Cambridge Associates reaches diversity milestone: half of leadership team are women

Ashby Hatch's promotion means that seven of the 14 members of the leadership team are female

Feb 27, 2019 @ 2:48 pm

By Jeff Benjamin

The promotion of a female executive this week at Cambridge Associates moves the $33 billion Boston-based asset management firm into the rarified ranks of companies with at least half their leadership team represented by women.

Cambridge, a 45-year-old company that employs 1,200 people, this week promoted Ashby Hatch to head of global investment research.

The promotion moves her to the 14-person leadership team, seven of whom are women.

Across the male-dominated financial services industry such milestones are celebrated, particularly among women who recognize the challenges of gaining any ground when it comes to diversity.

"We live in a world with a diverse workforce and a diverse customer base, and leadership teams must reflect that diversity in order to lead and motivate our workforce, and to understand and relate to our clients," said Megan Carpenter, CEO at FiComm Partners, a financial services communications firm.

"In my experience, I have found female leaders to be more honest and ethical, better problem solvers, and more collaborative than male leaders," she added. "Women are inherently efficient and resourceful. We've consistently worked in environments where we have to prove our worth which brings an immense amount of drive and empathy to our leadership capabilities."

While the long, steep climb to the top can fuel a sense of gender competition, some female industry veterans say they prefer gender balance.

"This is a topic I'm pretty passionate about, especially as I've gotten older and realized that younger women look to me and ask how I do it," said Brittain Prigge, president and head of relationship management at the advisory firm Balentine.

Of the 34 Balentine employees, 56% are women, but only two of the eight members of the firm's leadership team are women.

Ms. Prigge said efforts are being made to address the imbalance at the top through its seven directors, four of whom are women.

"Diversity of thinking is extremely important, and I believe women bring something different to the table, which can include emotions," she said.

However, Ms. Prigge added, the ideal team would include a mix of men and women.

"I think men and women together make better decisions, and I also believe the environment created at a firm is important," she added. "Too many women is not good, and too many men is not good."

For its part, Cambridge pointed out that it has a long history of female leadership, including former CEO and chairmwoman Sandra Urie who led the firm for 16 years before David Druley took the post in 2016.

"Cambridge Associates believes that strong investment performance stems from a number of factors, including broad and unbiased inclusion and diverse representation across all levels of the firm," said Deirdre Nectow, head of global business development and a member of the executive leadership team.

"We also believe that being sound, successful investors requires diversity of thought and contrarian ideas," she added.

Helen Ngo, founder of the advisory firm Capital Benchmark Partners, agrees that while there isn't a big risk of women taking over financial services or the corporate world, the real value of more women in executive ranks is the blending of perspectives.

"You want to avoid the group-think mentality, because we know that with more diversity there's more progress," she said. "Just like I don't want to see an all-male executive board, I don't want to see an all-female executive board."

Looking deeper at the workplace dynamic of women and men, Ms. Ngo said there are fundamental differences that should be acknowledged.

"With men, there's a strong brotherhood, but with women it's sometimes even more cutthroat than it is between women and men," she said. "It's nice to see another female in an executive role, but because there are so few of us there is the stigma of a 'Queen Bee' syndrome, where she's up there and doesn't want to see other women there. We want to talk about sisterhood, but I don't really see it happening in this industry. It's a completely different type of relationship when a woman is trying to help another woman."

Dani Fava, director of institutional innovation at TD Ameritrade Institutional, agrees that despite the historical gender imbalance, diversity is more important that one gender running the show.

"I'm so happy to see Cambridge setting that bar like that, but in financial services it's not really that grim of a picture because there are lots of women now in middle management who will find their way to the executive levels," she said.

Even with signs of progress across the industry, Ms. Fava challenged firms to look in the mirror and ask themselves if they're doing enough to promote diversity.

"Anytime you're going to post a picture or a list of names on your web site, and they are all men, just stop and ask yourself why," she said.

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