK Smaller Companies Growth, said: “Don’t buy into the stereotypes that portray our industry as male-dominated. Instead, proactively connect with females who work in investment roles and seek their insights based on their own experiences.”

Helen Steers, Co-Lead Manager of Pantheon International, said: “Go for it! Private equity fund management in particular is demanding and challenging, but also immensely rewarding on a professional and personal level. Women considering a career in private equity should pursue the right subjects academically, invest in their own professional development and also seek out sponsors and mentors to help them progress. For example, Level 20 runs mentoring programmes to help women develop at all stages in their careers. I would also encourage women to develop their networks, form links with the industry associations (the BVCA in the UK runs great training programmes), and to seize the opportunities that are presented to them!”

Rebecca Maclean, Co-Manager of Dunedin Income Growth, said: “If you’re contemplating a career in fund management, I highly recommend connecting with industry professionals. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and actively seek out hands-on experience. By doing so, you’ll gain insights into various roles and discover what truly inspires you. Who knows – you might uncover a genuine passion for the industry!”

Kate Fox, Co-Manager of Keystone Positive Change, said: “Embrace it! Have the confidence to be authentic: your perspective on the world, your approach to analysis and your risk appetite will be of great value. It’s about being you, not trying to conform to a financial stereotype.”

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