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Investment Management in Australia: Where are the women?by Philippa Honner

Over the past 25 years working in Australia’s investment and super industry, I’ve come across a lot of skilled investors. It’s been a privilege to work with a wide spectrum of investment teams from across Australia and the world’s leading asset managers.  

But in that 25 years of interviewing or providing communications for asset managers—and supporting the media programs for literally hundreds of local and global investment executives—I can count on two hands the number of women in senior investment roles I’ve encountered. 

Last year Honner joined a growing movement to tackle the lack of diversity in Australia’s substantial investment industry by providing pro-bono support to diversity initiative Future IM/Pact

Recently I spoke with diversity champion and former Honner teammate Yolanda Beattie. Yolanda founded and leads Future IM/Pact, which is starting from the grass roots: building a passion for investing among young women, and matching those women with potential employers in the industry. The goal is to achieve an equal number of women and men in junior analyst roles by 2023. 

Yolanda, how did this great initiative come about?

About four years ago, when I was leading Mercer’s diversity and inclusion consulting practice, I led a research project in partnership with funds managers and super funds investigating why there are so few women in investment roles. At the time it was a really obvious problem that had CIOs and CEOs scratching their head in wonder and throwing their hands up in frustration. If they had 100 applicants for an analyst role, they were lucky if 10 women applied. They were desperate to get more women into their teams but just couldn’t find the talent. I was determined to solve the puzzle.

We surveyed and interviewed hundreds of women and men in the industry and at university to figure out what was going on and we boiled it down to five big issues. 

The first problem to solve was a lack of awareness about the profession. Uni students didn’t know about investment management and, if they did, they were tainted by Hollywood stereotypes and high-profile scandals. Worse still, female finance students were almost 50% less likely than their male counterparts to consider a career in investment management. Not knowing enough about the industry and opportunities, and a sense they wouldn’t fit in, were among the top reasons cited. 

So a group of the original industry partners and a few extras joined forces to build a campaign to help young women learn about the impact they can have as an investor.

You’re building a future pipeline of talented women for the investment industry. Tell us a bit more about how you do that.

Our strategy is to inspire super smart, critical and creative thinkers to learn more about investment management, and then provide them with the experience, networks and career pathways to get a foot in the door. We do that with social media campaigns, networking events, investment competitions and paid intern opportunities. This year we’re also launching a virtual intern program and mentoring circles to give students an inside view of what it’s like to work in an investments team.

Why is it important to have more diverse investment teams?

In a world where there’s more to know about everything, bringing different perspectives to the decision-making table is essential for overcoming unavoidable blind spots and biases. Investment management is one of those professions where this matters hugely to outcomes. Women tend to bring a different perspective than men for reasons that are biological and socially conditioned.

Bringing women, and other visible diversity like cultural diversity, into white, male dominated teams also has a massive impact on behaviours. Research shows diversity prompts more thoughtful decision making: fewer assumptions are made, more points are considered and there’s more turn taking around the table.

I could rattle off stats about the correlation between gender diversity and investment returns or total shareholder returns but the truth is a sceptical mind can unpick those stats because most studies don’t adequately control for other factors. And when you do tighten those controls, you find other factors matter more—namely educational and experience diversity and team behaviours.

But when you speak to any investment leader who has worked in nearly all male teams and those that have more gender diverse teams, they will tell you it feels different. Egos are more in check and discussions are more considered.

What it takes to attract and keep great women investors are the same attitudes and behaviours known to improve group dynamics and team performance. Alliance Bernstein did an excellent meta study on this, which I boil down to four factors that inhibit effective problem solving within groups: excessive hierarchy; dominant majority and its impact on group polarisation; conflict avoidance; and emotional insensitivity. Get that stuff right and you not only retain minority talent but you make better decisions.

The project is now in its second year, what success have you had so far?

We’re killing it! Thanks to our amazing partners, supportive university societies and my excellent team, we beat our key performance indicators for last year and are on track for an even bigger 2020.

The best measure of success so far is our investment competition where gender-balanced university teams of four competed to win a paid summer internship. Close to 130 women registered for the competition and an all-female team ended up winning. Each member of this team hadn’t heard of investment management before Future IM/Pact and they met at a Future IM/Pact event.

Our industry partners like Cbus, Nikko Asset Management and Yarra Capital Management have been thrilled with their interns who are delivering more value than they’re taking.

What are some of the other barriers to diversity you found in your original research? What are the other opportunities for the industry?

Arguably the biggest issue is keeping the great women already in investment teams. We found women were 30% less likely than men to be promoted and 50% more likely to leave at the senior analyst level. Culture, bias and a lack of flexible working are the main reasons for this disparity.

But the opportunity is way bigger than gender. Ultimately this is a very human story. The best investors are excellent at marshalling diverse perspectives and creating an environment where people can do their best work. The factors I mention above from the Alliance Bernstein research boil down to self-awareness and strong interpersonal relationships. And when you get under the hood of that you find many other juicy topics—knowing how we get triggered, managing negative thought patterns, gratitude and compassion, the power of mental models for improving decision making, to name a few.
In a game where teamwork and decision-making drives tangible performance outcomes, doubling down on what we need as humans to thrive is the next big opportunity.


About Future IM/Pact 

Future IM/Pact is an industry initiative aimed at attracting more diverse talent into the investment teams of fund managers, super funds and industry participants. The project was launched in July 2018 with founding partners Mercer, AustralianSuper, HESTA, QIC, Cbus Super, NAB Asset Management, Pendal, Magellan and Wavestone. Since then, Nikko Asset Management, Fidelity International, Yarra Capital Management, Challenger Limited, Macquarie Securities, Vinva Investment Management, Schroders, Cooper Investments and Perpetual have joined the project. More information can be found at
If you would like to be a part of Future IM/Pact contact Yolanda Beattie at

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