Tuesday 18 September, 2018
It's been 125 years since New Zealand women won the right to vote. As New Zealand celebrates the suffrage milestone this week, just how does 2018 look for women in finance? Kiwi Wealth Head of Fixed Interest Diana Gordon shares her views.
Hello, Mr Bond: how do we shake and stir the status quo?
Bond funds are collections or portfolios of loans issued by governments or companies that give you an income in retirement and generally form the lower risk part of your investments.
When it comes to who runs these portfolios, the numbers of women involved are pitiful.
According to the news service Bloomberg, there is a slight advantage to bond funds being run by women, yet only 2.5% of funds are run solely by female bond portfolio managers with some 17.5% of bond funds run by female co-managers (i.e. they run it with a man). So while our advantage has been proven, our representation doesn’t look like it’s getting better.
Women also scarcely attend – when are we?
Sitting here in New York writing this, I’m reflecting on two industry conferences I recently attended that depressingly had no more than 15% female attendees, though there was a higher proportion of female presenters.
It seemed exceedingly unlikely to me that the room was represented by the best bond investors.
I mean take actuaries, the people who work on pension calculations, who – to qualify – really need to understand the maths behind the bond markets. If you know anything about actuarial science, the exams are extremely hard. Now, if almost 40% of qualified actuaries are women (and I doubt that many of us bond managers male or female could pass the actuarial exams), surely there are other women with bond maths capable of working as bond portfolio managers!
Sound and fury signifying nothing?
When I was working in London and New York, you didn’t want to be identified as *that* woman. Don’t be too opinionated. That was “arrogant”, not decisive. There was surely no path to promotion for raising your head above the parapet.
Sure, I attended “women in investing” functions and diversity days. But my heart always sank at the cocktail receptions afterwards where women in two-piece suits, kitten heels and pearls, and beautifully-coiffed hair networked with each other, probably knowing that not much good would come out of this.
Most of the participants didn’t even actually run the portfolios and instead worked to explain portfolios to investors. Frankly, it all felt deeply inauthentic.
Changing the conversation
A few months ago, I took a few baby steps.
I felt it was necessary to say something about how rare we are as a response to the brave young women of New Zealand and the rest of the world who are taking a stand in the #metoo debate (and, by the way, sadly #metoo.)
I posted about it on LinkedIn in a personal capacity and asked my fixed income friends to like or comment. The result was pleasantly surprising. Sure, there was the obligatory dinosaur comment, but the world didn’t end, and I got some decent responses.
It also made me think that as guardians of your future we absolutely cannot end the debate there.
How we can make the change
Given how fast technology is transforming business models I think we need all kinds of minds in investment management to get the best outcomes for you.
That doesn’t just stop at our own hiring practices. We have been considering diversity when looking at investing some of your money in funds outside of the Kiwi Wealth team to round out your nest egg. We need to shine a new light on those teams.
Focusing on diversity
It’s not just the women we have been asking about.
That’s an easy, if still an uncomfortable, question for too many people that pitch their products to us. But how about the diversity of economic backgrounds or ethnic backgrounds? How do they bring on new staff?
Do they, for instance, consider neurodiversity? That shy chap who doesn’t make eye contact with autism may be a perfect analyst if you give him a chance to show you what he is capable of.
If these fund managers aren’t very diverse now, what do they expect to look like in five years’ time? No one wants quotas, but I would like to see every effort to eliminate unconscious bias – not just against women.
You deserve no less.
This article reflects the personal views of the author at the date shown above. The information provided, or any opinions expressed in this article, are of a general nature only.