Hello, and welcome to the CAMRADATA Asset Owner Diversity Podcast.


I’m Natasha Silva, and I’m joined today by Dame Helena Morrissey, who is known throughout the asset management world for her outstanding business achievements while promoting and championing inclusion and diversity throughout the sector. In addition, Helena founded the 30% Club, a campaign for more gender-balanced boards,  she’s also the Chair of the investment industry’s Diversity Project, a cross-company initiative championing a truly diverse and inclusive UK investment and savings industry with the right talent to deliver the best possible financial outcomes for our clients, to reflect the society we serve and ultimately build more sustainable businesses.

Joining Helena is Sharon Bentley-Hamlyn, co-founder and Investment Manager at the Edinburgh-based investment firm Aubrey Capital Management.

Sharon is one of Europe’s best-performing fund managers. She has been responsible for Aubrey’s European strategy since its inception in 2008. She is also head of research and lead manager on two Luxembourg-quoted European SICAVs, and a UK-quoted Europe ex-UK OEIC.

Sharon heads up Aubrey’s Sustainability Committee, which ensures the consistency of ESG scoring across both investee companies and internally within Aubrey, as well as monitoring UN-supported PRI reporting.

Helena, Sharon, welcome and thank you for joining and happy International Women’s Day.


Question 1: Starting with yourself, Helena. What does International Women’s Day mean to you? And why is it important for all business industries, including asset management?


Helena Morrissey, Chair of the Diversity Project, commented,


“Well, I think it’s great to have a day in the year, at least one, when we celebrate the progress that we’re making towards better gender equality. Obviously, it’s also, frankly, a moment to reflect on things that still need to be done. And we’re making great progress around women in business, in politics, parliament women and very top jobs, etc. But there’s obviously still a lot to do in certain sectors, including asset management, and also in developing countries, some of them, which you’re seeing backward moves, unfortunately, around the whole issue of opportunities for women and girls. So, I think it’s time to celebrate. We all need those to encourage each other to celebrate with men who are supporting us too. And then obviously, particularly for those areas that are lagging, to redouble our intent and remind ourselves of what we still have to do.”


Question 2: Sharon, how did you start your career in asset management, and what advice would you give to the next generation of women seeking a similar career path?

Sharon Bentley-Hamlyn, Investment Manager at Aubrey Capital Management, commented,


“I got into Asset Management by default. I wanted to be a musician. But when in the late 1980s, the interest rate on my flat rose to 15%, I was forced to change course. I couldn’t pay the mortgage, so I took a job in a city bank so I would have a regular source of income. To this current generation of women, I would say you need to be a lot more focused than I was because it is extremely competitive. And you need to be a self-starter, possibly even get qualified during your job search by sitting the IMC exam or CFA Level one. And then you need to network vigorously. If you can prove a genuine interest in investing by running a small portfolio of your own, even a paper one where you monitor the stocks, even if you can’t invest in them, that’s even better. Some firms will take on graduate trainees with a very good degree in a broadly relevant subject. But getting a foot in the door is the difficult thing. You will have an advantage as a woman because there are so few of us. A wealth manager I know in Edinburgh told me his firm advertised last year for a trainee analyst, and they had 40 applications, only two from women. Once you’re in, you just have to work hard to build your knowledge base and not be afraid to put yourself forward without being overly pushy. People skills go a very long way in our business. So, making yourself useful to other people is important.”


Question 3: Helena, are there any barriers you have faced as a woman in becoming successful in your field?


Helena Morrissey, Chair of the Diversity Project, commented,


Well, definitely and in fact, I would attribute my real desire to do something about the scarcity still that Sharon alluded to of women in investment management to early experiences. In particular, I was quite shocked when I had my first child and was passed over for promotion. I was the only woman on the team, with 16. Perhaps I should have seen this coming. And I was explicitly told it wasn’t because of any questions over my performance but because of some doubt over my commitment to the baby. And of course, no one will ever say that, but it’s a pretty clear barrier that women face. and you know, obviously, people wouldn’t say that now. I agree with Sharon there is a benefit sometimes to be different, just because you’re a woman. And companies are really very keen to see better gender balance, particularly when it comes to investment roles. But we also need to make sure culturally, we are welcomed and feel included. And I think, you know, today I hear still from women that they are still the only women in the team of say 15. And that by its nature is very isolating. So I worry that it’s a kind of chicken and egg problem, because obviously, we need to get that critical mass of women so that then people don’t feel like the fish out of water, the odd one out. And I know lots of us are working very hard to do something about that.”


Question 4: Sharon, how has the recognition of women working in asset management changed since you started working in the industry? And would you mind explaining what the asset management industry as a whole can do to help break down some of the barriers Helena has mentioned?


Sharon Bentley-Hamlyn, Investment Manager at Aubrey Capital Management, commented,


I’m not sure it’s changed very much. In 30 years, when I was working in the M&A department of the City Bank in the 1980s. There were a number of very bright young women working as analysts. Few, if any, are in management positions, and the same is true today. I know too few female portfolio managers of my vintage. Work by Citywire suggests that only 11% of the funds they monitor worldwide are run by a female Portfolio Manager. How do we get the figures up? I’m not generally in favour of positive discrimination. But I think senior management actually have to allocate funds to women to manage. They are much more often going for mixed teams, which I don’t think advances the cause very much. You understand why they do that? Firstly, they’re concerned about maintaining a track record. And the fact that women may take out time for maternity leave which Helena alluded to just now. Secondly, I believe there’s an unconscious, if not conscious, bias against women managing money, allocators to both male and female reflect this bias. Men are just considered to have more gravitas and to be more competent to do it. There is some momentum now, especially in the US, to allocate public funds to female or minority-managed funds or firms. Maybe if the flows are there, asset managers will bite the bullet and allocate funds to female or minority analysts to run. But then these analysts have to prove themselves too. Investment management is a results-orientated business. You either make money for the clients, or you don’t. We have two analysts in our company who have around seven to eight years’ experience. We’re managing small funds where they can gain more experience under supervision. It does take around 10 years to make a portfolio manager because you have to have seen how markets behave in both bull and bear markets. If, after two or three years, the results from these managers have been poor, then they will have to be moved into different roles, but they have at least been given the chance. And the good thing is that there are always opportunities, particularly in sales and marketing or in ESG. Another big area now for analysts who don’t make the greatest pms.”


Question 5: Helena, I know you’re a big supporter of the Asset Owner Diversity Charter, which is accessible within CAMRADATA. Can you give our listeners a brief recap of its purpose?


Helena Morrissey, Chair of the Diversity Project, commented,


“So yes, I think one of the key things about making progress is to make sure we have joined up efforts and the charter, which comprises two sections, it’s got a diversity and inclusion questionnaire for asset managers. And it’s got a charter toolkit for the asset owners themselves. So it’s pretty practical, it’s very granular, it’s capturing numbers and also qualitative data. And basically, it is standardising an approach to ask for asset owners to ask their managers to comply with certain diversity and inclusion principles to have policies that encourage diversity inclusion, and then to track the data that reflects that. We’ve talked a lot so far about the shortage of female fund managers in particular. If we have our clients as asset managers, press on us the need for better balance to help other underrepresented groups become better represented in the asset management ranks, then that will add a huge amount of weight to the efforts. I think similarly, you know, it would be similar to have a big push from the regulators, for example. So this is all really helpful in terms of creating the sort of joined up approach and I know you’ve brought about over a trillion pounds of assets represented by those who signed up to the charter. So you know, money really talks and clients really talk to fund managers. So I’m I am a big fan, I know it’s relatively early days, and I want to keep shining a spotlight on the Charter and make sure people are aware of it and that they do sign up to it if they’re asset owners, and that in turn asset managers pay significant attention to it and make sure that they are ready with all the data and really taking this seriously.”


Question 6: Helena, as the Chair of the Diversity Project, you recently launched a Pathway Programme that aims to help more women find success as portfolio managers. Please could you tell our listeners a bit more about it?


Helena Morrissey, Chair of the Diversity Project, commented,


“Yes, well, I think I’m probably a very similar vintage to Sharon, because I remember the 15% mortgage rates, the disaster that took and you know, to see so little progress in the numbers of female fund managers. Since we both joined the industry, it’s really very disheartening. But I’m a person who doesn’t believe in just sort of shouting out about a problem, but coming up with a solution. And I realise this is quite a self critical thing to say, perhaps at this stage, but I’ve realised that a lot of the diversity and inclusion initiatives that I’ve led, or been involved with over the years have been a little bit vague when it comes to actually giving women the right things that they need to succeed as fund managers. So we might have, for example, given women skills and networking. So it’s not really targeted at solving this specific problem. Part of the programme is designed to do that. So it’s designed to complement CFA exams or similar professional qualifications. And on the job training, every woman who’s on the programme needs to have a sponsor back at firms, this is not a question of firms signing up to it, putting a few women on and then saying ‘been there done that’, that’s something we’d have to worry about. This is about nurturing them, championing them, making sure there are opportunities sort of back at the ranch. And we’ve got a 12 month programme started in January 2023, and 60 women are on it from 33 different firms. And, it’s just come off, I think it’s our fourth or fifth training session, which was all around data modelling. And really it is a great case study showing people how to construct, you know, an equity analysis model. So some of its technical skills, some of its behavioural skills, you know, how do you cope if you’re the only woman in the team or if you’re presenting to a group of all male clients, some of it’s about being active about your career. So it’s not just enough to be come into the industry. But these days, as Sharon alluded to, you have to be as quite competitive, and you need to take really strategic intent to your career. And so we have a section on that. For me, this is an important one, a section on paying it forward as well, because I think as well, there are relatively few women in the industry. But if we all helped each other out, then that would go a long way. And last but not least, and probably I should have started with this. There’s a theme around what makes a great fund manager. And particularly we are focused on ensuring that women understand their own appetite and approach to risk. A lot of research is done into women having been more risk averse. And I don’t necessarily think we always are – we have some more risk aware. But how to manage that how to ensure that it doesn’t stop you from having the courage of your convictions, and how to really use that knowledge to your advantage. I’m very excited about the potential for this course. Because of course, I mean, there are less than 200 Female fund managers named to managing funds in the UK. 60 Women won’t all make it I’m sure. I have high hopes. It’s a very engaged group. But you know, we could run this course for three or four years, and we could have doubled the proportion of female interest in this country. So for the first time, in 35 years, I genuinely feel we’re onto something.”


Question 6: Sharon, when you’re talking to the management of companies. Particularly those you’re considering for your portfolio. What do you look out for in terms of identifying the company culture, and is diversity a top consideration in order for you to invest?


Sharon Bentley-Hamlyn, Investment Manager at Aubrey Capital Management, commented,


“We have a very strong ESG environment, social and governance, culture, and screen all our investments. Diversity is one of those components male/female minority split, we question management on company culture, employee turnover, philanthropy. Lack of diversity on the board comes up quite frequently, though it has improved in recent years. A low percentage of women on the board would not necessarily deter us from investing but we would be actively engaging with management to encourage more Female appointments. In some industries, though, it’s difficult to find women with adequate experience and expertise. We had a conversation recently with a small-cap German company involved with the timber industry. This isn’t an industry that attracts a lot of women. Not that they don’t exist. But there simply aren’t enough to go around at board level where the culture in a company is actually deleterious to employees to women or to minorities, we simply wouldn’t invest. And we do look at websites like last door to get employee feedback on this.”


Question 7: Sharon, what do you think is the biggest issue today facing women in investment?


Sharon Bentley-Hamlyn, Investment Manager at Aubrey Capital Management, commented,


“Numbers and credibility, to an extent the two go hand in hand, if you look at the medical profession, or the legal profession of my childhood, only 10% of GPs were female and even fewer in the law, we now have a 50/50 male female split in both professions, increasing participation has changed perception of female competency in both these professions. We need to do more to get more girls into our industry at grassroots level, and then get them to stay and make their careers here both before and after maternity.”


Question 8: Sharon, you are also known as a member and supporter of Future Asset, a programme that informs/encourages girls in Scotland to pursue careers in asset management. Please can you tell us about that?


Sharon Bentley-Hamlyn, Investment Manager at Aubrey Capital Management, commented,

“Yes, Future Asset is a great organisation that sponsors an investment competition around schools in Scotland to encourage girls to think about investment as a potential career. This year, around 140 teams from 70 schools submitted entries, each of which included a report on a company of their choice, a video pitch, and an investment recommendation. Two of our managers mentored teams from different schools and I participated in the judging. We’ve also hosted teams of girls in our office to give them a flavour of what day to day Asset Management actually involves. The competition this year involved over 600 girls offering them a window into a world of potential employment that they otherwise wouldn’t know very little about. I think if our industry is really serious about encouraging more diversity, they need to get out into the schools and talk about it more.”


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