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the system needs to evolve, not the women

The system needs to evolve not the women

The irony is that the women who do take up the “power seats”are arguably more determined, more committed, more alert to threats and vulnerabilities and more deeply thoughtful about their right and responsibility to succeed.

Eskom Pension & Provident Fund (EPPF) recently commissioned a study conducted by Gordon Institute for Business Studies (GIBS) regarding gender diversity in the South African asset management industry. The study can be accessed here. Perpetua’s Chief Investment Officer, Delphine Govender is one of the country’s few women CIO’s, a reality we feel needs to change meaningfully: to grow the number of women in South African investment industry power seats. In this opinion piece,Delphine weighs in with some of her reflections on and thoughts prompted by the study. 


The investment industry around the world is characterised by a significant under-representation of women in the most senior key decision-making roles, in both investment and business realms of the end-to-end investment value chain. In South Africa this reality is just as persistent. One of the country’s largest retirement funds, Eskom Pension andProvident Fund (EPPF) has been one of the most active, vocal and driving forces in raising the local investment industry’s consciousness and responsibility regarding diversity, inclusion and belonging of under-represented demographics – notably women and people of colour.

The 2023 EPPF-commissioned study conducted byGIBS regarding the qualitative experience of female investment professionals in South Africa, is a further important contribution to more critically assessing the contributing factors to the absence of women in the top roles in finance and investment. 

The importance of asking the right questions

In my 25 years of direct involvement in the investment industry, almost all the informal and formal engagements around the material lack of senior women in our industry have almost always culminated in one narrative: women simply do not stay in the industry long enough to earn the opportunity for recognition and promotion.


The reasons for this have typically (rightly or wrongly)been attributed to intrinsic factors such as lack of self-belief, ambition and drive among women to aspire to top roles, as well as extrinsic factors such the environment within the industry itself and its construct. Historically the investment industry had been set up as an “old boys’ club” structured to exclude women, as well as being an environment that has been broadly unsupportive of women given their multiple roles in society. 

One of the most important points raised in the 2023 EPPF GIBS Diversity in Asset Management study is that it finally seeks to shift the discussion away from women being the “issue”, whether directly or indirectly, to a more courageous line of questioning around why the industry itself has simply not resonated sufficiently in appealing to many more highly accomplished and qualified women professionals to invest their own skill, time and energy to building a meaningful career in it. 

The privilege to be afforded the opportunity to earnestly care for, manage, protect and grow an individual’s hard-earned savings is rooted in an endeavour of long-term stewardship and not short-term performance prowess. The latter type of pursuit is associated with outsized egos, unjustifiable hubris, a sense of unearned entitlement and an unhealthy sense of competition – and let’s face it, we have seen far too much of this in the investment value chain and for far too long. 

If the investment industry around the world is to truly serve its stakeholders, its mission must evolve materially beyond a single-minded focus on alphadelivery (at all costs) to a more holistic approach to compounding return and impact. That sort of industry will undoubtedly attract and resonate deeply with afar wider, more diverse and responsible group of true professionals and practitioners.


Let’s not forget to root out deeply institutional ideas

One of the insightful aspects of the EPPF GIBS study outlined a summary of the lessons of senior women through their professional journeys to their high achieving points. While the study focused more on women in senior portfolio management positions, I am certain that many of the observations would hold true for women entrepreneurs in the investment industry too – another sparsely populated grouping.While not as overtly outlined in the anecdotal stories, to me there is a clear implied undertone of an institutionalised and unconscious bias that must exist across the industry that would require women to learn to navigate and overcome to the extent they need to. 

As part of the actions that need to be taken now to better support women in asset management, I would add that more direct engagement, more probing assessment of limiting behaviours by value chain participants and a more critical evaluation of deep and systemic beliefs regarding women in leadership roles needs to be courageously unpacked. Asset allocators and influential decision-makers need to be honest and self-reflect about the kinds of concerns and limitations they tend to implicitly attach to women-led teams and firms, as opposed to those led by men. 

This includes criteria such as unwittingly requiring women-led teams and firms to have far larger benches of talent to support them; treating staff movements in women-led teams with more scepticism and attaching a greater perception of risk and displaying more paternalistic behaviour in terms of supporting women-led firms. The irony through this all is that the women who do take up the “power seats”, against many identified odds, are arguably more determined, more committed, more alert to threats and vulnerabilities and more deeply thoughtful about their right and responsibility to succeed.

Only a collective mindset evolution will shift the status quo

The EPPF GIBS Diversity in Asset Management study is an important and seminal foundational research paper that has come at a pivotal time in the evolution of the investment industry, when many competing and rapidly changing forces are weighing down on what a model for future investment success will need to look like. The study is unequivocal in its recommendations that the industry we need to see will only be possible through an alignment of focus and a willingness to collectively shift gears through the entire breadth of investment value chain stakeholders with clear and systematic planning but also urgency. 

For an industry that has always associated and prided itself with developing an exceptional cohort of professionals who exhibit skill, mastery and expertise, we need to all accept we are not actually achieving a true meritocracy unless the industry’s talent pool intentionally includes, nurtures, and promotes individuals from all demographic groups, and particularly women.