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Women managers rising through the ranks

For a long time, female fund managers were viewed as something of an endangered species in the investment sector. While that may well be case in some countries, things are quietly changing in Asia as more women move up the ranks in the male-dominated industry.

Research by management consulting firm Oliver Wyman has found that Asia has by far the highest representation of women in asset management, comprising 32 percent of portfolio managers as of December 2015, more than double the global average of 15 percent.

The number in China is also encouraging. Female managers ran nearly a quarter (24.2 percent) of mutual funds in China as of March this year, according to Chinese financial data research firm Wind Info. This compared with only 2 percent of assets and open-end funds in the United States being managed by women, according to a report by data provider Morningstar.

Rapid economic development in Asian countries and the relatively short development history of the financial industry there has resulted in acute skills shortage, which is creating more opportunities for women to move forward in their careers in finance, industry experts said.

They said the demand for skilled and experienced investment professionals may also prompt employers in Asia to overlook concerns about a woman’s current or future family commitments.

“The industry here really started taking off only in the last 15 to 20 years and this is a period when the industry needed lots of new professionals quickly and firms were willing to search beyond the traditional talent pool to recruit and promote female investment professionals,” said Gillian Kwek, a portfolio manager with Fidelity International in Singapore.

Kwek, who has more than 15 years of experience in the asset management industry, said that easier access to domestic help-including support from parents living nearby who were happy to help out with family matters such as baby sitting-could also help to explain the higher female representation in Asia than in the US and Europe.

In addition, the larger talent pool of qualified women in the finance industry was also seen as one of the reasons why there were more female fund managers in Asia than elsewhere.

The latest research on gender diversity in investment management by the CFA Institute found that seven out of the eight countries with the highest percentages of women CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) members were in Asia.

Vietnam has the highest percentage of 43 percent of female CFA members while the Chinese mainland was ranked fourth with 31.3 percent of women CFA members. The number is only 16.4 percent in the US.

“In China, we have seen more women moving up the ranks in the investment management industry,” said Jia Lijun, head of the CFA Institute’s China branch, noting that there will be more opportunities for women as China’s financial industry matures and continues to develop.