Recruitment, career progression for women key to investment diversity

— 1 minute read

How funds approach their recruitment and career progression for female staff, particularly after maternity leave, is essential to addressing a shortage of women in the higher ranks in the industry, female executives have said.

Speaking on the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST) investment conference this week, Jo Townsend, chief executive of Funds SA noted there is “obviously a lack of middle to senior women in the investment space”. 

Frontier Advisors research in 2018 found in Australia, around 14 per cent of the workforce in financial services sector are female, in contrast to the global representation of 22 per cent. The report also indicated 42.5 per cent of Australian equity managers have no women on their investment teams.


A study by Morningstar in 2015 similarly found around 11 per cent of portfolio managers in Australia are women, compared to around 30 per cent in Singapore and 26 per cent in Hong Kong and Spain.

Ms Townsend recommended flexible working arrangements as well as management and leadership skills development as important factors to improve representation, but for her, the investment world should be working on industry entry for graduates. 

Women in Super CEO Sandra Buckley similarly agreed funds should be taking a more open-minded approach for recruitment, saying candidates may not have the set qualifications but could be taught the necessary skills.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to get more young women coming through the pipeline into the investment team,” Ms Townsend said. 

“We run a graduate program every year, which we’re sort of just ramping it up again for next year. And what we find without fail every year is that there’s just a much larger proportion of males who actually apply through that process than there are females. 

“We’re very mindful of the recruitment firms we’re using and the language that they’re using in the recruitment ads. We ask them to actually make sure that the short list has as many females who have the right qualifications as possible.”

She pointed to an example of a past female graduate Funds SA had hired, who didn’t make the first short list because she wasn’t armed with the right qualifications. 

“But at the end of the day, she had the right skills and she’s fabulous,” Ms Townsend said.

“And unless we’d actually been engaging with the recruiter to say, we want more women on the short list, you know we’re not necessarily just going to give women the job because they’re but we actually want to see the people and we actually want to make the decision for ourselves. 

“It’s not just about the technical skills we’re looking for. It’s how someone’s going to fit into the culture of our organisation, how they’re actually going to make a contribution to it as well.”

Julie Lander, chief executive of Care Super and AIST board member, suggested the investment industry can be “challenging” and it should work on making its culture more appealing to women.

“We’ve got to make our organisations demonstrate our cultures and demonstrate our flexibility so that women can manage work and family, but also give them opportunities in career progression,” Ms Lander said. 

‘Once we get women in… there should be no excuse’

In the last two decades, many women would leave the investment management organisations after reaching certain levels. 

Ms Buckley, who leads national advocacy and networking group Women in Super, reported she ran a survey when she was previously executive director at Goldman Sachs, which found women were not returning to the company after maternity leave.

They were instead opting to transition to other companies after missing the promotion opportunities which were afforded to their colleagues at the same levels, as they took maternity leave. 

“Once we get women in, then there should be no excuse [against acting] to retain and promote them,” she said.

Ms Buckley was a founding member of Goldman Sachs’ Maternity Buddy Program, which supports female staff while they take leave. 

Her organisation, Women in Super, has also urged the government to include super guarantee payments on parental leave.

“There are lots of things that we can do within the industry to ensure that when women do go on maternity leave, which is a prime time to lose them, that they do actually come back,” Ms Buckley said.

“I think superannuation is doing a great job of that. I know a couple of women really well within the industry and that’s exactly what they’ve done and they haven’t had straightforward maternity leaves, one or two have had issues while on maternity leave, but they’re returned to the industry and more importantly, they’ve returned to investment management.

“I think that’s a credit to their managers who are more open-minded and have worked through those issues.”

She added male employees also have a role to play in easing the stigma around taking parental leave, and in demonstrating to younger workers that they don’t need to “be chained to their desk 24 hours a day”. 

“If that’s what you see when you’re younger, then you will leave before you get to that stage, no matter how good you are,” Ms Buckley said. 

“I think funds who want to do the right thing as they continue growing and recruiting, have to absolutely show that they’ve got the ability to be flexible, and to recruit those graduates that they then retain and promote throughout their careers.”

The industry has also evolved in other ways during the last decade, to now allowing people to flow between superannuation funds and commercial fund management, as a result of changing investment structures in funds.

“One observation that I would make is that 10 to 15 years ago, you either worked in superannuation, you worked in investment management or you worked in asset consulting, and people didn’t necessarily move between those three sectors,” Ms Townsend commented.

“But these days, people are much more mobile and a really big part of that is the internalisation and the strengthening of internal capabilities. In the investment front in particular, we’re actually seeing people move interchangeably between those three sectors which I think is adding a lot of value to the superannuation sector.”


Recruitment, career progression for women key to investment diversity
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Sarah Simpkins

Sarah Simpkins

Sarah Simpkins is a journalist at Momentum Media, reporting primarily on banking, financial services and wealth. 

Prior to joining the team in 2018, Sarah worked in trade media and produced stories for a current affairs program on community radio. 

You can contact her on [email protected].

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