Gender diversity is being seen as increasingly important to the investment functions of institutional investors and fund houses in Hong Kong and elsewhere Asia, as it introduces a wider variety of perspectives and skill sets for better asset management capabilities. Yet there is clear evidence that sexual discrimination remains an issue in the territory.

“Now, more than ever, success in fund management requires perspective, balance and a diverse range of opinions to keep pace with the rate of change in the markets and in the industry, and to address the pressing concerns of sustainability and corporate responsibility," said Mark Konyn, group chief investment officer at insurer AIA, in today’s (March 4) announcement of the HK Bloomberg Women’s Buy-side Network, initiated by Bloomberg.

Liu Chunyen
Liu Chunyen, AIA

More than 40% of the Hong Kong-based firm's country CIOs are women, such as Liu Chunyen, the insurer’s CIO in Singapore.

Similarly, Hong Kong-based insurer Prudential Corporation Asia boasts several female country CIOs, including Lena Teoh in Singapore, Esther Wong in Malaysia and Nova Imelda in Indonesia.

Among other asset owners in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority’s chief investment officer for private markets, Clara Chan, holds views similar to Konyn's.

DIVERSE VOICES

“Views from different genders complement well in the decision-making process, because generally women and men, just like people with varying cultural and educational backgrounds, may have different areas of interest and focus,” she told AsianInvestor.

“It’s just right and professional for us as an investor to have different voices and perspectives at the table,” she added. Her team’s gender ratio is evenly split between male and female.

The latest initiative is the third of its kind, the first started having in Singapore and expanded to India. It’s led by Hong Kong-based investment experts including Konyn; Amy Cho, Hong Kong chief executive at Schroders; Kimberley Stafford, Asia-Pacific head of Pimco; Geraldine Buckingham, Asia-Pacific head and chair of BlackRock; and Philippa Thompson, head of Asia's buyside business, at Bloomberg.

As a community for senior and mid-level female buy-side professionals, the network is a platform to exchange ideas of future investment trends, in addition to student outreach and engagement.

In the lead-up to this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8, the initiative is a reminder as to why local asset owners and managers need to step up their gender inclusiveness to retain investment talent, which ultimately contributes to successful portfolio management.

MORE TO BE DONE

However, while Hong Kong has one of the highest ratios of female fund managers (28%) compared to the global average of 14%, according to fund research house Morningstar, more can be done.

Last year, The Women’s Foundation said that 73% of the surveyed financial services organisations in Hong Kong noted “lack of career progression" and other career opportunities as the top reasons for women to quit their jobs. The number of complaints related to the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO) received by Hong Kong’s Equal Opportunities Commission this year was up four percentage points from a year ago to 35.3%, out of a total of 953 complaints. 

Such cases can not only end up being very costly in terms of lost personnel and reputational damage, but monetarily too. A former senior executive of Investec Asset Management filed a lawsuit at a district court in January reportedly alleging the company of violating the SDO. She is seeking at least HK$1.5 million ($192,270) in damages in the case, which is still being heard. 

"We categorically deny the allegations and we have no comment on the matter," an Investec spokeswoman told AsianInvestor by email. 

Moreover, a senior female asset management executive told AsianInvestor that it was very common for local firms in Hong Kong to discriminate against women. Indeed, she said she had encountered such issues at three out of the five asset managers and banks where she had worked. On one occasion, her male superior said “hot girls aren’t that smart”, prompting her to leave the company.


Amy Cho, Schroders

ENCOURAGING SIGNS

That said, some women have been more fortunate and not suffered such treatment despite long careers in the industry in Hong Kong.

“It is encouraging to say that I have yet to experience any incident that made me feel discriminated against or uncomfortable throughout my career,” said Schroders’s Cho, who before joining Schroders was head of Asia at Pictet Asset Management. “In fact, from my observation, the finance sector in Asia seems to be more diverse than the West’s.

“I think we have a reasonable population of women leaders in Asia – especially looking around my colleagues in the Schroders Asia business, there are a good number of women in senior roles across distribution, product and solutions, investment and infrastructure teams,” Cho told AsianInvestor.

Other fund houses can make a similar boast. Investec, which has a set of diversity principles to define the framework for increasing gender diversity, has a 40% ratio of female investment staff, and 50% of its overall headcount are women, the spokeswoman told AsianInvestor.

“We have committed to supporting the progression of women into senior roles, driving transparency and accountability for gender diversity and inclusion, and setting targets and strategies for achieving this,” she added.


 

Schroders, meanwhile, has sought to ensure there is female representation in all leadership development opportunities and talent programmes, Cho said, in addition to mandatory diversity training for all employees, such as managing unconscious bias.

Similarly, Pimco has made an effort to mitigate bias in the hiring process, Stafford said.

Other potentially helpful measures to support female participation in the workforce include remote and flexible work arrangements to allow employees to work part-time or from home occasionally.

Story updated to reflect Philippa Thompson's participation in the Hong Kong-based initiative of experts.