William Shakespeare once asked, “What’s in a name?” believing, as many do, that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But on this point I must take issue with dear William and say instead that I think names have power. Perhaps this notion springs from being reared on the tale of Rumplestilskin or maybe from teenage readings of The Hobbit. It could be from my more recent forays into Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden novels.
I know, I know - I never said I wasn’t a nerd.
Regardless of the origins of my belief, my theory was, in a way, proven earlier this week, when the New York Times ran a piece by Justin Wolfers entitled “Fewer Women Run Big Companies Than Men Named John.” In it, the writer created what he called a “Glass Ceiling Index” that looked at the ratio of men named John, Robert, William or James running companies in the S&P 1500 versus the number of women in the same role. His conclusion? For every one woman at the helm of a large company, there are four men named John, Robert, William or James.
To be clear: That’s not just one woman to every four generic men. That’s one woman for every four specifically-named men.
Wolfers’ study was inspired by an Ernst & Young report that looked at the ratio of women board members to men with the same ubiquitous monikers. E&Y found that for every woman (with any name) on a board, there were 1.03 men named John, Robert, William or James.
The New York Times article further showed that there are 2.17 Senate Republicans of the John-Bob-Will-Jim persuasion for every female senate republican, and 1.12 men with those names for every one female economics professor.
While all of that is certainly a sign that the more things change, the more they stay the same, it made me think about the financial world and our own glass ceiling.
In 17 years in finance, I have never once waited in line for the bathroom at a hedge fund or other investment conference. While telling, that’s certainly not a scientific measure of progress towards even moderate gender balance in finance. As a result, I decided it would be interesting to construct a more concrete measure of the fund management glass ceiling. After hours of looking through hedge fund & private equity mogul names like Kenneth, David, James, John, Robert, and William, I started referring to my creation as the “Jim-Bob Ratio,” as a good Southern girl should.
I looked at the 100 largest hedge funds, excluded six banks and large fund conglomerates that are not your typical “cult of personality” hedge fund shops, created a spreadsheet of hedge fund managers/founders/stud ducks and determined that the hedge fund industry has a whopping 11 fund moguls named John, Robert, William and James for every one woman fund manager. There was a 4:1 ratio just for Johns, and 3:1 for guys named Bill.
And even those ratios were generous: I counted Leda Braga separately from Blue Crest in my total, even though her fund was not discretely listed at the time of the 2014 list.
I also looked at the monikers of the “grand quesos” at the 20 largest private equity firms. There are currently three Williams, two Johns (or Jon) and one James versus zero large firm female private equity senior leadership.
Of course, you may be saying it’s unfair to look at only the largest funds, but I doubt the ratio improves a great deal as we go down the AUM food chain. There are currently only 125 female run hedge funds in a universe of 10,000 funds. That gives an 80:1 male to female fund ratio before we start sifting through names. In private equity and venture capital, we know from reading Forbes that women comprise only 11.8% (including non-investment executives) and 8.5% of partners, respectively. Therefore, it seems extraordinarily unlikely that the alternative investment industry’s Jim-Bob Ratio could fall below 4:1 even within larger samples. Ugh. One more reason for folks to say the S&P outperformed.
Now, before everyone gets their knickers in a twist, I should point out that I am vehemently NOT anti-male fund manager. The gentlemen on those lists have been wildly successful overall, and I in no way wish to or could diminish their performance and business accomplishments. And for those that are also wondering, I am also just as disappointed at the small (read virtually non-existent) racial diversity ratio on those lists as well.
What I am, however, as regular readers of my blogs know, is a huge proponent for diversity (fund size, gender, race, strategy, fund age, etc.) in investing and a bit of a fan of the underdog. Diversity of strategies, instruments, and liquidity are all keys to building a successful portfolio if you ask me. And, perhaps even more importantly, you need diversity of thinking, or cognitive alpha, which seems like it could be in short supply when we look across the fund management landscape. Similar backgrounds, similar stories, and similar names could lead to similar performance and similar volatility profiles, dontcha think? While correlation can be your friend when the markets are trending up, it is rarely your bestie when the tables turn. And if you don’t have portfolio managers who think differently, are you ever truly diversified or uncorrelated?
In the coming months and years, I’d like to see the alternative investment industry specifically, and the investment industry in general, actively attempt to lower our Jim-Bob Ratio. And luckily, unlike the equity markets, there seems to be only one way for us to go from here.
Sources include: Institutional Investor Alpha magazine, Business Insider, industry knowledge and a fair amount of tedious internet GTS (er, Google That Stuff) time.