Public Equity

Our practice focuses on identifying and delivering human capital who directly generate revenue or develop new strategies for our buy side client base.

Public Equity

The team at Mondrian Alpha provide support to public equity managers and funds across both research and portfolio management. Clients include hedge funds, boutique equity managers, pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, family offices and traditional asset managers.

Our expertise covers:

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Women in Finance - Practical reasons preventing businesses from reaching their targets

Women in Finance Charter: Practical reasons preventing businesses from reaching their targets despite their best efforts.

- A viewpoint from a female headhunter

On gender equality, the asset management industry hasn’t managed to keep the pace with other fields like medicine and law. Despite an increasing number of females receiving a college degree, women still hold only 10% of senior positions in hedge funds managers in Europe.1In order to address this, the UK government launched the HM Treasury Women in Finance Charter in 2016 hoping to encourage the financial industry to improve gender balance in senior management. The Charter now has over 330 signatories, covering 800,000 employees across the sector.2

In 2018 only 45% of signatories have met their targets; evidently, the progress has been slow. While circa half of the hedge funds’ investor relations teams are female, there is a great imbalance when it comes to the investment teams with only 10% of portfolio managers being female.3

Why are there so few women entering the investment management space and why are fund managers failing to retain those who do?

In this piece, I want to provide a practical and personal view on what is holding women back from entering the space and what obstacles they face throughout their career. I will assess why both large and small asset managers are struggling to attract and retain women. And why, even if managers have the best intentions, they are quite often not able to meet targets they have set themselves. I will consider the ‘conventional wisdom’ on the subject and look at whether it holds true in real-world situations. I will uncover some of the less commonly cited opinions before finally moving on to optimal solutions.

From School to Work

At a graduate level, most asset managers still prefer to hire candidates that have read “STEM” subjects. Despite the rising numbers of women in “STEM" fields, it has remained male dominant. Men account for 62% of all degrees in finance and it gets even more skewered towards men for subject like mathematics and computer science.4 This, therefore, means that even at the point of entry there is a female deficit.

The conventional wisdom is that this is one of the main reasons there are fewer women in asset management. My experience is that asset managers do indeed tend to focus on “STEM” subjects when hiring graduates and therefore there are naturally more male applicants.

There are, however, many asset managers that are aiming to have equal male/ female representation and are in many cases are managing to achieve it on the junior level. Whether this is being achieved through top-down quotas or bottom-up by proactively encouraging more female applications; it is having the effect of increasing the number of females entering the industry. However, asset managers that are particularly focused on quantitative skill sets are still struggling for equal gender ratios due to the imbalance in genders studying quantitative subjects. Possible solutions include changing the supply-side, demand-side or a combination of the two. The onus is on society to alter the attitude of girls in school to encourage them to continue their education with STEM subjects but at the same time there is an onus on some asset managers to think about whether a strict quantitative hiring policy is actually necessary. I believe a combination of these points will result in more females joining the industry.

It’s About Who You Know

Entering the space: You often hear that nepotism plays an important part in getting into and succeeding within asset management. Assuming this is the case; it suggests that it favours men as most of the senior people in the industry tend to be male.Whilst there are definitely large amounts of nepotism at play in the industry, because good connections matter, it is not as apparent as it has been in the past. Bigger firms are advertising roles on their website as well as actively involving recruiters, this results in larger and more diverse pool of candidates. Some of the smaller managers still exclusively hire by the word of mouth, however, looking at the start ups we work with I can say that talent matters more than the right connections. I believe that you still do see indirect nepotism in operation when it comes to accessing internships and early work experience. It is extremely hard, if not impossible, to get an internship in a hedge fund if it is not arranged by your relative or family friend, or very close connection. One of my clients was able to arrange internships in reputable hedge funds for his nephew every summer, this relevant experience will undoubtedly make his nephew better prepared and more confident and therefore, more able to succeed in a competitive interview process.

It is possible to get an internship in asset managers as they are doing a lot to increase diversity by offering work experience to students, that wouldn’t normally think of a career in asset management. There is also value in preparatory interview stages that brief candidates on the roles and realities of working in asset management. This has the effect of levelling the “playing field” between those that have had exposure to the industry and those that may have the right skill-set but may not interview as well due to their lack of exposure.

Moving Jobs

When looking to move to a new role, networking becomes important. The more visible you are, the higher the chances are that you will get access to a new opportunity. Men are eager to connect and recommend one other while women usually struggle to network mainly for two reasons: male focused after work activities and perception that only very few women will succeed.

First, let’s look at the activities and events that encourage networking, it is usually sport (football or golf) or an after work drink in a pub. Both tend to fit men more than women. The majority of junior candidates I’ve spoken to felt isolated in their male-dominated investment teams and despite their best intentions they were unable to connect with their male colleagues simply because they couldn’t play football or golf. One of the senior women I’ve spoken to mentioned that she has learned to make the best out of golf tournaments focusing on meeting as many people as she could whilst others were playing golf.

Secondly, I often hear a perception that only very few women will be able to succeed in the finance space. Women can sometimes be reluctant to help other women, as if there is some sort of quota for women and once all roles are filled, other women won’t be able to move up the ladder.

Balancing Responsibilities in Modern Life

A large number of women are not just professionals, they also have kids, families and other responsibilities. A lot of women feel societal pressure to be a “mother” while being a “leader at work”. It is believed that struggling to combine a demanding career with personal commitments leads women to abandon risk taking roles or leave the industry altogether. I do still see this happening quite a lot, however, more and more women are now managing to combine a family with a demanding career in finance, some have to plan their pregnancy down to a month, however bigger asset managers have managed to improve work life balance, even for risk takers, allowing them to work from home and providing workers with flexible schedule.

Businesses that allow for flexible schedule not only for working mothers but also for fathers have been particularly successful with establishing a good culture and collaborative environment Women that I spoke to said that working from home didn’t make them feel like it was special (an indulgence) when it was also offered to their male colleagues. As the result there are less reasons for tensions within the team as everyone is treated equally. I also know of at least one asset manager that has introduce equal parental leave. This has the effect of increasing the likelihood that men will spend longer out of the office on parental leave, whichwill undoubtedly have a short-term cost but will mean that the “playing field” will be further levelled and I suspect in the long term they will result inmore female representation in their senior levels. Some businesses have even introduced flexible maternity leave that allows women to take their maternity leave in blocks instead of a full six months in a row. This helps to balance the choice between seeing their child and having larger gaps in their career. Some women mentioned that they refrained from applying for jobs or accepting job offers when information about the maternity package was not disclosed in advance. One of my candidates has rejected a job offer just because she didn’t feel comfortable asking about the maternity package. Her rationale was not evident at the time, however, later she confessed that she felt that asking that question will make her seem unwilling to work hard and not knowing what the package is, she decided to stick to her old role.

Self-selection of women into female concentrated teams. Are women more attracted to gender diverse teams like sales and IR?

With investment teams on average being 90% male5 no wonder it can sometimes feel like a “Boy’s Club”. While graduate schemes on average have a good male/female ratio, upon completion it is believed that women are usually assigned to sales teams while men are promoted to traders and investment analysts. From speaking to a lot of women in the industry, my view is that; because the majority of the investment teams are male dominated, some women are put off by the idea of being a first women on the desk as they want to be in the teams that have more gender diversity.In fact, the question I get asked the most when I’m headhunting a woman is, “are there any other females in the team?”

And while it is not a deal breaker for all women, some candidates have turned down job offers just because they didn’t want to join an all-male team. Joining a team with no gender diversity can be a risky move as it is easy to feel like an outsider. Firms with all male investment teams have to make sure there is at least one senior female in the organisation that is visible as a female leader. This is particularly important for candidates that join teams with low gender diversity. I have seen some asset managers bringing in matrix reporting lines and mentoring systems to ensure that no business lines are male or female dominant.

Is female leadership important?

A lack of female leadership in an organisation can be discouraging for a female that is looking for a role model to emulate and is believed to subsequently cause the women to give up on the aim of becoming a leader.

Having a female role model is vital, as women need someone they can relate to, it is particularly important when planning a family, as the key question for those who choose to have a family is how to combine long working hours with having kids. Women reported that a lack of female leadership is particularly perceptible mid-level of your career, not knowing how to juggle career and kids, women tend either postpone pregnancy or leave the industry altogether.

When in doubt or struggling it is important to get support from someone you can relate to or learn from. One of the candidates, lets call her Yasmine, mentioned that she was rethinking her whole life after she gave birth to her first child; even though she was lucky enough to have a flexible schedule at work, she often felt guilty when she was working from home. After a year of trying to combine parenting with a demanding career Yasmine seriously considered leaving the industry. She couldn’t raise her concerns to any of her colleagues as she was a part of an all-male team and she just couldn’t relate to any of them. Fortunately, she happened to meet a senior female at a conference who explained how she managed to combine work and family by working longer hours three days a week and having a normal eight-hour day two days a week.This has allowed her to take out clients when needed as well as see her kids without feeling guilty. That conversation was a turning point as it helped give Yasmine perspective, she decided to stay, and she now has a successful career and two children.

Are all women looking for flexible working?

It is often perceived that every female employee will require flexible working hours. I often get asked by clients whether women will be repelled by demanding roles and long working hours. While flexible schedules are important for a lot of those that have children, I found that it is not a priority for women who are not looking to start a family. In fact, from my experience, women almost never ask about working hours and vacations when applying for roles. However, what I do get asked is how much mentoring they can get. Women tend to gravitate towards good learning opportunities and roles where they feel they can make a difference. From my experience, female candidates are not put off by long working hours and are usually among the most loyal employees. In fact, it is particularly difficult to headhunt women that have good relationships with their current manager and get very good mentorship. Lots of my female candidates have told me that they have enjoyed wearing multiple hats and have tended to gravitate towards diverse/hybrid roles.

Special treatment. Are women looking for softer cultures?

There is often the perception that women are looking for asset managers with softer cultures. I agree that having a good culture will definitely help to retain both male and female employees, however, most women that I have spoken to are not looking to work at businesses that that are overly “soft” and have no “edge”. Rather, they are looking for asset managers that have a fair and consistent culture. They want everybody to be valued for their skillset. They want to be a part of the team and go for after-work drinks that include everybody in the business. One of my candidates mentioned that after having a baby she was excluded from after-work activities, when she raised the issue with her manager, he just mentioned that they assumed that she wouldn’t have time to participate anymore since she just had a baby. This story is not unique, and the majority of female candidates that I speak to are not intimidated by the testosterone-driven nature of the trading floor, as long as certain boundaries are not crossed. It’s often management that can overthink trying to create an inclusive culture which can then end up causing resentment. Women, of course, do care about the culture of the firm and they want to join a place where they will have a voice, but a strong performance driven culture seem to be equally important for both male and female candidates.

Can you be too pro-female?

There is a lot of discussion in the market about how to make the finance space attractive for women. Managers talk about creating more roles for women and (legalities aside) some will only interview females to achieve gender diversity in a team. Whilst it may be because of good intentions, this can often make it harder to attract females.A lot of women that I have spoken to have said that they get put off when they get the feeling that the role they are interviewing for is quota. The feeling that you are being considered for a position because of your sex rather than because of the skillset puts off a large number of candidates. I have questioned how people have had that feeling in the past and quite often the language used during the interview process made it feel like a “diversity hire”. Candidates want to be hired and recognised for the skill-set and be valued for it.

After meeting with women from all walks of life and all parts of the asset management industry I can also say that all women are not the same, some will be put-off by the lack of diversity, whilst others would have no issue joining an all-male investment team. It is, therefore, important to understand what type of candidate you are trying to attract and make your message clear to the target pool of candidates. I am conscious of the dangers of trying to characterise people, however I find that most female candidates fall into two broad categories. I will not describe each personality as it is hard to generalise all women, so for the purpose of this article lets call these two types of women Group A and Group B.The venn diagram below shows what both types have in common as well as their differences.


Not all women fall under the categories above, some would be a mixture of both, however, this diagram can be a useful tool for when navigation the message to the market.

Practical solutions to help businesses reach their targets

Learning from the feedback from all my candidates there are several steps that business can take in order to attract more women and refrain from losing existing female talent to competitors.

Broaden candidate requirements to allow real diversity.

If you are finding yourself struggling to find a diverse pool of candidates you can start considering profiles outside of STEM subjects. This will widen the pool of candidates and will allow a true diversity within the team. Maths focused technical rounds might not be representative for some of the female candidates as women on average feel more anxious during the testing sessions comparing to the male candidates.6 Moreover, as mentioned earlier the solution is to change the supply-side or the demand-side or a combination of the two. Businesses have to think about whether a strict quantitative hiring policy is actually necessary for the role or is it in the job specification because it has historically been a requirement.

Don’t rely on word of mouth. Hire people outside of your connections.

Since there are few women in the space, trying to recruit through your own network will most likely result in all-male shortlist. Using a head-hunter will help you to reach people outside of your network and will help you to get a full picture of all suitable candidates for the role. This will help you to get access to a diverse group of candidates.

Be creative with events and after work activities.

Ensure that team bonding activities are not targeting just man. Try to organise gender neural activities so that female members can participate as well. One of the easiest ways to build an inclusive team is to ask the individual members for feedback and ideas by doing this you can organise and event that will be enjoyable by every member of the team.

Make your female employees are visible

Foster and nurture female role models in the business and make sure they are visible when recruiting. Encourage women to take on managerial roles and motivate others, create a culture where their voice is heard and make sure they face clients as well as potential recruits. Even if you have an all-male investment team, make sure females from other departments are visible so that they can support other women entering the investment team.

Encourage multiple reporting lines

Encourage more matrix reporting lines and teams in the business so that no matrix is male or female dominated. By doing this you can avoid women being stuck in all-male teams, this will also them allow to learn from other women in the business even if they sit on separate desks.

Consider flexible working and making it available equally

Flexible working hours are important, especially for those with children. I suspect that asset managers that continue to offer little flexibility in the longer term will struggle to retain talent as the whole market become more flexible. To promote a good culture, it is important to encourage flexible working for both male and female employees, as when flexible working is allowed equally it improves the team dynamic

No diversity hires

Ensure that in trying to encourage more females it does not come across as quota driven. Women are naturally attracted to firms that value diversity and value differences of opinion. Make sure that you create equal opportunities and value women for what they can bring to the table. Don’t just chase female candidates for numbers. Choose appropriate language during the interview process, make sure it doesn’t, even inadvertently, sound like you are trying to make a “diversity hire”.

Inclusive culture. Recognise soft skills.

Creating a culture where everyone can have their own voice is vital for good performance. Recognise soft skills and make sure you compensate for it accordingly. Ensuring that the culture of the business is inclusive, and all employees have a mentor whilst also ensuring that compensation remains at the equal level across employees, will save you from losing talent to competitors.



1 Preqin (2019), Women in Hegde Funds [Online] Available at: ttps://docs.preqin.com/reports/Preqin-Women-in-He...

2 New Financial (2019), HM Treasury Women in Finance Charter: Annual Review 2018, [Online] Available at: < https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/governmen... >

3 Preqin (2019), Women in Hegde Funds [Online] Available at: https://docs.preqin.com/reports/Preqin-Women-in-He...

4 The Guardian, Nathalia Gjersoe (2018), Bridging the gender gap: why do so few girls study Stem subjects?, [Online] Available at: < https://www.theguardian.com/science/head-quarters/... >

5 Preqin (2019), Women in Hegde Funds [Online] Available at: https://docs.preqin.com/reports/Preqin-Women-in-He...

6 The Guardian, Nathalia Gjersoe (2018), Bridging the gender gap: why do so few girls study Stem subjects?, {Online] Available at: < https://www.theguardian.com/science/head-quarters/... >