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Aberdeen, Helios Fund Push for Gender Diversity

Efforts to increase gender diversity are gaining traction globally since State Street Global Advisors in March installed the Fearless Girl statue across from Wall Street's iconic charging bull.

Aberdeen Asset Management and Helios Investment Partners are taking steps to embrace gender diversity while encouraging women to take up a career in investment management.

The firms are funding a new leadership program to help fix the gender imbalance that remains rife throughout financial services, according to an announcement from mentoring group SEO London. Their "HerCapital" initiative, designed for female undergraduate students, will initially be open to 50 women from universities in the U.K.

Aberdeen and Helios aim to provide women with industry skills before they start their career through on-campus challenges, training workshops, mentoring and summer internship opportunities. Efforts to increase gender diversity are gaining traction globally since State Street Global Advisors in March installed the 'Fearless Girl' statue across from Wall Street's iconic charging bull. As part of its campaign to include more women on boards, the $2.4 trillion asset manager told companies it would vote against board director candidates where progress was not being made.

[II Deep Dive: State Street Global Advisors Set to Use its Sway to Put More Women on Boards ]

In the U.K., diversity programs are also becoming more common. Recent initiatives have been embraced at Columbia Threadneedle, Legal & General, Virgin Money and the Financial Conduct Authority. Aberdeen's decision to back a diversity program is significant as the asset manager is about to become one the largest fund firms in Europe when it completes its merger with Standard Life in the coming weeks.

Aberdeen's chief executive officer Martin Gilbert said the industry needs a fresh approach because it "lagged behind other professional services sectors in marketing itself to female undergraduates." Gilbert said that he's "a firm believer in the benefits diverse teams can make to a business."

His endorsement comes despite a recent study by a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who suggested that "there is no evidence available to suggest that the addition, or presence, of women on the board actually causes a change in company performance." But influential business leaders disagree.

Columbia Threadneedle's chief investment officer Mark Burgess has been a passionate supporter of gender diversity initiatives. Since heading up the firm's talent advisory group six years ago, he has begun tracking how many women apply for roles, how many are interviewed and whether the person the firm decides to hire is female. Burgess is also recording why the final hiring decisions are made.

A third of our workforce in the front office is female, he said. "We have a number of high-profile females in senior positions but we have more to do."

Burgess said that support needs to go beyond recruitment, stressing that talent can be lost if women - and men - don't feel they can juggle a family life. "Fund management is a career suited to working parents. Not just women," he said.  "When my children were younger I never felt any issue with getting home for bath time. We would encourage key people to leave at 3pm for a sports day or a parents evening."

According to Burgess, the steps taken at Columbia Threadneedle are starting to bear fruit and "the number of mothers returning to work is very high."

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