Almost three-quarters (74%) of investment professionals in Asia Pacific think that workplace diversity improves business outcomes, while 95% say that their workplaces are advocating such diversity, according to the latest 'Gender Bias in the Investment Profession in Asia Pacific' survey* by CFA Institute, released on Wednesday (August 26).

The outlook for the survey was relatively positive, with 51% of regional investment professional respondents saying that they are optimistic that gender equality is achievable within a decade. Respondents in India (72%) and mainland China (60%) were the most optimistic, with 44% of those from Singapore and 37% from South Korea sharing that belief. 

Most respondents feel that achieving such improved diversity is a worthwhile goal too; 74% of respondents said that gender balance in the workplace improves team performance, as well as sending a strong message to employees, customers, investors and the public.

The pressure to improve gender and ethnic diversity has been rising among investment professionals and organisations, particularly given the spread of environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations. More fund houses and asset owners are finding that this comes with increased scrutiny over how much they practice what they preach. 

“Diversity in the workplace enables the industry to tap into a much larger talent pool and gives voice to a wider range of perspectives and insights," said a spokeswoman for CFA Institute. "A more inclusive work environment facilitates better team performance, allows for more effective decision making, including robust internal debates, and delivers better business outcomes.”

Despite positive trends in the industry, the survey also discovered that gender discrimination and workplace inequality can still be found in Asia’s investment industry. Some 66% of female respondents said that they still feel uncomfortable to speak up about gender discrimination in their own workplace.

How comfortable are respondents speaking up about gender inequalities and discrimination in the workplace?

Respondents in Korea (66%) were the most reluctant to discuss gender inequality, followed by Hong Kong (44%), Singapore (43%) and Mainland China (41%). Additionally, 70% of respondents of both genders believe that women still face pressure to “dress and look the part” in the industry.

ASSERTIVENESS OBSTACLES

Most respondents claim that the lack of women in senior positions in the investment industry is down to a lack of assertiveness among women when advocating career opportunities. All told, 26% said that women often sacrifice the advancement of their careers due to social pressure to take the lead in managing family life, while 20% believe that the longer hours and higher stress of senior roles interferes with family duties. The still-small number of women role models in senior positions also slows progress, said 18% of those surveyed.

Biggest barriers to achieving gender equality in the Asia Pacific investment industry

Additionally, respondents claimed that women are not assertive in advocating for diversity. According to the research, only 18% of women in the investment industry actively advocate for gender diversity. This rate stood highest in China (22%) and India (20%), and lowest in Korea (12%). 

CFA Institute said that ways to help remedy this could include companies changing their performance and salary evaluation systems to become more meritocratic and data-driven when analysing staff performance. In addition, more data would better help them ascertain how they stand versus industry peers and gender imbalances at the hiring stage, as well as building more female talent into senior executive roles.

This, CFA said, could be done via specific mentoring roles and through business leaders committing to help mentor and develop more women in their management structures. More work to analyse how people are hired and developed and work to minimise pay-gaps is also important, it added. 

The spokeswoman said that this survey will hopefully incentivise more women to join the industry and progress into senior roles. The organisation itself has become a more leading example of this after Margaret Franklin became CFA's first female chief executive last year. 

* The survey was conducted in November 2019 and had 3,005 investment professionals in Asia Pacific offer their views on gender equality and latent gender bias in the region's investment services industry. The response rate ratio was 40% male and 60% female.