As the Citywire Alpha Female report has shown, women remain desperately under-represented in portfolio management roles in South Africa. Just 10.3% of named portfolio managers in the local industry are female, and single woman managers or women-only teams run just 3.5% of South African active unit trusts.
While there are many contributing factors, and industry leaders must face pressure to transform, it is still worthwhile to consider the limitations that women may be placing on themselves.
As Alida de Swardt, the CEO of RMI Investment Managers noted in an article last year:
‘There is a perception that investment leadership positions are not conducive to a meaningful work/life balance, particularly given that these roles are perceived as high pressure. As a result, many women are deterred from even trying to get to investment executive positions, thereby putting their own ceiling on their career development.’
You don’t need to choose
Simply put, many women believe that they cannot expect the kind of flexibility from a career in asset management that they might get elsewhere.
‘A lot of younger women coming out of school or leaving university think that asset management isn’t an attractive career choice because of preconceived ideas and the male dominant reputation of the industry,’ De Swardt told Citywire. ‘They think that you won’t be able to become a successful portfolio manager, and a great parent, for instance.’
‘But I think Covid-19 could be a massive turning point for the industry, because it has shown that we don’t need to choose.’
As De Swardt noted, the pandemic has forced the industry to come to terms with more flexible working arrangements for everybody, not just women. And both men and women have found that, actually, it works for them.
‘No manager would ever have taken the initiative to say that for six months the whole business is going to work from home to see what it’s like,’ said De Swardt. ‘The fact that we’ve been forced to do it has caused people to come to new realisations.’
Men and women alike have, for instance, enjoyed being able to spend more time with their families, exercise at a time of the day that better suits them, and balance their commitments. And, demonstrably, it hasn’t impacted on their ability to successfully fulfil their roles and deliver results.
‘Lockdown has not led to less focus or anyone working fewer hours,’ said De Swardt. ‘If anything, analysts and portfolio managers are telling us that they have never worked harder.
‘So, there is now demonstrable data supporting this big question that we have had: we can produce the same results with a flexible working environment.’
This realisation should, De Swardt believes, create the chance for women in particular to talk more boldly about having the kind of flexibility that they require to enable successful careers.
‘We have to take the opportunity to make change when it’s forced upon us,’ said De Swardt. ‘A flexible working environment has always been cited as an important part of making asset management more friendly to women. And, maybe now, there is enough evidence to allow men and women to have this conversation.’
‘I think if women, post-Covid, don’t go and proactively have this flexibility conversation with confidence, then they are missing an amazing opportunity for their own careers,’ she added. ‘It’s up to them as well. We can’t just say businesses have to change. Women have to ask themselves what they are proactively doing to have this conversation around shaping their working environment to propel their careers.’
The Citywire Alpha Female report is free to download here.