The world of alternative investments, traditionally an entrenched turf for men, is making slow but relatively steady progress in welcoming women into its leadership fold — and much of the change we are starting to see is the result of investors demanding diversity in the funds they invest in.
Despite the many challenges that still lie ahead, the findings of KPMG’s most recent report — The Time is Now: Real Change, Real Impact, Seize the Moment — are quite positive and, in some cases, surprising.
What separates this report from its predecessors is that new voices have joined the conversation.
Women are making their presence felt, and they are generating interest among investors who are seeking to allocate more capital to women-owned and managed funds. Major firms such as Blackstone Group, KKR and The Carlyle Group have expressed their support for women-owned and -operated funds.
Since we issued our latest report, I have had many conversations with investors and female fund managers, and there is a growing sense of optimism that our goal of having more senior women as leaders is becoming a reality.
In another sign of changing times, State Street Global Advisors, in a move to celebrate International Women’s Day, surprised those on Wall Street by positioning a “Fearless Girl” statue facing the iconic Bull on Wall Street statue. And there are many calling for the statue to remain a permanent fixture.
It is encouraging that investors and industry leaders are expressing a genuine interest in creating funds-of-funds comprised of women-run funds because of the value and diversification women-led funds can bring to their portfolios.
The biggest issue on these investors’ minds is not why this strategy is important, but how to execute it to attract more women into alternative investments. One of my favorite quotes in the report this year was from Kate Mitchell of Scale Venture Partners: “We are no longer making the business case about why diversity is important — we are now talking about what we can do to change our numbers.” Significantly enough, there is a growing understanding among industry leaders that as more women move into investment–decision making roles, the industry will gain a huge source of talent and insights that matters most for success — investment returns.
Women are still seen most often in C-level positions in compliance, marketing and finance, while they are generally less often seen in leadership roles such as CEO or chief investment officer/portfolio manager, where they have an authoritative voice in making investment decisions. Although the C-level positions are important roles, in order to change the industry, women in investment decision making roles will need to continue to expand their numbers.
So what can the alternative investments sector do to attract and advance more female professionals? Some of the steps are quite obvious — a deeper network of connections that will open doors to opportunities; active mentoring of talent by both male and female executives; more opportunities to learn on the job and gain outside training; and a professional career path to rise to positions of greater responsibility.
In addition, new opportunities for women-owned and -managed funds can be created, if investors are willing to pursue, among other things, emerging manager mandates.
Several pension funds are already leading the way, providing paths for emerging managers to build their firms to a size large enough to compete for entry into the pool of larger established managers. CalPERS’ Manager Transition Program has committed up to $7 billion to approximately 15 transitioning managers over the next five years.
Mandate programs can also help shape investor perspective in other ways. We were encouraged in the report to see those mandates increase from 2 percent to 10 percent since 2013. Investors are becoming more receptive in aligning the program with their overall portfolio strategy and asset allocation needs. Women-owned or -managed funds can help fill these asset allocation needs in order to meet investor goals.
In our report, more than one-fourth of respondents (28 percent) reported that they planned to launch or manage a new fund in the next five years, while 26 percent of women-owned and -managed funds expected to grow their funds to more than $1 billion in assets under management.
While there is no denying women professionals in alternative investments are underrepresented for many reasons, it is also heartening that real changes are taking place. New programs to increase the supply pipeline for women professionals, new initiatives to attract and advance them, and encourage investors to consider diversity and inclusiveness in making asset allocations to women-owned funds are all steps in the right direction.
It behooves the industry and investors to adopt innovative initiatives, help move the needle and apply greater leverage to foster changes to create a level playing field and a more competitive industry.
Kelly Rau is a financial services audit partner at KPMG LLP.