100 Women in Hedge Funds has come a long way since it was first established in New York in 2001. Conceived by three women working in hedge funds – Carol Kim, Sarah Dyer and Dana Hall – the idea was novel: to bring together 100 senior women in the alternatives industry to share ideas, build relationships and develop a peer network that until then, did not exist.
Over the past 16 years, 100 Women in Finance as it is now referred, has grown to include 15,000 members, hosted more than 800 educational events and extended its footprint across 22 global locations.
One individual who started volunteering for the organisation in its early days is today its CEO, Amanda Pullinger, who oversees a team of 500 volunteer staff and can often be found flying the world to meet senior female investment professionals.
“We’ve had 1,300 female speakers over the past 16 years talking about every topic you can think of,” says Pullinger, her energy and enthusiasm for the role easy to sense over the phone.
To go from reading modern history at Brasenose College at the University of Oxford to working in finance was a long and winding road for Pullinger. She has worked in seven different industries, all of them male-dominated. But as she is quick to point out: “Oxford gave me a network, it gave me confidence and it gave me a view of the world that I would never have had.”
Factor in that even at school there was a natural desire to compete with boys and one can assume that Pullinger no doubt relished the early meanderings of her career. Following graduation in 1987, it started in the environmental services industry in London, eventually leading to a transfer to an environmental testing lab in the US. Stints in advertising which included working on campaigns for the construction industry, working for a Caterpillar dealership, Unisys and then briefly a dot.com company before the bubble burst at the turn of the millennium.
“Around this time, one of my friends from Oxford was running a hedge fund in New York and asked me to join. It was while working for Aquamarine Capital that I started to get involved in what was then 100 Women in Hedge Funds.
“What I will say is that I have had fantastic male sponsors throughout my career who have supported me and allowed me to progress,” says Pullinger.
Pullinger has been steering the ship as CEO since 2014. Whilst she has some reason for optimism in respect of gender diversity, she is all too well aware of the low base from where women are having to move up from, in percentage terms.
Take, for example, KPMG’s Women in Alternative Investments report of December 2016. It found that the percentage of women in CEO and PM/CIO roles in North American firms were 12 per cent and 18 per cent respectively; down from a 2013 high point of 17 per cent and 23 per cent.
Preqin did a study on Women in Alternative Assets in October 2017 and determined that across the whole industry – hedge, PE, VC, real estate, infrastructure – only around 10 per cent of women were in senior roles. For senior investment roles, the numbers were even lower, around 7 to 8 per cent.
“However, there have been a couple of developments recently that give me a feeling there is still a glimmer of hope,” remarks Pullinger.
“Firstly, I’ve never seen men more engaged in the gender diversity topic. I think there is genuine interest from a business perspective and from a PR perspective among senior men in the industry: a genuine desire to see the needle move.
“Amongst some of those senior men they are saying, ‘As an organisation, we need to measure where we are (on gender diversity) and figure out how to get there’.
“I see that as a hopeful sign. It’s much better to have advocates among senior male figures in the financial industry. That will help to create the momentum for change.
“The second point relates to data coming out on investors. Research suggests that investors are looking more favourably at diverse investment teams and investing more in diverse than non-diverse teams.
“Also, New Financial did a report on Diversity from an Investor's Perspective in November 2017, getting into the weeds of why asset owners are now beginning to act on diversity topics. And some of those findings are encouraging.
“Investors can push the discussion better than anyone because managers will have to listen. Anecdotally, over the last 18 months I’ve seen or heard more female fund launches than I have for a long time. It’s not all terrible but if you look at the numbers, we’ve still got a long way to go.”
I've never seen men more engaged in the gender diversity topic. I think there is genuine interest from a business perspective and from a PR perspective among senior men in the industry: a genuine desire to see the needle move.”
Sadly, the lack of women in senior positions in the alternatives industry is symptomatic of the wider economy. Despite the UK Government’s strategy attempts to encourage FTSE 100 firms to increase the number of females in the boardrooms of corporate Britain – a government review in 2016 set a voluntary target of 33 per cent representation – there is precious little evidence that much has changed in the past decade.
As the Guardian newspaper reported on women in the boardroom, the proportion of women in the most influential non-executive positions, such as chairman and senior independent director has risen from 6 per cent to 8 per cent over 10 years.
Research just published by MSCI, entitled: Women on Boards and the Human Capital Connection, finds that companies with diverse boards (3-plus female directors over three years) and leading talent management practices experienced growth in employee productivity that averaged 1.2 per cent above the industry average. Companies with both mostly male boards and lagging talent management practices experienced the opposite effect.
Average dividend payout ratios and return on equity figures were consistently higher over three years for the companies with three or more women on their board, the research finds.
Not that Pullinger needs to be convinced of the arguments. It has been widely acknowledged for many years that female portfolio managers outperform their male counterparts.
“I sit on the Womens’ Network Forum in London, which is a multi-industry group that focuses on what is going on, with respect to diversity. What I can tell you is across all the different industries, which includes the oil industry, the construction industry, technology industry, retail as well as the financial industry, the numbers are the same and they haven’t shifted.
“There is something endemic in the system. There are certain things going on that, if you scratch the surface, you begin to realise that the challenges women face are the same because they are nearly always in the minority. Why haven’t we seen more growth in the numbers of women in PE and Hedge holding senior positions? For the same reason we haven’t seen more female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies,” argues Pullinger.
That feeling of always being in the minority can be quite overwhelming. Which is where the power of a peer network like 100 Women in Finance comes into effect “because if we can connect women with other like-minded individuals, it can go some way to help overcome that feeling of being alone”.
One issue that Pullinger speaks of with a degree of urgency is that senior women in finance need to be more visible so as to encourage the next generation. The reality is, young women don’t see female investors because a) those female investors are few and b) female investors have not been good at stepping into the public light.
The focus in 2018, says Pullinger, is to address this: “We just hosted our third New York-based Female Investor/Manager Conference,” Pullinger explains. “We had 50 female fund managers in a room with 50 female investors. People are amazed that there are even 50 female managers. Well there are. And that was for just one event.
“What we’ve got to do a better job of as an organisation is to make these female managers more visible to encourage the next generation.”
This is not simply to encourage women to speak because they happen to be female. It’s to improve female participation on panels with senior men where audiences can hear their particular views on the markets, their latest trading ideas. In other words, women want to be listened to on merit, not on gender.
“Something happens, psychologically, when you stand on stage in front of an audience. It’s good for the marketing of your fund, it’s good for your colleagues who respect you more for doing it, and it’s good to inspire the next generation. However, oftentimes a lot of female fund managers don’t think that increased visibility is a key marketing tool.
“What we want, and what the industry needs, are investors who happen to be women talking about their investment philosophy, how they think about the world. We need women to demystify what they do every day and why investment management is a really great career for young women,” suggests Pullinger.
One firm that is embracing gender diversity and helping shape the dialogue from a front foot position is Intralinks, a leading financial services company with over USD31 trillion of transactions executed on its platform and over four million users. Intralinks supports the global community of professional women in advisory, private equity, M&A law and corporate development roles. Through its business practices, partnerships and outreach, Intralinks encourages leadership and seeks to inspire women to ever higher levels of influence and achievement in finance.
Intriguingly, a high percentage of female portfolio managers that Pullinger meets globally are Asian, often of a Chinese cultural background. There are a couple of possible explanations for this. Firstly, throughout Chinese history, money has never been the sole preserve of men. Secondly, the Cultural Revolution fermented conditions where both men and women worked.
Pullinger argues that one of the biggest challenges in the financial industry in the western world – the US, UK, continental Europe – is the fact that there’s huge social and psychological pressure on educated women not to work when they have children.
By contrast, there is no pressure on Chinese educated women not to work. A major advantage is that in Asia, domestic help is not just cheap, it is readily available. No one looks down at you for having a nanny. One could infer that Asian women working in finance are free of the psychological shackles that still attach Western women to long-term cultural bias.
“The western world continues to struggle psychologically with educated women with families continuing to work. A Preqin survey looked at the percentage of women in senior roles regionally and they found that 18 per cent of all senior employees in China-based hedge funds were women, which was the highest number out of the 10 regions surveyed,” says Pullinger.
She concludes by stating her hopes that 100 Women in Finance will increasingly be seen as an advocacy platform.
“One where we can say to young women, to the media, to senior men in the industry, ‘Look at all this female investing talent!’ I am focused on making sure our panels have women on them and ensuring that women have greater visibility at our events, but also reaching out to other conferences who are struggling to assemble diverse panels.”
©Global Fund Media, published March 2018.
© Global Fund Media 2018