Women in leadership: Equality in the workplace starts at the very first promotion

Take these steps to ensure your firm is doing all it can to support women throughout the entirety of their careers

Jan 15, 2019 @ 4:55 pm

By Melissa Norris

The asset management industry is awakening to the importance of gender diversity across its ranks, from investment professionals to executive leadership. Recent studies have shown that mixed-gender portfolio management teams not only yield superior investment returns, but also increase the ability to attract assets.

Moreover, gender-diverse executive leadership has been found to positively impact company profitability and stock performance.

However, even asset managers that support having a gender-diverse talent pool can be at a loss for ideas on where to start. Mainstream issues like the gender pay gap and the #TimesUp initiative have provided some low-hanging fruit for improvement, but they stop short of ensuring tangible success in retaining and promoting women over the long term.

Equality in the workplace starts at the very first promotion and grows at every subsequent step. Thus, to foster women leaders, asset managers must support women throughout the entirety of their careers.

Introduce training

This support begins with increasing awareness of gender bias across the company, which has been shown to help bring awareness to hidden biases and eliminate them. It is important for companies to establish a baseline by providing all employees with unconscious-bias training.

For decades, the industry has been led by men, and in the process, the perception of what leadership looks and sounds like has coalesced around styles more commonly exhibited by men. This puts female managers in a double bind: Those who act in stereotypically feminine ways may not appear to be prepared for leadership in the eyes of their colleagues, but those who seek to pre-empt this bias by taking a stereotypically male-oriented approach risk backlash for not being "warm" or "likeable." When administered correctly, unconscious-bias awareness training can shine a light on these leadership preconceptions.

Know someone?Do you know a successful adviser from a diverse background who has an inspirational story to tell? If so, email special projects editor Liz Skinner at lskinner@investmentnews.com.

Call out bias

When an unconscious bias inevitably manifests itself in behavior, it is especially important for employees at all levels to call it out. Even the most well-intentioned individuals may not realize when an incident has occurred.

(More: Worldly adviser excels at working with others, especially outsiders)

Pointing out when a woman is cut off in a meeting or is written off for an opportunity will gradually expose how deeply unconscious bias might be ingrained in corporate culture. Without this, progress in fostering women leaders will be slower than desired.

Examine benefits and policies

Additionally, it is no surprise that women often drop out of the leadership pipeline during their childbearing years. Providing substantial family-friendly benefits is a nonnegotiable component of nurturing women's professional potential. This includes offering a robust parental leave program; child-care options in the office or during business travel; lactation rooms; flexible, remote and part-time work options; and/or "returnship" programs for women reentering the job market after time spent raising children.

(More: Show employees your commitment to diversity and inclusion from day one)

Furthermore, encouraging men to take advantage of parental leave and other benefits normalizes such benefits in company culture and decreases the opportunity cost for the women who need or choose to take advantage of them.

Maximizing success

Finally, once a woman is identified as a leader, it is vital for the company to support her and maximize her chance of succeeding in the role. Providing executive coaching will help to ensure a smooth transition and discern her full value. It will facilitate her growth by identifying her leadership style to best meet her team's culture and the demands of the role. Providing coaching will demonstrate to the organization that the company is committed to her development, expediting the adoption of her management style by the team.

This story is part of an ongoing initiative by InvestmentNews to cultivate a financial advice profession in which diverse perspectives are welcomed and respected, and industry best practices can be shared across organizations.

Melissa Norris is a founding partner of Jamesbeck Global Partners, an executive search firm focused on investment management.

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