Breaking down the barriers: female fund managers

If you have an ISA or a pension, there will be someone looking after your money and investing it on your behalf. The chances are that this someone will be a man: just one in every ten fund managers is a woman*. Evidence suggests that this isn’t because men are any better at it than women. Indeed, 11% of funds on FundCalibre are run by female managers – a representative number. So why is it?

With international women’s day on 8th March and 2018 marking 100 years since women got the right to vote, we asked four female fund managers what attracted them to the job and what could be done to close the gender gap.

Claudia Calich, manager of Elite Rated M&G Emerging Markets Bond

“I become a fund manager by accident of birth really. Growing up in Brazil, I experienced various economic crises, including hyperinflation, recessions, currency devaluations, capital controls, bank account freezes and political instability. While those were difficult periods on a personal and family level, living through those troubled times was fascinating. It inspired me to study economics and focus my Master’s thesis on the Latin American debt problem.

“After graduating, I decided to maintain my link with Latin America and put my knowledge of Portuguese and Spanish languages to use. My career started with research positions in economics and debt research and I joined the buy-side of the investment industry in the late 1990s, when various emerging market crises (Russia in 1998, Brazil in 1999, Argentina in 2001) were unfolding. That proved to be an invaluable learning experience, as I had to perform deep country analysis and delve into topics that need to be well understood, such as debt liquidity, solvency, defaults and recovery values.

“What I like most about managing money is that I find the role very egalitarian. It is a very competitive business and relatively few succeed. However, investment performance is very transparent. If you are able to deliver solid and repeatable performance, you will likely succeed, whether you are a man or a woman.”

Margaret Lawson, manager of SVM UK Growth fund. SVM is an Elite Provider for Equities

“I was interested in economics and business from an early age. Growing up, Radio 4’s World Service was always playing in the background at home and I loved listening to the big company interviews – CEOs of companies even a young girl had heard of. When I went to university I had an hour commute back home, so more often than not I stayed late to get my work done.

“There was no catering facility in our building so I used to survive on Mars Bars, a pint of milk and an apple from the confectionary machine in the basement. It was there I happened upon an advert for an investment analyst. It was back in 1981 and the salary was £5,005 – £200 more than many others I had seen. I phoned them, had an interview and they took me on. One of the then-portfolio managers at the company, Colin McLean, later went on to become my husband and later established SVM from our kitchen!

“I think that not only do we need to attract more women to fund management, but also more people from different walks of life. I think too many companies still look to Oxford and Cambridge for graduates when there is a big pool of talent all over the country. We should make it clear that this career is attainable to anyone. Key to achieving this is education and teaching all children how the world works – the economy, your mortgage, even how a snow day could impact a business! We need to spark their interest early on. Then they will think more about how they spend their money and the choices they make.”

Lesley Dunn, co-manager, Elite Rated Baillie Gifford Corporate Bond

“I really didn’t know what I wanted to do when I left school, so I thought it best to steer clear of vocational subjects that might lock me into one particular career path. So I decided to study my favourite subject, maths, at university, and took a joint Statistics and Economics degree. Deep down I always thought I would end up being an accountant but that all changed when, in my final year at university, I met a friend of a friend who was a Japanese equities fund manager. Very quickly into a conversation with him about what he did, I was sold – I knew what I wanted to do.

“It sounds like a cliché but I like that the job is diverse and every day is different, as there’s always something happening that affects the markets. We live in an ever-changing world of current events and I’m constantly thinking about how what’s happening in the world will impact the funds I manage.

“In order to attract more women to the role I think we need to start early with children and break down views that there are jobs for girls and jobs for boys. Changing external perceptions of the industry and the culture within it would also help. Asset management in general has a poor reputation for flexibility and work life balance and can often be seen as a bit of an old boys club. I have never personally experienced these downsides and I suspect my female colleagues who enjoy the job as much as I do haven’t either, otherwise they wouldn’t still be doing the job! I think it’s incumbent on the females in our position to promote the positives of the role and work hard to dispel the negative connotations whenever possible.

Ainslie McLennan, co-manager, Elite Rated Janus Henderson UK Property

“I was a chartered surveyor working in Scotland for the first six years of my career. I wanted to make the move to London and a job came up at Henderson which I was lucky enough to get an interview for. Mike, who is still my boss, interviewed and ultimately took me on – this was all in 2002.

“The last nine years have been spent running the Janus Henderson UK Property fund and I just love it. It’s a cracking and varied job, which I relish doing and I’m really grateful to have had the opportunities I have.

“In my experience, I’ve always been keen to prove that if someone has trusted me with the responsibility I will not let them down and this has equated to career success – I do not feel I’ve ever been held back from opportunities. A positive attitude and great work ethic goes a long way in fund management, but I think that is probably true in all walks of life!”

*Citywire Alpha Female Survey 2017

Past performance is not a reliable guide to future returns. You may not get back the amount originally invested, and tax rules can change over time. The views of the author and any people interviewed are their own and do not constitute financial advice.