Women need to embrace change, find their confidence and speak up, veteran female executives said during the AsianInvestor Women in Asset Management event in Hong Kong this week.
“When you think about commodities, talented [and] experienced women are some of the shortest commodities in the world, and yet somehow they remain undervalued,” said Sheila Patel, chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs Asset Management International (GSAMI), during a panel session earlier this week.
Speaking during a discussion on the role of companies in attracting, retaining and promoting women, Patel adds: “We need to establish a better market for ... better valuations [of women]. The way we do this is by trying different jobs, [understanding] the marketplace [and] the value of the things you can do and embracing that change. One of the biggest challenges for women of all ages is embracing change, as opposed to fearing it.”
Fellow panellist Michelle Bang, deputy chief executive of Eastspring Investments, noted that “sometimes women don't speak up”, out of fear of being wrong or negative consequences.
“Men just say whatever they want to say”, added Bang.
Patel said that though everyone has moments when their confidence dips, women often seem more prone to it.
“Realising you don’t know everything is a real advantage,” noted Patel. “Sometimes I see men take [new] roles and they feel they already know everything, so they bomb in and have their own issues. There’s balance, and you have to work hard in striking that.”
Women are steadily taking on more senior roles in Asian asset management and in some sectors – such as private equity – they occupy more executive positions than their counterparts in the West.
At State Street, women comprise 45% of total staff globally. Females hold about 25% of the senior ranks on average at the custody bank on a global basis, although the ratio is higher in Asia at 38%, said Fangfang Chen, chief administrative officer and head of strategy for Asia Pacific at State Street.
She believes that men need to be involved in discussions about ways to promote more females “so they can get to understand some of the challenges and issues we are facing and challenge their conventional thinking about women”.
One typical perception is that working mothers need to choose between prioritising their career or their family.
“There is an underlying assumption that you cannot commit 100% [or] 120% of yourself to your work,” says Chen. “In reality, I see a lot of my female colleagues who work at night, trying to get the job done.”
Supportive spouses and extended family are a valuable asset, said panellists.
Having a partner that shares household responsibilities, child rearing and “fixing the air con” is an essential asset, says Eastspring’s Bang. “If you do not have a partner with the fundamental view that it’s a shared responsibility, it’s quite difficult to manage your career.”
Shizu Kishimoto, chief executive officer of BNY Mellon Investment Management Japan, says she not only has a supportive husband, but has also got her parents, in-laws and a babysitter to help with childcare duties.
“I had prepared a lot of backup,” says Kishimoto. “At the weekend, I really enjoyed being a mother. Appreciate the fact that you can do a lot of things at the same time.”
Supportive men in the workplace should also be fostered, and one way to do that is to have women in senior management mentor them, says GSAMI’s Patel.
“One of the best ways we as leaders can help make change ... is not just by mentoring women, but mentoring men,” says Patel. Some men she has mentored have subsequently hired teams that had a female ratio of between 60% and 70%.
“They stopped being scared of having a woman as a manager, so they stopped being scared of having a woman as an employee,” says Patel. “If you can mentor one man, you can make a change as well.”