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Women in Investment Management Inaugural Roundtable Leading the Charge

Allocator Intel • 6 September 2021
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Empowering Diversity in Thought and Experience

Part II
Part I can be read here 

Following the initial plenary session, participants in the Women in Investment Management Inaugural Roundtable were divided into three discussion groups to explore the issues that had been raised. After the set of discussion groups, the participants reconvened, and the discussion leaders from each group reported on what had transpired in their group.

Denise Le Gal, the Chair of the Brunel Pension Partnership, said that in her group, “One of the main themes was the difficulty in recruitment.” She said that in using recruitment agencies, “If they only present candidates with a certain characteristic, they get it thrown back and told to go away and bring back some other candidates.” Le Gal, who is based in London, mentioned the Robert Toigo Foundation in the U.S. and diversity groups in the UK as “good avenues to try to find some good people,” and she also said that using “our personal networks often helps.”

She added that participants in her discussion group agreed, “It’s really important that we should speak our minds if we see boards that aren’t diverse and ask them, ‘When are you going to change?’ And we should keep delivering that message consistently; in other words, nag them.”

Scott Pittman, ‎the Senior Vice President and CIO at Mount Sinai Health System, said that his group talked about the attitudes of employees and said managers “need to build confidence in many individuals, who may not feel as if they have the exact skillset, but they certainly have the skills.” He added that there is a need to “provide them access and let them see the resources that surround them to give them that confidence to really step into a new role.”

Pittman went on to say, “Along those lines of providing access,” he said that more senior executives “can really provide more exposure and more visibility, whether it’s more of a speaking role within senior leadership or providing them other opportunities to get more comfortable.”

The third discussion group leader, Bill Lee, the Chief Investment Officer of New York Presbyterian Hospital, said, one of the things that “keeps coming up is the influence and power of investment managers.” Just asking them questions about their track record on diversity provides “a certain level of importance and a certain degree of influence for all of the different participants, and I think we should continue bringing the question up, whether it’s in meetings with a manager or meeting with a firm’s senior management. It’s part of a recipe that will eventually yield better results.”

Cynthia Steer of ICMA Retirement said that the recruitment process needs refinement because “I see a lot of diverse people in the initial parts of searches these days, but I don’t see as many diverse candidates coming all the way through the process.” Steer said, “There are conversations with a lot of the big recruiting firms that have to be had.” She added that “being able to retain middle-level people is especially worrisome. It used to be in the sandwich generation years that most women came out of the labor force.”

Denise Le Gal of the Brunel Pension Partnership, said, “There has been a bit of a game change with Covid because for so many times, the retention issue was about the lack of flexibility. I’ve heard so many women say, ‘Why can’t I work from home?’ Well, they’ve had to work from home during Covid, and yes, some of them faced greater challenges around childcare et cetera. But one woman that I work with would get up at 5 a.m. and do two hours of work before the kids woke up. We had a clear understanding that she could do her school errands when they needed to be done. And she was just as productive as ever, so I think this idea of flexible working has sunk in a bit now.” The question, she said, is whether “this is going to be retained as we get back to more normal conditions.”

Le Gal added, “We’ve done a staff survey on what they want, and, you know, it depends on their age, and it depends on their circumstances, so it is likely that we will have expectations of certain teams coming into the office at certain times. We were a flexible employer anyway, but we will be more flexible now because we haven’t lost productivity during Covid.” But she added, “We’ve tried very hard to reengineer the water cooler discussions, and that’s what we’re lacking.”

One participant agreed: While working from home has generally been productive, “I feel I’m missing out on the water cooler situation, and I feel I don’t know how to build those relationships to into the pipeline.” An investment director from a major university elaborated on that issue: “If you’re a female and you’re in the middle or more senior part of your career, you’ve had relationships to show people that you’re a doer and you can work from home and you can be productive.” That works for her, she said, but, “I know that I’m cheating the analysts and the younger women at the organization because I feel like they are the ones that haven’t been able to show that they’re doers or show how hard they can work, who can lead and mentor somebody.”

She added, on one hand, “If we’re going to keep younger women and let them develop their career in finance, they need to be mentored, but for them to be mentored, I need to be in the office.” But on the other hand, she said, “Do I really want to be in the office five days a week, now that I know there’s this whole other way to exist?” She added, “It’s tough to figure out what’s going to be the best way to move forward to not only to retain women that are young and coming out of college, but the ones that are in the middle of their life who are juggling a family and aging parents and all of that that.”

Blomquist said, “I think that It’s important that we not feel ashamed to be working from home as women.” She noted that she had gone skiing for a few days during the week, and there were a number of men on the slopes. “I was laughing a bit because these men were not working from the office but from a house they rented with their friends, and they didn’t feel ashamed at not being in office. So, I think we also have to be proud that we can be in office or outside office, as well as the men can.”

Shapiro returned to “the efforts to lean on vendors, principally asset managers to suggest they need to be doing something on these issues: You can ask them what they’re doing; you can look at them longingly or menacingly; or maybe you move to some sort of hard criteria. Is that something that seems to be taking off?”

A Dutch allocator said, “Now, when we are selecting our managers, it’s one of our centerpieces. We are looking whether the team is diverse or not, and when we would like to meet this manager, we are always looking whether the team is balanced so the team can make good decisions.” Diversity has become “one of our criteria that we are selecting the manager. If it’s only white male-dominated we will not select that manager at all, or we will give them some time to make the team more diverse and inclusive in order to make better decisions.”

Shapiro added, “We’ve seen on the ESG front, that as institutions have suggested they really care about these issues, and they want to see the managers are also doing so, well, sure enough managers are coming forward with very elaborate ESG plans and mechanisms and processes. What gets measured gets managed, and what you ask for brings results from your vendors.”

But Steer said, “One thing I would raise is we don’t want to focus on quantifying it because otherwise it becomes your percentages and nothing more. To me, diversity and inclusive has to be process oriented. Shapiro agreed, noting that the experience has often been that people are sympathetic to the subject, but are resistant to hard-core measuring kind of approach. But, he said, “that creates a difficult balancing act because you want to demonstrate you’re doing something, but you don’t want it to be terribly, rigorously measured, particularly in small organizations.”

Shapiro also noted that in talking about the pipeline issue, many executives say, “We’ve got to recruit in new places,” but they are often slow to do so. He added, “They really need to think about where you’re going to recruit. Is it because you’ve always gone there? Are you going there because that’s where you went to school? Are you always looking in the same places, or not? If you want to change outcomes, then you may need to change what you’re doing.”

On this issue, as on many of the others raised during the roundtable, Shapiro said in conclusion, “It’s clear that the last words here are ‘to be continued.’ This is an ongoing discussion.”

This piece has been edited for clarity and condensed. 
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