Women make up just 17% of employees in investment management, so it’s particularly disappointing to hear that some of those who do enter the industry are experiencing gender inequality.
That’s according to new research from the Women, Work and Leadership Research Group at the University of Sydney, based on interviews with a number of women in investment management. The report, titled Non-traditional Investors, was released on Tuesday.
The report finds the ‘boys club’ is still alive and well across the sector.
One of the 124 women in direct investment management occupations surveyed said: “I got to the point where I couldn’t deal with the complete disrespect — just the culture, the attitude, the not being one of the boys. I don’t want to be one of the boys.”
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More than one-fifth of respondents reported they had experienced offensive remarks or behaviour relating to their gender at work, and one in eight said they had experienced sexual harassment in their current workplace.
A lack of flexibility and a culture that rewards long hours over merit also came up as significant impediments to women’s progression.
As another participant said: “I love what I do but I’ll be honest, I’d be much more senior by now if I didn’t have children. It’s been a big sacrifice for me. I didn’t realise how much it would change my employer’s perception of my capability. It’s the sad truth. I know intellectually I am capable of a lot more but no one really wants that from me.”
Report author Dr Sarah Oxenbridge also noted that many of the participants felt they and their female colleagues were excluded from male-only social events, especially those which are sport related, such as golf tournaments, poker nights and boat trips.
“The research shows a very heavy and thick layer of glass at the ceiling of the investment management hierarchy,” she said.
As another report author Professor Rae Cooper put it: “These are highly capable and ambitious women, managing billion-dollar investment portfolios and working in a sector that is at the heart of our economy. The gender inequality is worrying for all of us.”
Survey participants identified the absence of women in senior roles as a critical issue, given there are so few women at the top, as well as a lack of support for working mothers. Many participants highlighted long working hours expectations, as well as a lack of flexibility and maternity leave as key issues for working parents. They also said that careers stall after women take maternity leave and that societal expectations of women as primary family carers prevail.
As another participant commented: “I have worked at two different firms doing [investment] research. In both firms, the senior management were almost always men who had wives who didn’t work. Therefore senior management didn’t value females working in the workforce and didn’t want to encourage part-time or flexible work. It was also made very clear that unless you were at your desk or on the trading floor, you couldn’t do your job properly. The idea of working from home was not encouraged. With such little flexibility, no wonder that almost all my female colleagues chose different career paths when they returned to work after having children.”
So what can businesses do to address the problem?
It seems obvious, but it starts with the basics said Dr Oxenbridge: giving women equal opportunities to advance, as well as equal treatment in work teams.
The researchers also said organisations should address how to promote better work-life balance for parents working in investment management, while also establishing a ‘tone from the top’ that shows a genuine commitment to gender diversity in the sector — that filters into the actions and behaviours of direct managers.
Many of the recipients also suggested the introduction of “flexible by default” working arrangements as well as equal parental leave for male and female parents — with no detriment to the careers of those who take such leave.
They also said it’d help to have careers based on merit, as opposed to success rewarded according to unbroken career paths and an ability to spend long hours in the office.
“Women in the sector are saying loud and clear that unequal treatment must stop,” says Dr Oxenbridge.
“They need opportunities to advance and access to flexibility if they are to stay, and thrive, in these organisations.”
This report is one of three the Women, Work and Leadership Research Group is undertaking between 2017 and 2020 focusing on male-dominated industries. The other two will address automotive trades (which is just 1.5% female) and pilots (6% female).