Practical analysis for investment professionals
22 July 2015

How to Build a Better Business through Diversity

On 18–19 September, CFA Institute will host Alpha and Gender Diversity 2017 in Toronto, the latest in its series of Women in Investment Management events. Attendees will have opportunities to discuss gender diversity, foster professional development, and meet their peers from other regions in North America.

Evidence is mounting — by multiple measures and from multiple sources — that organizations that include women in senior leadership and board roles fare better than those that do not.

Generally speaking, women represent half the global talent pool as well as a large and growing proportion of global buying power and future client bases. Moreover, participatory decision-making styles and higher levels of emotional intelligence, both qualities often associated with women leaders, are increasingly cited as essential leadership characteristics. Certainly these points all serve to suggest that firms looking to have greater impact and greater success should acknowledge and address the issue of gender diversity and any relative lack of it within their walls. This was a key theme at the inaugural CFA Institute Women In Investment Management Conference, which was appropriately subtitled, “Effecting Change, Making a Difference.”

Gender diversity is only one piece of the diversity pie. Globally within investment management, the lack of gender diversity is one of the easiest examples of imbalance to spot and therefore reference and address. It is only one example, but the steps a firm takes to achieve better balance vis-à-vis gender diversity can help achieve additional diversity goals.

Truly diverse teams are able to bring to bear broader networks of resources, power, and talent, and so when they are led by a culturally fluent leader, they can significantly outperform less diverse teams. Abandoning exclusionary habits and building a consistently inclusive firm culture is not a simple endeavor with a single miraculous key to overnight success. Still, there are strategies that leaders can employ to move the firm in the right direction. Some examples of strategies include:

  • Insist on defining talent management objectives and criteria very clearly, thoroughly, and before considering any candidates.
  • Encourage open and transparent decision making regarding recruiting, promoting, transferring, and firing or dismissing employees.
  • Provide hiring managers and other leaders meaningful training on how to interview and how unconscious cognitive biases specifically impact talent management–related decision making.
  • Consider that engagement and retention efforts may not be a one-size-fits-all proposition. Women, for example, don’t ask for raises or promotions the way men do, and since they may not signal discontent as conspicuously, might require more proactive retention strategies.
  • Lead by example. Remember Spider-Man’s motto: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Taking Your Career to the Next Level, Too

The best career advice is completely gender neutral. No matter who you are, defining success on your own terms, bringing your authentic self to the marketplace, being competent and confident, and staying visible will almost always serve you well in managing your career.

Still, minority populations experience a dominant culture differently, so of course there are nuances or particular emphases that warrant attention. That’s not to say these points won’t resonate with everyone, but they are identified here with the specific context of being a woman in the investment industry today.

  • Address Instances of Bias Directly and with Sincerity and Respect: Many prejudices are genuinely unconscious ones. Not only do people often not recognize they are expressing a bias, they sometimes believe they are actually being considerate in their behavior. I’ve used this blatant example in a previous blog post, but here it is again: Imagine a manager who is deciding to whom to give a stretch assignment that will require a marked uptick in traveling. This manager may honestly believe they are doing a mother with young children a favor by not asking her to be away more than necessary while others may instantly recognize this as unfairly passing over a perfectly qualified candidate because she is a woman. One-to-one, polite but direct conversations with others can help bring these biases to the surface and allow people to discover new ways of viewing the situation.
  • Be Resilient: It is a challenging profession and a challenging time to be in it, and being the “first” or  “only” women in a role, on a team, or in the boardroom can add even another layer of challenge to a career. Advancing your career requires risk taking which, of course, opens you up to the possibility of failing at an endeavor. For all these reasons, resilience is an essential characteristic to develop. Returning to core competencies, reframing how you think about situations and consulting with an executive coach or a group of trusted peers and mentors — your “personal board of directors” — are some key strategies for remaining resilient.
  • Serve as a Champion for Others: Follow the example of Marg Franklin, CFA, who has encouraged women to “lean down and yank up.” Bring other women along to events, meetings, and other encounters they wouldn’t naturally experience. Serve as a role model, mentor, or sponsor. Not only do these practices improve prospects for other women and help change the industry for the better, they can also be personally rewarding. They create exquisite opportunities to connect with and learn from others, to be visible within the professional community, and to renew your passion for the profession. This strategy represents a win-win-win proposition.

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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.

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About the Author(s)
Julia VanDeren

Julia VanDeren, manager, career services at CFA Institute, serves as the subject matter expert in career management skills, curating and developing career resources for members and program candidates. Previously, she served CFA Institute as career services representative, managing the CFA Institute JobLine (now Career Center) and Career Centre (now Career Tools) resources. VanDeren holds a BA from the University of Virginia and an MPA from Virginia Commonwealth University.

1 thought on “How to Build a Better Business through Diversity”

  1. Jordan says:

    Some very important points here. It’s crucial that we be aware of gender problems and address them, no matter what step in our career we’re at. Thanks for sharing this!

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