Women fund managers' sea change as industry breaches gender barriers

Women fund managers' sea change as industry breaches gender barriers

“You don’t have to go too far back, just before the ‘Big Bang’ of 1986, to remember the city was a cartel. It was racist – whites only. It was also classist. If you were going to be a stockbroker, it depended on which regiment or Oxford college your father went to. And, of course, it was male.”

Fortunately, the worldthat Seven Investment Management (7IM) founder Justin Urquhart-Stewart remembers has moved on quite a bit since then.

He said the Big Bang – which ushered in the deregulation of the stock market, including the abolition of fixed commission charges – might not have led to  legions of women entering the sector, but what it did signal was a shift towards meritocracy as opposed to entitlement.

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Change has continued, albeit gradually.

So where are the female fund managers?

According to a report by Morningstar, 13 per cent of fund managers in the UK are women, the same ratio as 2008 during the global financial crisis.

Although the UK fares better than the US and Germany, where women fund managers account for 10 per cent and 9 per cent, respectively, women are better represented in countries such as Singapore, Spain and Hong Kong.

The report also showed that women have better odds of running funds in areas of industry growth: passive, funds- of-funds and team-managed funds.

Likewise, it appears more difficult for women to win management roles in solo-managed funds and actively managed funds, which is a longer-established section of the mutual fund industry.

In some asset classes, women fund managers have more credentials than men, yet they are generally under-represented in fund portfolio manager ranks.

A CFA Institute study also found that women are under-represented in all of the most common CFA member occupations. 

Additionally, women represented only one in 10 people in the key leadership positions of chief executive, chief investment officer, and chief financial officer.

The occupations with the highest representation of women are performance analyst, compliance analyst/officer, and relationship manager/account manager, but even in these occupations, women represent less than one in three workers.

Traditional posts

Mr Urquhart-Stewart said that although many women are confined to traditional areas such as HR and marketing, more are breaking into fund management.

When he set up 7IM more than 15 years ago, along with Tom Sheridan, he said they wanted to do things differently: “That’s why we did not want to join another firm. When we chose our chief investment officer, we chose her not because she was female, but because she had the right attitude towards people’s money, which was that it was a privilege to look after people’s money, not a right”.

Former city investor Bhavini Shah, who set up City Hive in 2016, said attitudes towards female fund managers by the ‘C-Suite’ are changing, and more importantly, by their clients. However, there is still a bottleneck with middle management.

City Hive works with firms to address gender imbalance issues and acts as a voice in those situations when women are reluctant to speak out because they fear rocking the boat with their employer.