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Event Recaps , Featured Events Finance | May 01, 2019 |

Conference Spotlights Demand for Women in Asset Management

By Claire Curry

Despite the rising number of women MBAs and women leaders across many industries, there is still a significant deficit of those in finance, and particularly in alternative investments.

Which is why the Gabelli School connected with Chartered Alternative Investment Association (CAIA – represented by William Kelly, CEO and Kelsey Claire, Gabelli ’15) and 100 Women in Finance (represented by Lauren Malafronte, Managing Director Scotia Bank and Alexis Belladonna), organizations committed to developing diversity in asset management, to co-sponsor the Women in Alternative Investments Conference on April 23.

There’s never been a better time for women to pursue careers in asset management, according to speakers from these organizations. And, Fordham students took advantage of the opportunity to meet and network with many of the members of these organizations that attended the lecture and participated in the networking session that followed.

“When it comes to managing money, that is the last bastion,” said keynote speaker Janet Cowell, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Girls Who Invest, noting that the presence of women has been increasing in client service and marketing positions. “But only about 10 percent of portfolio managers of mutual funds are women, and in the alternative investments space, it’s even lower, less than 5 percent.”

Cowell, the first woman treasurer in the state of North Carolina, now works to promote gender equity by creating opportunities for women in a field that has historically been dominated by men. In the past four years since it was founded, Girls Who Invest has brought together 100 partner organizations that offer education, mentoring and internships to undergraduate students interested in careers in asset management.

“There is increasing regulatory pressure on hiring women,” she explained. “As a diverse candidate, this is a fabulous time to consider a career in asset management.” It is also a powerful industry for social change, she added, noting her own experience managing more than $100 billion in assets in health and retirement benefits in North Carolina.

The ability to make an impact in helping to build businesses influenced Dorothy Mehta, LAW ’04, to choose a career in investment management—on the legal side.

“I started my career in litigation, and quickly realized that I don’t really like to fight against people,” she joked. But she did enjoy the rewards of working in the asset management arena. Today, Mehta is a partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP. “It’s a great field for women whether it’s business or legal, however you want to touch the space. It has been a fruitful career for me.”

Mehta was part of a panel moderated by Nicole Johnson, Gabelli ’94, a partner at Ernst & Young, LLP, at the event organized by Professor Kevin Mirabile, director of the Gabelli School’s Alternative Investment Program.

“The program involves a combination of academic programming, student clubs and engagement, and alumni industry professional mentoring for those students who are interested in learning about hedge funds, private equity, real estate, commodities, and structured products,” Mirabile said. “The goal is to combine academic learning with the skill sets and the outside-of-classroom experiences students need to be successful in the real world.”

A new focus group on women in alternative investing will help students learn and network with women working in the field, he explained to an audience of more than 100 students and professionals.

Other panelists at the event included Maura Reilly Kennedy, managing director at Neuberger Berman, and Beth Hammond, MBA ’00, director at Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.

The speakers weighed in on the gender wage gap, the fact that it is possible to have a thriving career and a healthy family life at once, and the value of mentors and networking.

Hammond recalled a situation in her early career when she realized that a man on a team she was leading was earning only $2,000 less than she earned. When she questioned the disparity with higher-ups, she was told that he was married and had children. “This made me realize that I have to send a signal that I’m serious about my career and I’m serious about being part of this industry,” she said.

Reilly Kennedy spoke about the misconceptions around being able to manage a successful career and family—one of the reasons women on track for leadership positions drop off before they get there. Now seven months pregnant with her third child and a senior member of Neuberger Berman’s private equity investment team, she recalled how worried she was the first time she took maternity leave, thinking that she would miss out. “After two weeks back, the piles are still on your desk where you left them,” she said. “Maybe I missed out on a project or two, but it’s no big deal!”

Her advice to students interested in this career path is to “be confident, keep your head down for the first couple of years and get the work done” because that hard work will pay off in the long term. On the personal front, Reilly Kennedy impressed the importance of asking for help when you need it and of choosing a life partner who is supportive.

All of the speakers mentioned how impressed they are with the resumés they receive from women who apply for internships, but that they are too few and far between.

Attendees and organizers agreed that the conference was empowering. “We were able to hear directly from those women who have championed the way before us,” said Kelsey Clair, Gabelli ’15, a portfolio manager at MUFG Bank, Ltd. and an executive board member of CAIA NY and member of 100 Women in Finance. “Promoting diversity in our industry is a top priority.”

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