#IWD2021: three gender equality challenges faced by the asset management industry

Today is International Women’s Day and given the theme of “choose to challenge”, Lindsay Hudson, Global Head of Inclusion and Diversity at Aegon Asset Management, reflects on the key hurdles preventing gender equality the asset management industry.

“All the data shows the global pandemic over the last year has had a disproportionate effect on women’s careers,” says Hudson. “The support frameworks that were in place to provide a healthy family balance have been disrupted and there has been a greater impact on mental wellbeing, due to home schooling, caring responsibilities, bereavements, and lockdown fatigue.”

“The McKinsey Women in the Workplace 2020 report presents the stark reality of the impact of the pandemic[1]. We know that intersectionality plays a part here too with women of colour and LGBTQI+ women often facing additional challenges. The way in which we respond today to those who are finding life tough, will impact the gender balance of the asset management industry in the future.”

Below, Hudson takes a closer look at the three main challenges facing the asset management industry:

  1. A lack of female role models:

“There are several factors at play here. How society views “a leader” is one example and unconscious prejudice plays a part. One survey of Fortune 500 CEO height revealed that they were on average 6ft tall, which is around 2.5” taller than the average American man. Indeed, 90% of CEOs are above average height[2]. And so we can see the way in which we can unconsciously associate physical stature with leadership ability.

“Barriers to women’s progression into leadership roles can largely be due to perceptions of women’s ability to lead. Within our industry, we lack female role models in senior positions and in revenue generating functions and the adage “you can’t be what you can’t see” rings true. Things are slowly improving and we are more focused as an industry on the barriers to female progression. Having clear visibility of women in executive leadership positions would certainly have an impact on those looking up the career ladder.”

2. Mentoring opportunities:

Providing access to mentoring opportunities is particularly important. Not only to those at the start of their careers but at every level. Reverse mentoring can also be very helpful in allowing senior executives to hear from employees further down the organisation about their lived experiences.

3. We do not need to fix the women:

“We need to change the systems which cause inequalities. For example, Professor Robin Ely presented a very interesting study from the Harvard Business Review on the culture of overwork, which in turn can force employees to choose between work and a personal life. A culture of overwork hurts everyone but can disproportionately impact women. In modern society, both men and women want to thrive at home and at work, so we need to be very cautious when it comes to any implication that an “always on” culture is healthy. Of course, we need to work hard and deliver, but the general expectation should not be that 24/7 availability is the required norm.”

Choose to challenge

“Our approach to inclusion and diversity in its broadest sense is through a three-pillar framework for our workplace and workforce: How we develop and engage existing employees within the workplace and how we attract a wider net of talent in the future into the workforce.”

“We need those different voices in the industry to help us innovate, transform and sustain.  Ensuring we have equality of opportunity to provide that cognitive diversity, which is the lifeblood of our industry, is something we can all choose to challenge today.”

[1] https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/women-in-the-workplace?cid=eml-web

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2011/oct/18/voters-tall-politicians-leadership

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