Women in Asset Management: Better career outcomes

The following article is based on a presentation delivered to CFA Institute members by Betsy Williamson, Managing Director of Core-Asset Consulting.

The event, entitled ‘Better Career Outcomes’, was organised by the CFA Society’s Scottish Gender Diversity Network. It was very kindly hosted by Brewin Dolphin and held at its Edinburgh offices.

The focus of the event was on how women can be successful within the UK’s investment industry.

 Amelia Earhart was born in Kanas in July 1897.

In 1932 Amelia became the first woman - and the second person after Charles Lindbergh - to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She was a trailblazer – among both men and women – in the new age of aviation.

She never took ‘no’ for an answer and she never gave up. Amelia disappeared in July 1937 trying to circumnavigate the globe.

She died following her dreams.

Once in a lifetime

On the 31st January this year, a super moon, a blue moon, a blood moon and an eclipse all coincided. This was the first time since 1866.

To see a super blue blood moon was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Although perhaps not as colourful, opportunity is also presenting itself within the asset management industry at the moment.

Whether from a boutique manager or a multinational investment house, investors are increasingly looking for products which are different from those offered by most other asset managers.

Products are wanted which meet the changing expectations of clients, whether they reflect the growing appetite for environmental, social and governance concerns, socially-responsible investing, ethical funds, renewable energy or infrastructure.

Clients and investors are also demanding better corporate governance, compliance, regulation, transparency, reporting and diversity.

Perhaps most importantly, they want their investment managers to reflect their own demographics and society as a whole – whether this is gender, ethnicity, age or socio-economic background.

Just like the super blue blood moon, there is a rare opportunity for you to push your career forward and change the industry, in the same way that Amelia did for aviation in the 1930s.

Defining your Career Path

Regardless of whether you have your sights set on asset management or another industry, the most important question you need to ask yourself is: what does success look like?

What is your ultimate career objective? Do you want to be a chief executive or a chief investment officer? Perhaps you want to do a client-based role, lead a team or develop a brand-new product? Do you see yourself working for a large, international organisation or a boutique?

If you don’t define success, it can be very difficult to achieve it.

Set your direction and stay true to your path. There will be hurdles along the way which will be out of your control - sector disruption, personal challenges, even redundancy. But don’t let these get in the way of your long-term goal.

Don’t take no for an answer but be realistic. There is more than one definition of success.

And do something you are passionate about, something that you believe in. Work is a huge part of anyone’s life, so don’t choose lightly. Find a career where you can add value and make a difference.

Professional Qualifications

Whether you are at the start of your career or already someway down the path, it’s important to take time out and conduct an honest and thorough evaluation of your skills and abilities. Think what you are good at, what you enjoy and where your abilities lie.

You need to ask yourself some rather direct questions on whether you really do have the experience and skills to follow the path you have chosen. Do you need to add additional qualifications to your skill set?

If so, there will be sacrifices that you will need to be prepared to make - family, time, money. Are you willing to make these? Seek external support and help.

Speak to career advisers, experienced recruitment professionals, HR contacts, department heads. Anyone you admire and trust to give you sound advice.

Do your research. Find out if there’s anyone you know who has followed your dream career path.

Based on what your ultimate career objective is, what professional qualification or qualifications will help you achieve it?

Whatever the qualification, you need to give careful consideration on how you are going to achieve it. Will it involve part-time study while you work? Or perhaps a career break or sabbatical? Can you get support and sponsorship from your current employer?

Leave no stone unturned in ensuring you have the best chance of securing the professional qualifications you need.

Softer Skills

At risk of generalisation, women tend to have different skill sets to men. It’s a moot point, but would Lehman Sisters have collapsed?

The flip side is that women – and, again, I realise it’s a massive generalisation - perhaps aren’t as good as men at self-promotion and pushing themselves to the front.

As for professional qualifications, you need to critique yourself and look at ways to improve the following:

  • Confidence 
  • Networking 
  • Personal impact 
  • Presentation skills 

Joining groups, professional bodies or internal forums, seeking out a mentor, hunting down opportunities to practice your presentation skills – all these are great ways to improve your softer skills.

If appropriate, taking on non-executive directorships roles in other industries (such as the charity sector) is a fantastic way to increase board level skills, exposure and gravitas.


a. Work-life balance

I often get asked what the ideal work-life balance should be. But it really depends on the circumstances of each individual.

Based on waking hours, for some it’s 50% work, 50% play. For others 40/60 or 60/40.

I speak from a position of experience when it comes to trying to achieve a work-life balance. I’m a full-time working mother of two young children, I run my own company, and I still recruit for senior positions within the asset management industry. I’m all-too-aware of the challenges involved.

Yes, it is difficult to focus on your career and your family at the same time. But it’s important to do what YOU want to do and try to strike the right balance.

b. External expectations

Throughout your career, you will probably have pressures from many sides – what your family think, what your friends think, what your boss thinks, what your colleagues think. The list can go on.

But you must be strong and choose your own path. Again, having a clear career objective from the outset should help here.

What is important to you will drive the direction you take and the sacrifices you make.

Push back on conforming to societal ‘norms’. If you wish to have a shorter maternity break, or decide to work full time, do so. This does not mean you are selfish or in anyway less of a parent, wife, friend or colleague.

c. Unconscious bias – be aware of it, as you need to push past this.

“People hire people like them.”

This is one of the reasons the fund management industry is dominated by a particular demographic.

Companies are becoming more and more aware of unconscious bias within the recruitment process. HR professionals, recruiters and hiring managers have a growing awareness of the issue, and steps are being put in place to negate the worst effects of it.

There is still a long way to go, but even the act of moving bias from an unconscious to a conscious issue is progress.

d. Self-belief

The fund management industry is a competitive environment, filled with impressive individuals who emit self-assurance and confidence.

To manage large amounts of other people’s money requires a degree of self-belief. At times, it involves making bold decisions and sticking by them in the face of adversity.

To be successful in such an industry does not require arrogance. But you do need a great deal of self-belief.

Which brings me back to Amelia.

Reach for the sky

The fund management industry is changing for the better. We have reached a rare moment in time, just like the super blue blood moon that appeared at the end of January.

You will face many challenges in your career. You must choose your path, think strategically, manage external expectations, push against bias and foster strong self-belief.

But if you set your mind to it, you can do anything you want.

Amelia did.


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