Trade like a girl

Trading desks in the asset management industry are dominated by men, but this patriarchal trend is beginning to shift as women on the buy-side are uniting to encourage others to join the sector.

Did you know women are scientifically better at trading than men? At least that’s the findings of research undertaken by academics at the UK’s University of Leicester. The study found employing a greater number of female traders reduces the chances of a market crash and increases the regularity of positive trading returns. According to the research, women posses certain qualities that help them carry out the role of a trader more effectively.

Despite this research, and many others highlighting the benefits of a diverse workforce, the number of women in front office roles of investment managers is still in stark contrast to that of their male counterparts.

It is surprisingly difficult to find solid gender ratio statistics for staff at investment management firms. However, Blackrock, Aberdeen Asset Management, Franklin Templeton, Amundi, Fidelity Investments and Union Investment recently agreed for the first time to share data on how many women they employ in senior roles. The results painted quite a bleak picture, with half the workforce being represented by women but just 25% having been appointed to senior management positions.

Perhaps this isn’t surprising, given the inflexible nature of the trading desk and market opening times, along with the stereotypes associated with trading and the 90s ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ image many women on the outside might have of the industry.

But while female buy-siders recognise the difference in their supposed approach to trading, it’s important to highlight at this point that men and women can - of course - possess the same values and qualities for trading.

“Women have a reputation as being more considerate when making investment decisions and more conciliatory in dealing with others, but those aren’t necessarily female qualities - anyone who has those qualities as well as diligence, commitment to client service and an interest in the industry, will do well,” says Nicola Burnside, a fixed income dealer at Aberdeen Asset Management.

Louise Drummond, global co-head of investment execution also at Aberdeen Asset Management, echoes her colleague’s sentiments. “I think women can often be more measured in their thinking and less impulsive in terms of fund management style which provides a good balance and diversity in fund management teams.

Female buy-siders largely agree long working hours, stressful working days, pressure from senior managers to perform well, alongside the challenge of trying to balance family life, are feasible explanations for the gender imbalance among trading desks.

“The fact that you need to be working during market hours definitely means that flexibly working hours are more difficult to accommodate in our industry,” says Drummond.

Though not all women in buy-side trading feel as though they have had to fight their way through the ‘glass ceiling’ to progress in their careers. Angela McLean, senior dealer at Nikko Asset Management, explains despite the industry being more male-dominated she has never felt there has been a barrier to her career progression. “In my first dealing job the head of dealing was female, so I’ve never felt that women could not be appointed to senior roles.  I believe that skills, abilities and character are specific to the person, not the gender.”

The financial industry as a whole has been somewhat tainted by an ‘alpha male’ culture often depicted in films like Martin Scorsese’s ‘Wolf of Wall Street’. With this in mind, it’s easy to see how female professionals could opt for a different industry when embarking on their career path. This culture has not quite been eliminated from the financial sector, according to some female buy-siders, but it is clear firms are trying to stamp this out.

“Having worked on the sell-side in the 90s I've experienced the alpha male culture at its worst. It was definitely a lot more challenging for women back then… There is still an alpha male culture in some parts of the industry and whilst they shouldn't try to mimic those behaviours, it is really important that women are confident in their ability and views,” Drummond explains.

Despite the challenges, women on the buy-side are optimistic for the future and see initiatives asset management firms are putting into place as being able to lure more women into the industry.

Victoria Kelly, head of European trading at Fidelity Investments, explains “as females and minorities move up in organisations, we have seen recruitment diversify outside of traditional avenues and stereotypes, allowing for new hirers to come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences.

“As the work place becomes more flexible and barriers are broken down, I think that anyone can find a role within the industry that suits their ambitions throughout the lifecycle of their career.”

At Aberdeen Asset Management, a support programme was established to help employees who have taken career breaks of two or more years. It aims to mentor, coach and support those coming back to work. For women who are returning to work from maternity leave, an initiative like this is encouraging and often necessary. Aberdeen’s Drummond says she is hoping the programme will make a big difference and go some way towards improving the gender balance.

Other initiatives such as the FTSE 100 gender balance have helped to expose the gaps and spread the word about the positive impact of closing it. Awareness, flexible working schemes and an increase in senior female role models are all growing and should continue to help drive the numbers of women remaining in the city.

Statistics from July 2016’s ‘Female FTSE Report’ show that the overall percentage of women on FTSE boards has increased compared to March 2015. The FTSE 100 gender balance scheme aims to increase this and the statistic proves this has made some difference. It includes a voluntary target of 33% representation of women for the FTSE 100 executive pipeline by 2020.

“Initiatives such as the FTSE 100 gender balance have helped to socialise the gaps and the positive impact of closing it. Awareness, flexible working schemes and an increase in successful female role models have started and should continue to help increase the numbers of women remaining in the city,” says Kelly.

There’s a sense of female buy-siders are banding together to encourage other women to join the asset management sector. The majority of women traders responded positively when asked if they would encourage female friends to join the asset management industry. 

Burnside says she would absolutely encourage women to join the industry, as it’s an interesting, challenging and dynamic environment to be a part of. However, she warns any woman looking for a career in asset management should be comfortable working in an environment where men are still more represented, and she adds the same applies to clients and counterparties too.

McLean explains there’s a real drive for gender diversity in the industry and that’s not just at board level but also across all levels. “The knowledge of this will hopefully encourage more women to move into asset management where they’ll be supported and encouraged to climb the career ladder,” she says.

There is work to be done. Many buy-side firms contacted about the issue of female employees either declined to comment or replied explaining they had no women on the buy-side at all. One thing is certain, those women who are a part of the industry, do not feel as though their gender has particularly hindered their progression in climbing the asset management career ladder.