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Women In Investment Management: Vania Clayton, Investment Director, LGPS Central

Institutional Investor • 20 June 2023

Building Support: Trading Derivatives for Asset Management

In 2021 Institutional Investor launched on Allocator Intel its celebration of the accomplishments of women in investment management, first with the Top 50 Women in Investment Management. As part of this year’s program, Vania Clayton, Investment Director at LGPS Central, shares her story in the industry and the challenges of navigating her life and career as a single parent and working mother.

Based in the West Midlands in England, she joined the LGPS Central shortly after its inception almost five years ago: “The main aim of our company is to provide asset management services at reduced fees to local government pension schemes, which have partnered up with us by using economies of scale by combining assets under management throughout several local government schemes.” She is a graduate of the University of Mannheim in Germany, where she received her Master of Science in Business Administration and Economics, then years later another master’s degree, in mathematics.

The following is edited for length and clarity.

What has your journey looked like in the industry?

After earning a master’s degree in mathematics, I started to work in trading. I did an internship during my university years, and I really enjoyed the fast-paced environment. Deutsche Bank is where I started my career as an equity derivatives trader and where I spent most of my career until I made the decision to leave that fast-paced trading environment. I saw many, many colleagues spend their whole careers as traders. It’s quite a unique and niche area to work in, but if you’ve been a trader for too long, you’re stuck in that trading environment. I wanted to work toward a more managerial role for the long term.

In 2015, I moved to the Phoenix Group, an insurance company, where I provided derivatives advice, and this fitted quite nicely with my trader background, because a trader is, basically, a risk manager. We constantly managed the risk we took on behalf of the bank, so that made me go further in this direction. Then, five years ago, this opportunity at LGPS Central came along, and I was eager to work in asset management.

Tell us about your organisation

I joined the company as a senior portfolio manager, and I’m now the Director for Investment Risk Implementation and Derivatives. I cover public and private markets, to ensure that the exposure we take through investments is done in proportion to risk and rewards. Because of my previous work as an exotic equity derivatives trader, I am the subject matter expert on anything derivatives related. I opened the trading lines and developed the trading models, and I’m responsible if we open new trading lines where we trade assets in-house.

With LGPS Central being a start-up platform, it provided me with great scope to experience a completely new work environment, where I wouldn’t be just executing established processes or improving them (I would create them). That was very appealing to me and is still appealing because we have not even all defined all relevant processes, which is essential that with a young company: You constantly review how you’ve set up things because the business constantly develops so your processes need to be developed alongside how the business evolves.

What are some of the challenges in the industry?

It can be very challenging to work in investment management, leaving the gender out of that question. In my early banking career, I’ve experienced firsthand several times issues like pressure to carry on drinking, which were very upsetting. The natural response is that you just ignore these narratives, which is why things like this could continue for a long time. I think the guidance and support available even today is a bit limited: No matter how strong they are, people are afraid to speak up because of the consequences that it might have on their careers.

I think a cross-company investment mentoring program, in which more experienced females support midcareer and younger women, could get a lot of traction. I also think companies should consider creating a more independent route into HR. HR departments can often find themselves in a conflicting position due to organisational design and it is important that a person one can go to them without fear of retribution. Change isn’t achieved over five years or 10 years. It needs to be properly embedded into the whole sector and industry.

How did you personally overcome these challenges?

I’ve overcome them by growing from them and not letting them put me down or divert from the path I had taken, but I do appreciate that not everyone has this kind of strong confidence. I’ve seen it with other female colleagues who really broke in their first years in the industry because of events like this happened, which isn’t publicly, openly spoken enough about because it is to a degree even embarrassing when this happens to you.

You always ask yourself when you are a young female in this career, “Was it maybe my fault?”, and you can’t just brush it under the carpet. I think creating a safe environment where females are encouraged to talk and to communicate, where you have someone assigned who’s been longer in the industry who can help you navigate if things happen.

Two and a half years ago, just after having a baby, my husband passed away, which is quite traumatic. It happened while I was on maternity leave, so I had nine months to get myself together. You can’t really press a re-start button after something like this, but I have tried to create a new world in which my son and I can live.

Single parenting does not only affect women. It’s a gender-neutral topic. From what I have observed, there is an expectation that you need to be 100%-available around the clock to deal with business emergencies. Obviously, a single parent or someone with a young child could never, ever offer this 100% availability. By making this the standard – to be 100% available to the executive committee – I think you reduce our pool of talented people contributing at the strategic level of a company.

What are some of the efforts that you and/or your company made to ensure adequate flexibility?

I went back to work after nine months, and my company was very supportive. They were happy for me to work part-time and reduce my workdays to four. I adjusted my daily working hours to nursery pick-up times, and I worked two days from home and two days from the office. I might log in when my son is in bed, back to the computer, if something is really urgent, I may finish off in 30 to 60 minutes in the evening, but again, I try to work efficiently and well organised, to prevent this as much as possible.

One of the very important lessons for me is that when I leave work, I don’t think about it. I think it’s very important for your own well-being and mental health that you have a clear line when work stops, and your life starts. It increases your productivity if you’re able to maintain that clear line between work and your private life. Overall, I can do exactly the hours I need to, and that’s been extremely helpful, I spend quality time to focus on myself and my son, and that family life we have built over the last two and a half years.

What’s one key lesson you’ve learned along the way?

I think the one key is not to give up and to persist, and that you will get there. The lesson I learned is, just because events like this happen in your career, you shouldn’t lose yourself on that path, but just believe in yourself and try to get the support of those who believe in you, as well.

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