Where are the female fund managers?

7 March 2018
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Fund management, as a career seems to be one that is more stumbled upon, than targeted.

A quick look at a fund manager’s CV shows they studied anything from geography to physics.

As a career path, it could seem a little dull. Dave Dudding, manager of the Threadneedle European Select fund, recently attended his daughter’s school to talk to her class about his job. He thought he’d made the role of a fund manager seem interesting, only to be brought down to earth when his daughter said “everyone wants to be a fireman though, Daddy.” Five-year-olds can be a tough audience.

Those that do end up investing the money in the funds that we choose for our pensions and individual savings accounts (Isas) still tend to be men: 100 years since women won the right to vote, just one in ten fund managers are female*. Evidence suggests that this isn’t because men are any better at it than women, so why is it? As we mark international women’s day on 8 March, I asked some female fund managers how they got into the role.

Becoming a fund manager

Lesley Dunn, co-manager of Baillie Gifford Corporate Bond fund, didn’t know what she wanted to do when she left school, so she avoided vocational subjects that might limit her choices. Opting instead to study maths, she always thought she would end up being an accountant. But that all changed when, in her final year at university, she met a friend of a friend who was a Japanese equities fund manager.  He said enough to convince her it was the way forward. 

Claudia Calich, manager of M&G Emerging Markets Bond fund, says she became a fund manager through an accident of birth. Growing up in Brazil meant she experienced various economic crisis, including hyperinflation, recessions, currency devaluations and political instability. While those were difficult times on a personal level, she says living through them was fascinating. It inspired her to study economics and focus her Master’s thesis on the Latin American debt problem.

Alexandra Jackson, manager of Rathbone UK Opportunities fund, didn’t have a clue what she wanted to do and, in the end, signed up with a recruitment agency. They sent her to interview for a trainee fund manager role at Rathbones and she has been there over 11 years now.

Margaret Lawson, manager of SVM UK Growth fund, was the same. It was only when she was grabbing a Mars Bar from a confectionary machine in her university basement, that she noticed a job advert for an investment analyst on the notice board. Her interest in economics and business had been piqued at an early age, when Radio 4’s world service was ‘background noise’ at home.

In contrast, Abby Glennie, manager of Standard Life Investments UK Opportunities fund, is one of the few people I know who set out to become a fund manager. “It was always my career aspiration,” she said.

Attracting others

“The biggest challenge is getting women interested in the asset management industry in the first place,” said Sue Round, manager of EdenTree Amity UK.

“There is a pool of talent all over the country,” adds Margaret, “but many companies still focus their recruitment on the likes of Oxford and Cambridge. I think different backgrounds bring different perspectives and we should make the industry more accessible to all. This job is like any other – as long as you learn your trade and have an interest in what you do, you can be good at it.”

And, as Claudia points out, the role is egalitarian, as investment performance is very transparent. “If you are able to deliver solid and repeatable performance, you will likely succeed, whatever your gender.” she said.

“Our industry could do more to promote itself as a career option for both males and females alike,” concludes Abby. “The key is teaching children about finance at school,” adds Margaret.

Alexandra agrees: “Education from a young age is key. When I talk to my small daughters about jobs they might like to do, I’m always reminded of the phrase ‘you can’t be what you can’t see.’

And who knows, if we get it right, one day being a fund manager may seem as exciting as a fireman.

*Source: Citywire Alpha Female 2017 survey.