Diversity Project Logo
Home > Resources > The urgent need to focus on the gender agenda amidst the pandemic

The urgent need to focus on the gender agenda amidst the pandemic

During a webinar on 3rd February attended by over 200, the Diversity Project’s CEO gender subgroup and the co-leads of our Working Families workstream discussed the pressing need to redouble and refine the investment industry’s efforts around gender equality, at a time of widening inequalities in society. We need to be proactive to avoid slipping backwards.

To progress, we needed to create better understanding and genuine empathy around the issues women were currently facing, along with those men playing a major role at home. The emphasis should be on shifting the agenda away from women towards families and the practical steps everyone can take to help.


The opening question was ‘has the pandemic created more of an opportunity or more of a threat to the investment industry’s progress towards gender balance?’ 55% of attendees considered it to be more of a threat. This was a sharp contrast to the 72% of attendees at the Diversity Project’s November 2020 seminar who thought that the pandemic gave us more of an opportunity to progress (across all diversity dimensions).

Ideas to counteract the threat and to build back better included:

More emphasis from leaders on the right culture and behaviours, more inclusive line management and incorporation of these goals into performance appraisals and remuneration decisions. A specific focus on, and safe space to talk, for those who may be less involved in D&I efforts.

Discouragement of ‘always on’ such as considering a firm-wide no-meetings policy between 12 noon and 2pm (this works less well in global firms). Genuine flexible working – at all seniority levels, with good communications around this so that everyone knows this is not just allowed but encouraged if it helps. To shift away from the idea that flexible working is just for women or the less well-paid roles.

Running ‘perspective’ sessions to build real understanding and empathy by having women and men speak in front of the firm about their challenges/experiences of working remotely/flexibly. This is especially important around pay and promotions reviews. Putting in place reverse mentoring for senior executives with women in the organisation. Actively engaging your women’s/families’ networks to make sure you’re not making decisions in a vacuum. Ensure key decision-making groups are representative.

Training managers to be asking the right questions then acting upon what they have heard in an appropriate, sympathetic way. Not listening briefly then carrying on as before but carefully considering how to make things work better. Making it clear that flexibility is compatible with career progression and demonstrating that in performance reviews and promotion decisions.

Leaders may be well-intentioned with messages of flexibility and moving deadlines BUT the workload is often growing alongside those fine words and people are working longer and longer hours either side of their family roles. This is not sustainable. We need to encourage both women and men to speak up when they can’t manage it all and not to fear they will be penalised if the workload is just impossible.

Publishing gender pay gap data even if not mandatory. This demonstrates to the firm that we are really serious about this (monitoring it even when not required to report). Work flexibility will not necessarily be helpful to women in the longer-term if it’s primarily women taking up the offer of flexibility, so that their male partner’s career remains unaffected.

The gender pay gap and our incentive schemes, mean by default more women who are in lower paid roles are the first to take a step back in terms of responsibility, working hours, days, pay – further exacerbating the problem. We have to tackle these underlying issues.

Participating in or following the Extended Leave analysis being led by HSBC Global Asset Management with Kantar and the Diversity Project. This is reviewing the impact of extended leave on women’s careers and actions that can be taken to mitigate e.g. maintaining performance track records over a career gap.

Bringing the ‘business case’ alive e.g. BGF has partnered with Coutts to launch a fund focused on investment by female fund managers into female-founded businesses. Change the narrative from this being about giving women a ‘wide berth’ to levelling the playing field and helping women to contribute to improve results.

As investors, we have a role to play in holding investee companies to account: while we sort out our own house, we can apply pressure by using our vote to encourage investee companies to do the same. Goldman Sachs is upping the ante with its requirements.

To participate in the Diversity Project’s Shared Parental Leave focused work within the Working Families Group so that more fathers may take up SPL and shift the dynamic away from women and to families.

To recognise there is no silver bullet; it’s going to take many efforts by many of us, but if we all take steps in the same direction that can achieve something sizable. We have an urgent need to address this, with one of the largest gender pay gaps and a significant under-representation of women in fund management, the lifeblood of the industry. Everyone has a role to play.

The one message each panellist wanted attendees to take away was:

Claire Black, Business Support Manager & Executive Assistant at Principal Global Investors, co-lead Working Families workstream

Every employee’s circumstances are unique, so it is essential that there is two-way communication with line managers in order that the right support can be agreed – and it won’t be the same solution for everyone.

Jon Terry, special advisor to the Diversity Project

Demonstrate to your people that supportive behaviours are critical, by explicitly including within the formal assessment of everyone’s performance (including line managers, PMs and senior leaders) with a material impact (positive and negative) on pay.

Stuart White, Chief Executive Officer and Board Director of HSBC Global Asset Management

Find the time to call a colleague who you know might be struggling with childcare and ask what you can do to help and cascade this message into your firms, top-down and bottom-up. A clear message that we are a team and that everyone is there to help each other through this extraordinary time and no colleague should feel guilty of not being able to do everything or afraid or retribution.

Sascha Calisan, Senior Vice President and Head of Distribution Services at Northern Trust, co-lead Working Families workstream

It’s hard to imagine the relentless pressure for parents juggling home school and caring responsibilities. Encourage managers to show empathy, be flexible and help parents manage their workload by prioritising key deliverables.

Kathleen Hughes, Global Head of the Liquidity Solutions Client Business, Goldman Sachs Asset Management

As an industry we have a responsibility to ensure that we are putting into place resources and policies to support working parents and ensure that women are not being left behind during these unprecedented and challenging times. Policies and resources are meaningless without empathetic organizations and empathetic managers to implement them. We shouldn’t forget that as an industry we also have the ability to effect real change and drive the critical need for diversity across all companies that we invest in, control, own or lend to. By focusing both internally and engaging externally we can drive meaningful change within the asset management industry and beyond.

Stephen Welton, Founder and Executive Chairman of BGF

To really build back better, so it means something and is not just a slogan, we need to empower men and women to make flexible working a reality. That requires genuine empathy, to understand the challenges the pandemic has created in terms of working from home and the attendant juggling of home schooling and running a home with also doing an important job.

We cannot simply revert to the pre-pandemic world, nor can we go backwards in terms of creating greater opportunities for women to succeed in business generally and the investment management industry in particular. That needs strong leadership from the top, creating hybrid environments where we can comfortably mix different and flexible ways of working with a culture that embraces change, a willingness to listen to others, and so bringing out the best in all teams recognising different strengths, attitudes and aspirations.

The pandemic should be the catalyst to meaningful and positive change, not the opposite. We should back the role models who will make this a reality.

Mitesh Sheth, CEO of Redington

We need to shine a spotlight on the men that work flexibly, part time, or use shared parental leave, in order to encourage more men (as well as women) to use the flexible work benefits on offer. If we succeed in doing this collectively and consistently, we will rewrite tired gender stereotypes, reduce our pay gaps and flexible working gaps, with huge implications for our people, firms and industry, as well as the UK, the global economy and future generations.

Helena Morrissey, Chair of the Diversity Project

Closing the gap between the talk and the walk is essential – at every level. Are you a manager expressing sympathy with a working mother in your team yet demanding the impossible? Are you claiming to be family-friendly but holding key meetings at 1pm? Are you showing that it’s possible to work flexibly and be promoted? Do you really understand why you aren’t seeing more women succeed in your business? Do you have a specific plan to improve gender balance or is it really just a vague aspiration? Do you walk the walk?

Get in touch and let us know your thoughts at: [email protected].

Other Resources

Congenital Hip Dysplasia Story
September 20, 2022

Read More

Twelfth E-Newsletter
August 16, 2022

Read More
Image for Twelfth E-Newsletter

Investment Week: Talking about race and ethnicity can be difficult, but do it anyway
June 30, 2022

Read More
Image for Investment Week: Talking about race and ethnicity can be difficult, but do it anyway

Subscribe today and keep up to day with all our news

Sign up to receive our eNewsletter and be the first to hear about Diversity Project events.

Follow us on Social Media

Be the first to hear about all things Diversity Project - use the links below to connect us to your feed...

Phone Social Image