Can the Work From Home Experiment Help Close Asset Management’s Gender Gap?

Firms that embrace WFH may be able to better recruit and retain women. Still, women are uncertain whether working outside the office will be good or bad for their careers, according to KPMG.

Bigstock photos

Bigstock photos

While most women in asset management would like the hybrid work model to continue, not everyone thinks it will have a positive impact on their career — unless firms address some of the challenges, including helping to foster connections with colleagues and clients.

According to the 2021 KPMG Women in Asset Management Survey, 89 percent of respondents said they would like the option to continue remote or flexible work. KPMG’s findings were consistent across age groups. “Although there is a perception that working mothers most desire flexibility, our survey shows that nearly everyone wants it,” according to KPMG. Employees also want flexibility to care for aging parents, for example.

However, 32 percent of respondents said the flexibility at work might have a negative impact on promotions and advancement.

Among the 491 surveyed professionals, 93 percent were women, representing asset classes and categories including private equity, hedge funds, real estate, and mutual funds. Sixty-six percent of respondents said they have caregiving responsibilities, including 11 percent being single parents or sole caregivers. All participants are mid- to senior level professions with at least 6 years of work experience.

“I was surprised to see the number of women who, on the opposite side of the coin, are very concerned about whether having a more flexible work arrangement is going to negatively impact their ability to promote and move up inside of their organizations,” Kelly Rau, audit partner at KPMG, told Institutional Investor.

Productivity is not the main concern. More than 80 percent of surveyed professionals said their productivity improved or stayed the same during remote work. Recruiters who recently talked to Institutional Investor also pointed out that the pandemic proved that women “don’t need to be in the office to do well,” bringing more career opportunities to those with heavy household responsibilities.

Those who are worried about the downside of hybrid or remote work point to less “connectivity” with colleagues and clients and the difficulty in collaborating with peers on new or complicated projects, according to the KPMG survey.

Respondents are worried about being “out of sight, out of mind,” the report said.

“As we return to work in a hybrid model, we are particularly focused on making sure it’s an inclusive experience,” Robyn Shepherd, Head of Corporate Engagement at Bridgewater Associates, told KPMG. “For example, it is very deliberate that we are requiring everyone to be in the office at the same time at least one day a week, while at the same time urging everyone to fully utilize work flexibility on other days. What the policy says is important, but we know the tone gets set from the top and so as a leadership team we are also working on the norms and example-setting required to make it a truly inclusive experience.”

The remote environment presents women and other underrepresented groups of people with both opportunities and challenges, TPG’s CEO Jon Winkelried told KPMG. “In some respects, there are leveling dynamics from remote work because everyone is participating in the same way,” Winkelried commented on the survey. “In other respects, it is isolating, which can be worse on women and other underrepresented groups. It’s hard enough for them to find mentors organically even in the normal course, because there aren’t as many people who look like them or connect with the same issues.” To combat that, TPG is specifically focusing on how to provide mentorship opportunities, including instituting formal programs, “for people who might not naturally receive them.”

Overall, the asset management industry has done a good job keeping women in the workforce, according to the survey. Seventy-six percent of respondents said they would stay in the industry in the next one to three years, while only 16 percent said they saw more women leave the industry in the last year. But such momentum is unlikely to continue if the challenges that women face in the remote work environment are left unaddressed, Rau said.

“There is a huge war for talent,” she said. “If companies don’t put this as a forefront thought in their minds and have a true [remote work] program around it, women absolutely have options of where they want to build their careers.”

KPMG recommends companies review performance metrics to make sure they are based on tangible results and outcomes, modernize technology to foster connections and collaboration, and make concrete plans for how employees will progress in their careers.

Still, the financial industry is all about the bottom line.

“Advancing women in this industry is all about access to capital,” Kirsty McGuire, executive director of the Private Equity Women Investor Network, told KPMG.

“What has driven the most change is large investors wanting to allocate money to women in our business. To access that capital, firms are taking action to improve their numbers by creating connections and visibility for women that they need, but maybe didn’t have.”

Related