November 11th, 2010 | 1:00 pm

The Future of Women in Financial Services at the NCRW’s Women and Money Luncheon

filed under Industry Leaders

iStock_000001124874XSmallBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

Earlier this week, the National Council for Research on Women hosted a discussion on women and money at JP Morgan Private Bank. The event featured four notable panelists as well as a conclusion by Jacki Zehner, Vice Chair of the Women’s Funding Network.

The panel discussed the next steps in getting more women into the financial services sector, keeping them there, and getting to them to the top. Zehner explained, “We are moving from a place of less power to more power, and shifting from a moral argument… to an economic one.”

She added, “There is a tremendous amount of research that fuels our activism.”

The panel included Rosie Rios, Treasurer of the United States; Michelle Clayman, Founder, Managing Partner & Chief Investment Officer, New Amsterdam Partners LLC; Joe Keefe, President & CEO, Pax World Management LLC; and Rebecca Patterson, Managing Director and Global Head of Foreign Exchange and Commodities, J.P. Morgan Private Bank. The panel was moderated by Deirdre Bolton, Anchor, Bloomberg Television, and Co-host of “Inside Track.”

Getting Buy-In for the Value of Women

Bolton began the discussion with a question on buy-in. How can we convince the largest financial corporations that the need for gender balance is urgent? Patterson responded, “We’re in the financial industry – and what gets attention is the P&L – the business case.” Patterson explained that years earlier, JP Morgan had calculated the cost of female analyst attrition. “For every woman you lose at the 3-year analyst level, the company loses $250,000. That got their attention very quickly.”

Patterson also mentioned that getting buy-in from male staff is important. She said one way to gain support is to ask, “Wouldn’t you love to say at the end of the year [during a performance review], ‘I helped spearhead this event for women to improve diversity at the company?’.” Reminding other individuals what they get out of supporting women can benefit everyone.

Clayman said that at New Amsterdam Partners, 42% of the staff is made up of minority employees and 35% of the staff is female, and half of the investment team is female. She explained, “We approach hiring in a very systematic way. We don’t set out to hire a diverse team, but we hire people who have been overlooked,” oftentimes because they didn’t fit a stereotype.

Upon joining the Treasury, Rios said, “It was an eye opener. I thought the public sector would be more progressive in terms of diversity and inclusion,” but she found that there was a significant lack of women on the staff.

Women may not be as visible in the financial industry, she said, but they are there, and they are making history. This year, in honor of women in history month, Rios organized a Women in Finance Symposium. She explained, “It was supposed to demonstrate the role that women are playing that people don’t realize women are playing.”

Keefe agreed. He said, “You asked for proof [that diversity is good for business] – and I think the proof is already there. It’s just not widely disseminated.”

Proactive Steps for Promoting Women

There are a number of ways to improve circumstances for women in the financial services industry. But they aren’t all easy. Keefe explained, “When any group is oppressed, someone benefits from that – someone in power – and they’re not going to suddenly [change] because it’s the right thing to do.”

“There needs to be more pressure on companies,” he continued, “and I think investing can do a lot.” Keefe explained that Pax puts pressure on companies through its proxy voting policy, by which it does not support slates of all male directors. He explained that there is plenty of research showing that companies perform better when there are more women at the top, and it’s in investors’ financial best interest not to support those companies that have no female directors.

Clayman said that she has driven her company to focus on mentoring and development of new employees. She joked, “It’s good to be the queen.” She explained, “Hiring someone is a labor intensive process. I want to make sure they can succeed.”

“Mentoring is something we take very seriously and we pay [employees] who volunteer to mentor.” Clayman cautioned that the mentoring is not forced – so there is no penalty for not participating. “And that’s fine, as long as they do their job,” she said.

In terms of gender targets or quotas, Rios said, “Because we are the Federal government, we’re precluded from using quotas of any kind,” because of Title IX. “But there are specific things we can do.”

“We can improve things at the margin, for example, we can increase the number of women in the applicant pool.”

Patterson said that JP Morgan spends a lot of time looking at hiring and gender. And when a man is hired instead of a woman with similar qualifications, the company will investigate why. And often the response is, “she’s great but he has better technical skills.”

Patterson said, “So we need to look at that focus on technical stuff. Women may have wonderful EQ, but we need to be just as good or better at programming, crunching numbers, making the best trades,” etc.

Clayman added, “You’ve got to be bold. Take risks! Not in a stupid way, but you’ve got to make yourself visible.”

2 comments

  1. finance exec

    After several recent meetings at JPM I can attest that they have been far more effective at positioning women in key roles than any of the other large financial firms I deal with. So, kudos to JPM. The vetting of cases in which similarly qualified men were hired (rather than a woman) is also a practice long employed by non-financial firms to build a stronger team. One thing I would question, though, is the statement that an unsuccessful female candidate lacked technical skills. I can’t speak to that specific situation, but this is the type of toss-off remark that is often used to eliminate women who, in reality, have better technical backgrounds than the men. Anyway, keep it up House of Dimon.

  2. Dani Ticktin Koplik

    This piece raises a number of interesting points. Joe Keefe is quite right about the latest research, which found that companies with women on the board enjoyed greater profitability, greater shareholder value, better management and less turnover. This, then, is the most important reason, the business case as it were, for including more women at the highest levels. Just as it’s handicapping for women to be excluded from the process because of gender alone, it’s equally handicapping for women to be included because of gender alone. True parity won’t happen until everyone is held to the same standard and quality prevails, regardless of gender.

    Subject matter expertise or technical competence are merely the price of admission; beyond that, it’s critical that women take ownership of their careers and self-mange their way to the top. To that end, women should avail themselves of all possible resources, from skill training to lifelong learning to mentoring to soliciting feedback to cultivating relationships up and down the organization, etc. The truth is that institutional initiatives are important for all workers, not just women, but more women will remain in the workforce (and companies can protect their investments) if women develop the skills to hold their own and deflect the slings and arrows of the male dominated workplace