2021 will be a decisive year for female empowerment in finance - Comment & Profiles -

Despite the disruption of Covid-19, there is still plenty of momentum behind moves to increase senior female representation across the finance sector, writes the CEO of industry association 100 Women in Finance.

Amanda Pullinger

Amanda Pullinger

Looking ahead to 2021, there is ample reason for optimism in the cause of female empowerment within the finance industry. Despite the enormous challenges of 2020, we at 100 Women in Finance (100WF), a global organisation with almost 20,000 members across five continents, believe we are better positioned to make an impact on this vital issue going into 2021, our 20th anniversary year, than at any time before.

Leveraging technology

Among the lessons learned under the pandemic are ways to leverage technology that empower women to continue their progress. These gains benefit individuals at all levels of the financial services industry, and also firms and investors. In 2020, 100WF created more opportunities for each of the organisation’s pillars of education, peer engagement and impact, despite daunting obstacles.

Across all three areas, we were challenged by Covid-19 to reimagine our model of working. And yet, in that reimagining, a more inclusive, more global, more powerful, more visible model emerged. And so, as 100WF enters its 20th year, the range and reach required to get to our new 30x40 Vision – a vision of increased female representation as decision-makers and senior executives across the industry – has been unexpectedly boosted by the consequences of the pandemic.

Three voices point to the innovative uses of technology at their institutions, serving as examples for operations and best practice for the financial services industry.

Recently named UBS global treasurer, Beatriz Martin, observed her switch to internal communications with team members of the next generation, often sitting in their flats on their own. “I engage in over-communication; we check in as a group early in the day and we check out at the end of day,” Ms Martin says. “Accordingly, I obtain a better read on everyone’s activity and contributions, instead of interacting primarily with the individuals who stroll into my office.”

Deborah Zurkow, global head of investments at Allianz Global Investors, notes that virtual meetings have democratised senior and staff relationships. “Now we have a meeting where we can invite all the junior people who are involved,” she says. “I have found there is a level of interaction… that the junior people speak up a lot more than they did before. There is some evening out about [virtual meetings].”

Even more traditional institutions are forever changed. As Alessandra Perrazzelli, deputy governor of the Bank of Italy, observes: “For the first time ever, we were ready to move our employees onto a digital platform in order to continue with our duties, without going into an office.”

100WF’s 30x40 Vision

But while a powerful force, technological innovation is just one piece of the puzzle in empowering women to achieve their professional potential at every career stage.

Since the beginning of 2020, 100WF has operated under its guiding 30x40 Vision, in which women will perform 30% of investment team and executive leadership roles by 2040. Both the 30% ratio and the 20-year timeframe were chosen very deliberately. 

The business case for diverse investment teams has been made many times. Kudos to David Swensen, chief investment officer at Yale University, whose letter to the US investment firms that manage the university’s endowment was widely circulated: “Our goal is a level of diversity in investment management firms… success will be measured by hiring, training, mentoring and retaining women and minorities for positions on the investment teams at Yale and in your firm.”

Research has shown that 30% creates a tipping point, at which perceptions of who performs a certain role change. Moreover, among members of a small group, such as a board of directors, that same percentage can render an idea or opinion more mainstream to the other members. Women comprising 30% of an investment team and executive leadership is achievable and believable as a number.

Making a generational shift

As for the 20-year marker, 100WF hopes to reach it sooner, naturally, aided by leaders in the industry and investors. This timeframe grants scope for our organisation, joined by like-minded advocates, to launch a number of initiatives with industry support. With measurement and evaluation of effectiveness, the most successful programmes at firms and educational institutions will be duplicated and expanded over time.

Twenty years is, effectively, a generation. Therefore, it avoids the short-termism that has hindered the blossoming of some diversity and inclusion efforts that have not been granted sufficient time to change long-embedded institutional cultures and mindsets. Changing a culture takes time, making it all the more important to start now.

How will the financial services industry arrive at these 30x40 goals? Many players are integral to this vision.

1. We need to empower and deliberately support the women who are the industry’s future, via peer groups externally and sponsorship by men and women internally.

     100WF facilitates small in-person activities aimed at connecting women in the industry to their peers – locally and at each career stage – through NextGen, MidCareer and Senior Practitioner groups. In 2020, the pivot to online created new opportunities for online meetings among peers globally, not confined to one location. 

     Many firms have taken up the banner of mentorship and sponsorship programmes for women’s professional development, recognising its relationship to improved productivity and employee retention. We encourage their peers to follow such endeavours.

2. We need to create opportunities for women to be visible within the industry and in the media. Consequently, these women are seen as experts by their colleagues, investors and the next generation of young women to follow in their footsteps.

     100WF has a 20-year history of speakers and panels with women executives and professionals, holding between 100 and 200 education programmes annually; focusing on timely forecasts for asset classes, trends in alternative investments and strategies for career development; and fireside chats with luminaries in the industry.

Our organisation has long hailed the pioneering role of women who lead or manage funds. The 100WF FundWomen Directory features more than 500 female fund managers. This platform has increased the visibility of leading female investment managers, who today are routinely contacted by the media and conference organisers seeking up-to-date commentary on the markets, as well as the future of the financial services industry.

Valerie S Grant, senior vice-president and senior portfolio manager at Alliance Bernstein, receiving 100WF’s North America Industry Leadership Award, said during her well-received virtual New York Gala speech: “100 Women in Finance has played a critical role in increasing my visibility and the visibility of other female fund managers. In 2019, the organisation recommended me for the CNBC Next Programme. I am now a regular commentator on CNBC, Bloomberg News, Thomson Reuters and other news outlets.”

100WF also promotes the leadership of women in the burgeoning fintech arena, through its 100WF Fintech Directory. This showcase of women founders, investors and executives grows weekly, testament to the expansion of the sector and our vision for merit-based advancement, regardless of gender, due to increased visibility. The launch of this initiative was enabled in 2020 via a virtual platform.

Overall:

1. We need to ensure female managers are visible to investors. Further, we need to insist that firms make deliberate efforts to include and promote female portfolio managers on their teams. We need to challenge institutional investors to allocate money to more diverse management teams.

     In November, our traditional in-person and regional FundWomen conference was re-imagined to a Global FundWomen Week. The virtual format, hosted on the iConnections platform, proved highly effective in creating global opportunities to connect institutional investors to female fund managers. More than 300 institutional investors and 200 female fund managers conducted approximately 1000 meetings. This new format will likely be repeated in 2021, permitting investors and female managers to efficiently interact and discuss new capital allocations.

2. We need to inspire teenage girls and create access so they see that roles in the financial services industry are worth exploring.

     100WF is focused on providing the front end of the finance industry’s talent pipeline with greater numbers of women. All 100WF’s fundraising efforts support our newly launched 100 Women Impact Collective. This programme assembles global initiatives and local programme partners who prepare and encourage pre-career young women of all backgrounds to pursue pathways into the finance industry. Since its founding in 2001, 100WF has raised more than $50m (gross) for charitable organisations around the world, via its Gala events. 

In short, with 2020’s pivots and lessons now part of the playbook, 100WF’s 20th anniversary provides a unique opportunity for the global finance industry to support 100WF’s ambitious future goals as we work towards our 30x40 vision. 

Now is the time for men and women in the industry to collectively accelerate initiatives that will create more equality and diversity in the industry and better outcomes for all. We welcome your contribution. Here’s to the next 20 years!

Amanda Pullinger is CEO of 100 Women in Finance; for more information, please visit www.100women.org.

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