Covid-19, an 'always-on' culture, under-representation at senior level and a lack of mentoring have been cited as obstacles to improving gender diversity in the investment world.
Lindsay Hudson, global head of diversity and inclusion at Aegon Asset Management, said there were still too many hurdles preventing gender equality in the asset management industry.
This has become even more prominent over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, Hudson said, with women being disproportionately more affected than men in terms of working and career progression.
Referring to consultancy McKinsey's Women in the Workplace 2020 report, Hudson said: "All the data shows the global pandemic over the last year has had a disproportionate effect on women’s careers.
“The support frameworks that were in place to provide a healthy family balance have been disrupted and there has been a greater impact on mental wellbeing, due to home schooling, caring responsibilities, bereavements, and lockdown fatigue.”
Moreover, the pandemic has caused women of colour and LGBTQI+ women facing "additional challenges", and she urged the asset management industry to consider this when it comes to hiring, retaining and promoting women.
Hudson cited a lack of role models in leadership, with women often being overlooked simply because of an unconscious bias towards a 'typical' leader physique.
“We can see the way in which we can unconsciously associate physical stature with leadership ability", Hudson said, adding: "within our industry, we lack female role models in senior positions and in revenue-generating functions and the adage 'you can’t be what you can’t see' rings true."
She also said it was important to provide access to mentoring opportunities - not just for those starting out on the career ladder, but at every level, while reverse mentoring could also help to share lived experience.
Moreover, as the Covid-19 pandemic has starkly outlined, there is still a 'culture of overwork', which often forces employees to choose between work and a personal life. This acts as an invisible barrier to women's progression.
Hudson commented: "In modern society, both men and women want to thrive at home and at work, so we need to be very cautious when it comes to any implication that an 'always on' culture is healthy.
"Of course, we need to work hard and deliver, but the general expectation should not be that 24/7 availability is the required norm.”
Need to engage female customers
But without attempting to overcome these obstacles, Hudson argued the asset management world could not properly "innovate, transform and sustain".
Without proper diversity and inclusion within the asset management and advice world, the consumer themselves will be disadvantaged - and the 'advice gap' that exists will become even wider as more women feel excluded.
This is a point echoed by Holly Mackay, chief executive of Boring Money. She said: "Over the last 10 years we have seen investing open up to a different audience. Costs have fallen, engagement has gone up, the average age has come down and we have more smaller first-time investors than ever.