Rethink investment management "boys' club" to recruit and retain women

28 August 2018
A new University of Sydney Business School study reveals women investment managers are seriously concerned about the lack of equal treatment and opportunities in the sector.

Researchers from the Women, Work & Leadership Research Group at the University of Sydney surveyed and interviewed women in investment management. The findings are outlined in the Non-traditional Investors Report, launched today, which investigates the experience of women in middle-ranking and senior positions in investment management.

The study is a multi-method study, with 124 women participating in the online survey supplemented with 20 long qualitative interviews with women working in direct investment management occupations.

Over one-fifth of the survey participants said they had experienced offensive remarks or behaviours relating to their gender at work.

One of the study authors Professor Rae Cooper said, “The study reveals that these highly skilled professional women were attracted to their profession because they wanted to influence key decisions, but they are disappointed at experiences they have had throughout their careers.


These are highly capable and ambitious women, managing billion-dollar investment portfolios and working in a sector that is at the heart of our economy. The gender inequality is worrying for all of us.
Professor Rae Cooper

Report author Dr Sarah Oxenbridge said, “Many research participants described how they and their female colleagues were excluded from male-only social events, particularly sporting events like golf tournaments, poker nights and boat trips.”

Reports of conscious and unconscious bias that favoured male colleagues in recruitment and promotion processes were common and many referred to the industry as a “boys’ club”.

“Disrespectful behaviour such as this is out of step with community standards and the expectations of most Australians about how our workplaces should operate and how professionals should interact at work,” said Dr Oxenbridge.

Survey participants also identified the absence of women in senior roles as a critical issue. Currently women represent only 17 percent of employees in the investment management sector and are less represented in more senior roles.

One participant in the study said, “I got to the point where I couldn't deal with the complete disrespect - just the culture, the attitude, the not being one of the boys, I don't want to be one of the boys.”

The research shows a very heavy and thick layer of glass at the ceiling of the investment management hierarchy.
Dr Sarah Oxenbridge

Around one in eight women who participated in the study reported they had experienced sexual harassment at their current workplace.

“This is symptomatic of a broader workplace culture where women are disrespected and undervalued,” explained Professor Rae Cooper

The researchers sought to understand what business might do about these problems.

“Giving women the same opportunity to advance as well as equal treatment in work teams is key to building critical mass of women in investment management occupations,” said Dr Sarah Oxenbridge from the University of Sydney Business School.

The research findings point to the need for organisations to enable better work-life balance for parents working in investment management. When asked to identify the main problem for women working in their occupation, 52 of 116 responding women identified the lack of accommodation of working mothers’ needs as a critical issue.

“It’s important that leaders in these firms establish ‘tone from the top’ in showing genuine commitment to improving gender diversity in the sector. But it’s equally important that this commitment plays out in the actions and behaviours of direct managers,” said Dr Oxenbridge.

“Women in the sector are saying loud and clear that unequal treatment must stop. They need opportunities to advance and access to flexibility if they are to stay, and thrive, in these organisations.”

The research was conducted by Dr Sarah Oxenbridge, Professor Rae Cooper and Professor Marian Baird at the University of Sydney’s Women, Work & Leadership Research Group.

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