What It’s Like for Women in Hedge Fund Business

Challenges Women face in Hedge Fund Business.


Morningstar’s global study out earlier last year showed that only one in five mutual-fund managers is a woman – a rate that hasn’t budged since 2008.

In the US, that number drops to one in 10. The US is a laggard, far behind countries such as Singapore (30%), Portugal (28%), and France (21%).

For hedge funds, the numbers are similar: Only 15% of hedge fund CEOs are women. For minorities, the figures are just as lackluster, with only a handful of Latino and African-American managers.

There are a lot of reasons for the gap, among them biases, cliquey hiring, and weaker professional networks for women.

Given the dire numbers, I wondered what it’s like to be a woman, minority — or both — working in the industry. So I started asking around.

Some spoke of annoying biases — one woman who launched her own fund said she stopped wearing her wedding ring at investor meetings because she grew tired of questions about what her husband did. Others spoke of being ignored for the investment ideas they presented or hearing crass talk about female colleagues.

Most said their experiences had, on the whole, been otherwise positive. Investing proves a quantifiable measure on which to be measured, something other careers lack, several people mentioned. There are fewer gray areas on which to be measured, the thinking goes, if you can point to a number that proves your performance for the year.

Everyone asked to be kept anonymous so to not jeopardize their careers. Here are their stories.

 

“There’s a general theme of being discounted” — Female investor on an otherwise all-male investment team

“I have developed a lot of thick skin. It’s not uncommon when we discuss an investment idea, I’ll raise my hand, the question will be dismissed, and then a [male] colleague will ask the same question and there will be a 30-minute conversation.”

“When I travel, when I’m in boardrooms, people will direct questions to my [male] boss and not me, even though I presented … There’s a general theme of being discounted almost or doubted and a general assumption of ‘she must be the IR [investor relations rep].'”

“It’s a delicate line. I want to be treated equally and be one of the boys. Sometimes they say lewd comments and it goes in one ear and out the other. I want it to be a natural environment where they feel they can speak freely.”
“There’s a certain approach to conversation that comes out of knowing what is expected in a conversation” — Female minority hedge fund investor who studied engineering

“I’ve always operated in an environment where the distribution was highly skewed … There’s a certain approach to conversation that comes out of knowing what is expected in a conversation. Sticking to a need to say basis. Speak about what’s relevant. The content matters … being to the point.”
“If you’re in the minority, being the only woman on the team, your voice is heard more. I think of it like a parent with 10 kids and you think you have an underdog in the family. You think you need to call out the weakest link, the quietest child so you can hear what the quietest child has to say … The fact that you are the only one on the team makes you more visible in many ways. And the reason you made the team is because you met certain criteria and you deserve to be on the team. And you have a level of credibility that you get to be heard, and amplified.”

“He was surprised I wasn’t pitching a more ‘girly’ name” — Female hedge fund analyst

“It has always been a more uncomfortable game of numbers where the ratio of male to females in any event is 10 to one and the men huddle together and the women are sort of separated. In one instance, I was meeting with an analyst from a hedge fund in the city and he asked whether I had any names I could pitch him. I began to talk about a semiconductor company when he interrupted to say he was surprised I wasn’t pitching a more ‘girly’ name.”

“We were the only two women, and we were the ones that were expected to fetch and then make the coffee” — Female hedge fund founder

“The CEO of one of our consumer companies asked me to get him coffee. This was after we were introduced and he knew there was an associate (I was an analyst) who ranked lower, but he was male so he turned to me to get him the coffee. I said, ‘sure’ and had the associate search some out. Absurd! Even worse, when the assistant brought in the coffee he pushed it to his investor-relations person, and she was forced to make his coffee by adding milk and sugar, mix it, and then pass it back to him. She wasn’t an assistant and was a professional in her own right. So in this decent-sized meeting, we were the only two women, and we were the ones that were expected to fetch and then make the coffee respectively.”

Most Noticeable Women in Hedge Funds

 

“Sometimes it’s an advantage to be the only woman in the room” — Female hedge fund founder

“I try not to sweat the small stuff. I’ve been fortunate not to have had any bad experiences with my boss or colleagues. I’ve definitely had it with conferences, with other people.”

“There are pros and cons to everything. Maybe being a minority or a woman in the field might feel lonely, but I think there has been a ton of progress that has been made versus the ’80s.”

“It’s also perception. Some people will be like, ‘They’re not listening to me because I’m a woman.’ I’ll just be like, “Uh, these people are not listening to me.’ … It never occurred to me that they wouldn’t be listening to me because I was a woman.”

“Sometimes it’s an advantage to be the only woman in the room. Sure, you’re going to have plenty of people that think you’re a marketer … I take that as a compliment — they must think I’m very friendly. It’s sort of the way you look at it … Probably most of the people in the room are marketers. Just because he thinks I’m a marketer, he’s not necessarily saying that because I’m a woman … most of the people at conferences are marketers.”

“[As a woman in hedge funds] you can talk to more people. If I was a middle-aged white guy and three guys are talking, I could not just go up and say, ‘Hi, how is it going?’ I think you have a little advantage with being different.”

“The nice thing about where you’re making investments and generating revenue, you have a clear-cut way to measure your performance. It doesn’t matter if you are friends with your boss or play golf with colleagues on the weekend or if your clients like you.”

“They would crumble up a girl’s résumé. They’d say, ‘We don’t hire girls because they cry'” — A black male fund manager who started out working on an exchange

“African-American traders, except for the lowest positions of clerks, were underrepresented. It was a very racist and prejudiced place. But I experienced only a slightly higher level than I’d experience naturally. What I did observe, when you’re experiencing some form of discrimination, you are unaware of it, but what I was acutely aware of was the anti-woman perspective … They would crumble up a girl’s résumé. They’d say, ‘We don’t hire girls because they cry.’ On the floor, it’s a very sort of almost military barking back-and-forth that goes on. It’s not an Oprah Winfrey show … On top of that, they said girls are a distraction.”

“[There was] this dismissive attitude that because there aren’t women here, then they aren’t good. The reason they are not here is because they’re not good at trading — that’s one lesser degree of it. [There was also an attitude of,] ‘You fire them and then they sue you for sexual harassment.'”

“I was subject to racial slurs, the jokes, the inappropriate stuff, which you just deal with and you’ve dealt with your whole life … The floor is just a crass place … People would stop me and say, ‘Why are these n—–s doing such and such?’ There’d be something in the news, a protest or something, racial tension. The worst thing for me was being in a position where I have to stand by a principle or duck and win by success.”

“I was so arrogant and felt like I was going to make it that it didn’t bother me that much.

 

“I remember a man saying, ‘I don’t think you have the stamina'” — Female minority hedge fund partner
It’s very much a code word in our industry for the reason why a woman shouldn’t perform certain roles.”

“This popped into my mind with the election, with [Hillary] Clinton being accused of not having stamina. I think people outside of finance don’t know how much of a code word that is.”

“It’s one of those ways for some men to discount women by saying they cannot work hard enough. It’s hard to say anything about that. How do you prove you have the stamina? You can certainly point to your experience … I was just so shocked that he said it. I didn’t have a response.”

“If I was counseling my younger self, I would have pushed it back on him. I would have said, ‘That’s interesting, because no one has ever said that to me. I’ve worked in investment banking for several years and done sports, and I wonder why you would think that.’ To get that person to have a rational response.”

“It’s easy to feel defensive about it. That’s the worst thing you can be in this business. It’s a forward, offensive business and culture.”

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