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Q&A: Insights from Leading Women in Asset Management

Leaders’ accomplishments show prospects for women in asset management

Laura Lallos and Madison Sargis


Left to right: Marie Chandoha, Sonal Desai, Mary Ellen Stanek


Morningstar’s research on fund managers underscores the fact that women in asset management remain underrepresented, but the research also highlights encouraging signs of improvement. Women who have already blazed trails in the field are guiding others on the path. We sat down with three industry leaders whose accomplishments illustrate the prospects for other women: Marie Chandoha, president and CEO of Charles Schwab Investment Management; Sonal Desai, portfolio manager and director of research for Templeton Global Macro at Franklin Templeton Investments; and Mary Ellen Stanek, president of Baird Funds and CIO of Baird Advisors. (Desai and Stanek and their teams were both nominees for Morningstar’s Fixed-Income Fund Manager of the Year in 2016.)

Chandoha, Desai, and Stanek explored the reasons for the current statistics on female fund managers, and offered solutions to improving the numbers. They shared their insights in a discussion on Feb. 13, 2017. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Why do you think women in asset management remain poorly represented, particularly when compared with fields like medicine or law?

Marie Chandoha: Two things jump to my mind. One is awareness. It’s certainly a smaller field than law or medicine, and not as well-known. When I looked at the original study Morningstar did [in 2015], there were only around 7,700 portfolio managers in the U.S. The number of doctors is much, much larger. We as a firm have been partnering with the nonprofit Girls Who Invest, which tries to bring women into the portfolio management field. They discovered that many college-aged women don’t know about this career path. Role models can be transformative. I’m a firm believer in “if you can see it, you can be it.” I recently asked a portfolio manager in my organization what attracted her to the field. She spoke about another woman portfolio manager who helped educate her about the career path and set her on the course.

Sonal Desai: One point I’d make is that portfolio managers don’t get credentialed immediately; you grow to become an asset manager. So, perhaps a better comparison would be to partners in law firms, as opposed to just lawyers. I wonder to what extent what we’re seeing in asset management is related to what you also see in technology. Even sooner than college, in middle school, girls are not given enough of a push toward what are regarded as more quantitative fields. Indeed, at Franklin, we’re also taking part in the Girls Who Invest program for the reason of raising awareness.

Mary Ellen Stanek: I think of it in two ways. First, it’s self-selection, encouragement, and awareness-building among young women. That’s one side. We’ve encouraged broad internship programs as an opportunity for both men and women to test-drive the career. We provide female role models who have successfully navigated through this field and have balanced lives. The other issue is the hiring funnel. Who’s doing the recruiting and the hiring? How wide is the net being cast, through different programs and different schools? How diverse is the pool that’s being considered? I do harbor the view that diverse talent tends to be willing to look more broadly for new talent, and so we might see the perpetuation of existing leadership if we’re not careful.

Q: Are there structural or systemic issues that women in the asset management industry face, perhaps cultural problems or a lack of flexible workplace environments?

Stanek: On a positive note, while there can be subtle biases in other career paths, this is a wonderful field because it’s very objectively measured. If you can put the numbers up and show performance, that’s hard to ignore no matter how old you are, what your gender, your ethnicity, your sexual preference. Once you get people to open that door and consider it, you see women rising through the ranks because of the objectivity of how we’re evaluated.

This blog post is an excerpt from the April/May issue of Morningstar Magazine. Read the full interview .

Read Morningstar's latest research on female fund managers, “Fund Managers by Gender: The Global Landscape.” 

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