Fund managers beating investment banks in battle for female talent

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Financial services firms can’t shout loudly enough about how much they’re doing to attract and retain more women, but the facts continue to suggest they’re not doing enough. This week the debate has been thrust back into the limelight – female executives are paid 18% less than their male counterparts at large U.S. firms; the Prudential Regulation Authority in the U.K. wants to set targets for banks to employ a certain number of women at senior levels; and not enough female students are undertaking subjects that would make them attractive to graduate recruiters in the City.

The latter point, in theory, shouldn’t matter – any graduate recruiter will insist they hire people with degrees in any disciplines. While there are plenty of accountants with philosophy degrees, as well as top hedge fund managers, they’re still in a minority – maths, physics and economics are the primary hunting grounds for banks, as the profiles in our annual graduate guide demonstrate.

Banks are going out of their way to encourage female school pupils that they should study quantitative subjects…and then apply to investment banking. Insight days for female students yet to even start university are increasingly common.

I recently attended one organised by a large U.S. investment bank in London and it demonstrated the contrast in attitudes. On the one hand, banks want to present themselves as incredibly considerate, team-oriented and flexible places to work, with a plethora of career opportunities for anyone willing to work hard enough to grasp them.

On the other, the 17-year-old girls attending were incredibly switched on, had been to numerous insight days across various industries and were already raising concerns about banks’ reputation for foisting women out once they decide to have children. Banks were no longer viewed as a glamorous industry offering aspirational career opportunities, but one of many options – and banks have to sell themselves.

Fund managers still have a long way to go before reaching gender parity – despite high-profile examples like Nicola Horlick and Katherine Garrett-Cox, female fund managers in the UK account for just 7% of the total, according to recent research by Bestinvest. However, those on the first rung of the ladder appear more relaxed and at home than their counterparts in investment banking.

One analyst we spoke to at a large asset manager in the City said she had the choice between a fund manager or an investment bank, but choose the former: “The job is demanding, the career path is relatively simple compared to investment banking. I know my next job will be a portfolio manager, but my friends in investment banking are stressing out about moving up to analyst level two, then associates. I work next to my portfolio manager, who gives me regular informal feedback on a regular basis. Friends in investment banking are staying well into the night most days, whereas I’m out of here by 8pm at the latest.”

This may not be the most glowing praise for a job that is also demanding, expects a lot from even junior recruits and pays increasingly competitively relative to investment banking. Nonetheless, senior bankers are doing their utmost to convince interns that they can be the generation of recruits to change the long-hours, aggressive culture that has kept it as a male-dominated environment for years. The bright students entering the financial sector, are yet to be convinced.

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