Striving for Diversity in Asset Management: A Q&A with Investment2020

Karis Stander, Managing Director for Investment2020, has been generous enough to spend time with us explaining what Investment2020 is all about and answering questions about why and how the asset management industry can become more diverse, in particular with regards to capturing and retaining female talent.

Karis Stander Morgan McKinley Q&A

“I consider myself to be very fortunate to work within an area that I am not only passionate about but also is so important to both innovation and success in business. Encouraging young people from all backgrounds to access the investment management industry is good for business and good for our society.”


1. Tell us about Investment2020?

Investment2020 is about broadening the talent pool at grassroots level by creating more opportunities for young people from different backgrounds to become part of the investment management industry.  The Investment2020 programme is a great example of a collaborative industry response to a shared goal.  More than 25 investment managers and service providers are already committed to unleashing talent from the widest possible range of UK life, to raise awareness of our industry among young people as they consider their future careers, and crucially, to create opportunities to get a foot in the door.  

Entry-level recruitment has typically been focused around a few exclusive universities.  Investment2020 is a means for them to broaden their search for talent in filling the wide range of roles that the industry has to offer.  Diversity brings fresh ideas, alternative solutions and natural talent – all of which are vital to the success of the investment management industry. 

2. How do you think asset management compares to other sectors in terms of gender diversity?

The overwhelming message I get from firms in the asset management industry, and also from those I have worked with across financial and professional services, is that corporates want to see more applications from women at entry level.  The importance of gender diversity is well understood by corporates and a considerable amount of effort is put into appealing to women at entry level, from actively targeting girls at school,  college and university through to looking at careers branding and job descriptions and their implicit gender messages.  

The asset management industry may have been slower to open up alternative entry points, such as school leaver programmes, to a larger and wider pool of talent than firms in professional services, retail banking and insurance, but we are making great strides forward.  Alternative entry points by their very nature bring in more diversity which includes gender.  Women in the asset management industry seem to favour roles in support functions such as HR, marketing and finance, than in fund management and sales roles, but I find this to be in keeping across the rest of financial services.  However, we want to see more women across all roles. 


3. What do you think about the government’s pay gap reporting proposal?

Measurement and transparency are powerful drivers for achieving change and only when you have this information is it possible to reveal true discrepancies in gender pay gap.  I see honest and annual reporting as an important management tool that can help measure the impact of initiatives firms introduce and identify barriers to change.  In my experience with young people I have found them to be increasingly ethically and socially aware.  When it comes to planning their career, the ethical perception of an industry as well as the specific companies themselves, are increasingly playing a part in their decision making.  Firms recognise that to attract the best and most diverse talent, they need to be open and transparent about pay.  


4. What's your opinion on the Davies report about organisational quotas for women on the board? 

I see distinct difference between targets and quotas.  Targets are specific measurable objectives set by companies whereas quotas are externally imposed.  There is clear evidence that women are valuable contributors at board level and bring skills, experience and backgrounds that high performing boards need.  To achieve this as an industry we need to be focused on attracting women at grassroots level, and then develop and retain them so that we have a credible pool of talent from which to recruit at board level.  

Programmes like Investment2020 are designed to open doors to a wide spectrum of diverse students.  I am all in favour of setting ambitious targets to achieve this and believe that our industry has made significant strides and will continue to do so.  Like the Davies report, I believe in selection and promotion through merit and would far rather see ambitious but realistic targets rather than externally imposed quotas.  As a woman, I want to be secure in the knowledge that I got the job because I am the most qualified person for it and not because of my gender. 


5. What changes would you like to see happening in the financial services industry to help move the dial on gender equality?

It is really interesting that the industry is not getting in a 50/50 split of male/female applications at entry-level and this raises questions as to why.  As a starter, it’s important to open up entry points for school and college leavers as well as for graduates.  We find that a higher percentage of our school leaver trainees are women than at graduate level. 

Financial services may be viewed as an industry only for maths gurus and given that boys at school tend to do better at maths and science, women might be self-selecting and not putting themselves forward.  Interestingly 65% of visitors to our website are women yet this doesn’t translate into applications which might have something to do with the perception. Most firms I speak to actively seek candidates with interests outside of maths and economics and this message should be more clearly articulated through to schools and universities.  

If a career in financial services is going to appeal to women, it is important to look at brand messages, corporate image, careers pages, student collateral and the job descriptions and evaluate if the messages coming through are appealing to women. 


6. What is Investment2020 doing to improve diversity and meritocracy in asset management over the next five years?

Investment2020 is improving diversity across our industry as each new firm opens up a programme, as each new trainee joins a programme, and as each trainee transitions into a permanent role.  I want to look back after 20 years and see where our trainees are.  Did they stay in our industry and are they in senior management?  If the answer is yes, for me that is success.  

By unifying the investment management industry behind a common goal to increase awareness and attract a wider pool of young and diverse talent, we are using the collective critical mass of industry brands to make an impact which is much more difficult for firms to do on their own.  Together we promote the economic and social importance of the investment industry.  We need to make up for our lack of high street presence and the poor reputation of financial services as a whole.  While awareness is crucial so is providing alternative entry points to traditional City graduate schemes. 

We have a substantial database of education establishments (over 3,000 schools and colleges and 160 universities) across the UK and our partner charities.  To date we have a cumulative total of 700 trainees having started 3 years ago.  54% of the trainees are Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic groups (BAME), 44% school leavers and 98% from a state school background.


7. What advice would you give to women starting their careers in investment management?

Now is a great time to start a career in investment management.  There is a wide range of roles to choose from, the industry is growing as more people realise they need to save, as corporates embrace diversity as a vital positive factor in their future business success.  The goals of gender diversity at boardroom level means we need to attract and develop women from grassroots level so that there is a credible pool from which to recruit at executive level.  

My advice to women is to take every opportunity that you can to broaden your networks and raise your visibility at work.  With aptitude, talent and skills, you can succeed without having to work silly hours.  Participate in firm-wide learning opportunities or social events where you can demonstrate your strengths.  Most importantly, take charge of managing, developing and planning your career… as no one else will! 


8. What can recruiters do to support more diverse shortlists?

At entry level, the sifting of grades and emphasis on relevant work experience stifles diversity and inclusion.  By removing these barriers and asking questions based on aptitude and inherent strengths you are more likely to get a better profile of an applicant’s potential and a more diverse pool of recruits.  While high grades are good, they tell us about past academic achievement and are not necessarily a barometer for future success.  I also think businesses are unduly focused on ‘fit’ – fit with culture and fit with the organisation.  In the process we land up recruiting mirror images of ourselves and that stifles diversity.  We need the ‘misfit’ as they bring the uniqueness we fail to add. 

Victoria Walmsley's picture
Managing Director
vwalmsley@morganmckinley.co.uk