Women in Finance:

Gender diversity is just the first step

In the third of our GFM Spotlight on Women in Finance series, Global Fund Media talks to Kathy Sayko, Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer at PGIM, about her role in creating a business environment that attracts and retains a diverse pool of talent and enables that talent to thrive.

When Kathy Sayko, the recently appointed Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer at PGIM, won the SGA presidency at James Madison University back in 1987, it was in many ways a pre-cursor to her forging a distinguished career in finance.

Sayko took on the new role this September from Cathy Verhoff and admits “they will be some big shoes to fill” but she views this as a dream role and talking with GFM over the phone, one can hear the excitement in her voice.

“It’s the culmination of many years working in finance and I’m very much looking forward to it. When David Hunt assumed his role as CEO a number of years ago, he had the foresight to establish the office of diversity. I think that is representative of David’s conviction that top talent drives performance,” says Sayko.

The Inclusion and Diversity Officer serves as a critical function of PGIM’s business, partnering with senior leadership to foster an environment that attracts and retains a diverse pool of talent and enables that talent to thrive.

In 2017, an Inclusion and Diversity think tank was established, comprising a team of executives from each of PGIM’s eight businesses. Sayko refers to them as the ‘culture custodians’ across PGIM, one of the world’s top 10 asset managers with USD1.2 trillion in assets under management (as of 31st March 2018).

“The think tank engages with other senior leadership in PGIM, they engage with my team in the Inclusion and Diversity Office, and they engage with our whole talent organisation on a strategic basis to think hard about what is the right culture for the future? What is the proper portfolio of talent to really deliver value to our clients?” explains Sayko.

“At the same time, it has been instrumental in originating some of the programmes we have underway, one of which is referred to simply as the Partnership Program. We set out to identify 40 executives across PGIM – 20 men and 20 women – and we’ve created 20 pairs within that group. Most of those paired up (one male, one female) had either never met before, or at least didn’t know each other that well prior to this programme. Over the last 12 months, we’ve encouraged these pairs to get to know each other, to understand their respective career paths and perspectives, and to get an insight into what it is like to walk in each other’s shoes.

“Both men and women alike have had ‘Aha!’ moments in their careers and those moments are the basis, the bedrock, for building the right culture of diversity.”

PGIM has a vision and a clear point of view on talent diversity. By looking internally at its own workforce and asking itself serious questions on how and where diversity in all its forms – not just gender but ethnicity, social and educational background – needs to be improved. Sayko is the chief architect in this endeavour; after all, one cannot champion diversity externally if one is not doing so in-house. In her words: “Gender diversity is an essential first step…but only the first step.”

As part of its multi-manager approach, each of PGIM’s eight businesses is effectively an autonomous unit – a large part of its strength as a global asset manager. Each business has its own ‘micro culture’ and feels accountable to get this diversity issue right, says Sayko, “because each and every one of us at PGIM is on a quest to attract top talent.”

“Another important initiative to mention is our Womens’ Advisory Council,” she continues. “Back in 2012, we assembled senior women executives from across PGIM and we spent a lot of time together thinking about how we cultivate relationships within the firm itself but also across the investment management industry.

“It’s important we have robust internal networks but it is equally important we have connectivity with the market; what is good for PGIM in terms of driving superior talent to the industry is good for the broader industry.”

Both men and women alike have had ‘Aha!’ moments in their careers and those moments are the basis, the bedrock, for building the right culture of diversity.”

Sayko will continue to raise PGIM’s profile as an inclusive workplace while building on PGIM’s relationships with leading advocacy organisations including Student Veterans of America, the Robert Toigo Foundation, Out Leadership and the Jackie Robinson Foundation.

“The Toigo Foundation has been a terrific advocate in the market for people of colour to enter the financial industry. Girls Who Invest is a blossoming organisation that encourages young women to consider investment management as a career path. The Student Veterans of America is another very important strategic partner of ours because the dimension that our veterans and our military bring to our team and our performance is difficult to quantify. Veterans represent the best of all of us across all different aspects of diversity.

“We elevate these external partnerships in a way that educates top talent about PGIM but the long game is to encourage top talent, more broadly, to enter the financial industry,” asserts Sayko.

PGIM and UBS recently partnered with the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) to encourage more businesswomen to take up golf; an initiative that Sayko had previously promoted while working on the Client Management team at Prudential.

One of the benefits of such an initiative is the access it gives younger women to senior management. It is a well known fact that a lot of business deals are discussed and closed outside of the office, with the golf course arguably one of the most popular. Giving women a chance to learn the game and network is one way to solidify relationships and build confidence.

“We brought together a number of our senior women executives and the intent was to network and candidly talk business. Each of the sponsors identified rising stars who were invited to come along and interact with senior talent, and of course to learn the game. It is another tool for them to use to progress their careers,” says Sayko.

Another important component to attract the best young women in this industry has a lot to do with grounding what PGIM does in asset management with their value systems; this applies across gender and demographics. Asset managers like PGIM are in the business of delivering investment performance to its investors but Sayko is under no illusion talent is the engine that drives that performance.

“I think there is a virtuous circle between getting the culture right so that people think asset management is a great industry in which to work,” suggests Sayko. “This encourages them to succeed, which in turn drives investment performance. One of our female executives is a senior portfolio manager in our real estate impact business. She started out as an activist for the homeless, evolved into becoming a real estate developer and now leads our real estate impact investing efforts.

“The point here is we have to be able to connect our vision as asset managers to what matters to our current as well as future employees. We need to make sure they are motivated.”

She believes firmly in providing a clear path for younger women to attain senior roles in asset management “as well as to our experienced women to show them that becoming CEO of one of our businesses is possible too”.

Some recent senior female hires in Prudential Capital Group and PGIM Real Estate said that because they saw women in PGIM running large parts of respective businesses, it played a material factor in their decision to join the firm.

The more female executives in PGIM’s ranks, the more role models they will provide to the younger generation.

Growing up, Sayko was a problem solver, a lover of puzzles, especially the Rubik’s Cube. This led her to pursue a degree in computer science at James Madison University and while the academic pursuit of computer programming was fun, when Sayko moved into the real world practicalities of programming, she soon discovered it to be too much of an individual pursuit. As someone who describes herself as an “uber collaborator” who feels empowered interacting with other people, this was not a career path.

“At the time I became enticed by the Economist and The Wall Street Journal and that led me to pursue an MBA at Stern Business School, New York University.”

“It was a gut instinct but I loved the classes. I started learning options pricing and everything just clicked. I had some great professors and a great educational experience. I worked at Bankers Trust for a couple of years, then joined JP Morgan… and the rest as they say is history,” remarks Sayko, who enjoys skiing in the foothills of South Vermont with her family. “Sitting on a chairlift alongside my family provides a zen moment, which quickly disappears when we reach the top of the slope and my kids shout ‘Mom, follow me!’,” she laughs.

Having two brothers made Sayko naturally competitive but the biggest influence in her life, in terms of nurturing that inner drive, was Frankie Bell – a legendary swim coach who recently became the first woman to be inducted into the International Hall of Fame for competitive swimming.

“She was a real innovator in the sport of competitive swimming. At the time I had no idea how many lives she had affected and would affect. She instilled a work ethic, she taught me to be tough.”

“My most vivid memory of Frankie was listening to her pep talks before swimming meets and competitions. She said: ‘Nobody in this team will grow up to be average. You don’t have to try to fit in when you were made to stand out’. These have been guiding words for me ever since. I’ve shared them with my own children, and they apply to this conversation on gender diversity,” explains Sayko.

The diversity conversation has become more mainstream; it’s no longer a case of ‘if’ but ‘how’.

“Within PGIM we are absolutely trying to be a leader in this space. This is hard stuff though, it takes attention and focus to execute on it,” concludes Sayko.

©Global Fund Media, published December 2018.

© Global Fund Media 2018

Women in Finance:

Gender diversity is just the first step