Because of the research I’ve done on gender and investing, and, let’s face it, because I am an opinionated and often colorful commentator on all things investing, I get asked one question a lot.
What can we do to fix the gender imbalance in investing?
I think some people expect me to come up with a quick and pithy hack to fix the problem. Something akin to Ronco’s “Set it and forget it!”
It’s likely that some folks want me to utter the dreaded Q word (“quota”), although they should really know by now that’s just not how I roll.
A very, very few want me to say “there is no problem” so they can get back to other matters.
But almost no one really wants to hear the truthful answer to the question, which is this: “I’m not sure what the answer is.”
One thing I am positive about is that the answer is as complex as the problem, much of which is rooted in bias. Now this is not necessarily your grandparent’s or even your parent’s bias. Thankfully the days where consumers were likely to be treated to an ad like this are gone.
But if you are human, you have bias. Period. And here’s how those biases (both men’s and women’s) might be impacting the number of women in investing:
It Starts Early – A study by Jane Stout, Nilanjana Dasgupta, Matthew Hunsinger, and Melissa A. McManus of UMass Amherst found one of the reasons women may not pursue math is rooted in bias. When faced with a male math professor, 11% of women attempted to answer questions posed to the class at the beginning of the semester. At the end of the semester, that number dropped to 7%. In contrast, female students only attempted to answer questions posed by a female professor 7% of the time at the beginning of the semester, but attempted to answer 46% of the time by the end of the semester. Similar trends were shown in other areas of the classroom experience, including after class requests for help, confidence and test taking (http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/the_hidden_brain/2011/03/psychout_sexism.html) With less than 1 in five math & science professors at top universities women, it is easy to see that the pipeline could narrow early.
The Pipeline Shrinks Further - In 2014, only 37% of MBA applicants were women, and of those, only 6% pursued investment banking compared with 11% men in that field. Also in 2014, 77% of investment analysts were men, who were 20.3% more likely to get an early analyst offer than women. A 2011 Vault study of the largest investment banks in the US found only 25% of staffers were women, 11% of executives were women and only 3% of CEOs at these firms were women per Catalyst. While it is difficult to single reason for these low numbers, culture, mentorship, appeal, and a lack of role models likely all come into play.
Hiring Hurdles – Early last year, Marc Andreessen took copious amounts of, um, “poop” for stating that he has no female partners at his firm because he’s tried to hire one and each time she turned him down. Obviously, there must be more than one qualified female applicant out there, so why isn’t a venture capital magnate like Andreessen seeing them? Part of may spring from the bias in the hiring process.
A study published in the American Psychological Association called, “Evidence That Gendered Wording in Job Advertisements Exists and Sustains Gender Inequality” showed that subtle word choice differences in job postings impacted who responded to those postings. For example, the following ad (http://www.eremedia.com/ere/you-dont-know-it-but-women-see-gender-bias-in-your-job-postings/#) was re-written with feminine and masculine themed words. The feminine ad, perhaps not surprisingly, attracted more women applicants. Now think about the ways we tend to describe asset managers and perhaps it’s not so mysterious why the pipeline has historically sucked.
Assuming that women do apply for an investment role they have to make it through the resume gauntlet. A recruitment firm created a resume and sent it to 1000 hiring managers. Half of the resumes were attributed to Simon and half were attributed to Susan. At large firms, Simon was preferred over Susan 62% to 56%. Women hiring managers felt Susan matched 14 of 20 job attributes, while Simon matched six, and male hiring managers felt exactly the opposite. (http://www.news.com.au/finance/work/careers/the-same-resume-with-different-names-nets-different-results/news-story/a2a182fb4570e948c27ce63139ee66b1) The upshot? Bias, bias everywhere.
Promotional Considerations – If women do enter the investment arena, they then still have to work their way to the top. Even workplaces like Barclays Capital, who just shared they now employ more women than men (51% to 49%) struggle when it comes to women in the C-suite: 80% of top level positions at Barclays are held by men. The list of potential reasons for this are endless, but a great list can be found in this article, http://www.businessinsider.com/subtle-ways-women-treated-differently-work-2014-6, which details the biases women face when climbing the corporate ladder. Chief among them? Mommy track, networking opportunities, participation in meetings (air time, interruptions), expressing displeasure, etc.
At the end of the day, it is supremely difficult to find a simple fix to these issues. Unconscious bias is, in a way, more difficult to deter because it’s, well, unconscious. These behavioral patterns are pretty inaccessible to the conscious mind and therefore can be very difficult to change.
However, for those firms that are looking to improve their diversity metrics, or those investors who are looking to improve their ratio of male to female money managers, it can be helpful to at least recognize where some of the issues arise and to take steps to guard against the biases where we can. For example, there is software that can create “gender neutral” job postings. Blind resumes can help avoid the Simon-Susan conundrum. Having mixed teams of interviewers can help to balance male and female hiring and promotion biases. Groups like Rock the Street Wall Street (http://www.rockthestreetwallstreet.com) and Girls Who Invest (http://www.girlswhoinvest.org) can help young women overcome their own biases towards math and finance. Certainly, there are a lot of changes required, but they could potentially add up to better gender diversity over time.
To be clear, no woman I know is asking for special treatment when it comes to hiring of any kind (employment, fund selection, etc.). Every single woman with whom I speak wants to earn their place in investment management and is willing to get scrappy when required. But, in the immortal words of Paul Simon, women do want to know that the “cross is in the ballpark.” Until we can all figure out how to mitigate some of our biases, that may be hard to ensure.
Sources: In addition to those cited throughout - Graduate Management Admissions Council, Universum, http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=5492