This year I passed my 30-year milestone of managing the Amity UK fund.
During that time, I have witnessed a great deal of industry change. Advancement in some respects has been rapid – such as the pace of technological innovation.
However, in other areas, change has been slow. Only now is responsible investing attaining mainstream recognition, while the issues of diversity and gender equality have proved just as difficult to achieve meaningful and lasting change in.
A wide gender pay gap, lack of board representation and a small pool of female fund managers: International Women’s Day reminds us of the strides we need to make towards gender equality.
The good news is the industry can change, but it must address a number of structural issues to unlock latent female talent.
I have been fortunate in that I started my career under the stewardship of a meritocratic boss who just wanted the best person for the job – and the environment was, by and large, respectful.
However, I have seen social constructs and bureaucracy as some of the main barriers to progress for the women who have not been quite so fortunate.
In our industry, fewer women rise through the ranks than is ideal, with disclosures from some of the biggest fund houses last year showing that only 25% of senior jobs are filled by women.
Meanwhile, early gender pay gap disclosures have revealed gaps of as much as 70% in bonuses and 30% in base salaries. I feel strongly that companies should adapt to evolve their employee spectrum. Female representation must be increased not only at fund manager and board level but across the ranks.
Fortunately, we are in an industry well-placed to support a flexible work/life balance. Women are much more in focus and there is a willingness within the industry to affect change.
However, rapid change may not necessarily follow; there isn’t an extensive pool of women to take board positions, particularly as board appointments usually come from incumbents. The framework for board appointments needs to be developed in order to address this.
It is crucial that we have better facilities to support female ‘returners’ to the workplace, which can often be daunting. Unfortunately, many women leave roles by never returning from maternity leave, but increased flexibility will help companies who are losing talent in this way.
At EdenTree, we are striving to increase levels of diversity, attract women and support returners. For example, we use specialist recruitment agencies targeted at recruiting returners into professional careers.
Some companies have chosen to explain away their gender pay gaps by referencing the divergence in seniority between male and female employees. However, this is precisely the problem. Industry-wide, we have not yet fully created a supportive environment for building a long-term career, given the particular challenges women face. While some companies have made strides in this area, many are still trailing behind.
It is the responsibility of those of us already in the industry to be vigilant and champion diversity. Indeed, as always, great change is made by the few.
One lesson I have learned in my three decades of investing is innovators do not wait for change – we must drive the next wave of industry transformation.