How To Stem Subtle Sexism In ETF Industry

Stop dancing around the subject, call women ‘women’ and let’s be a more visible part of this industry.

Editor, Europe
Reviewed by: Rachael Revesz
Edited by: Rachael Revesz

LONDON ­–­­­ It’s just a little thing. Just a little niggle I have, one that eats away at me quietly and usually rears its head once or twice a month. I shouldn’t complain, really.


I mean, if there are very few men at the Women In ETFs gatherings, that’s too bad. And, well, if Legal & General Investment Management CEO Mark Zinkula insists on saying “females” instead of “women” as a noun at last week’s Morningstar conference, I’ll have to accept it. But then again, why should I expect better when the moderator from Morningstar essentially apologised for asking Zinkula about gender diversity in fund management: “I know it’s a soft question but…”


And even if the legendary Mark Mobius talks of “the young lady” that stood up to ask him when to invest her newly-acquired money – it’s always the ladies asking the silly questions, right – then gee whiz, you might say, it’s not that big a deal: I should close my mouth and stop banging on about it.


Sexism can be subtle, and it can wing its way into conversations at every turn, sometimes without us even realising it.


“The wife”, “the missus”, “the ole ball and chain….” References like these are flung around events and conferences as if we’re at an old boys club having a chuckle, instead of talking about macro economy.


But this issue does matter. Encouraging more gender diversity will help to banish this image of a male-dominated industry and also in turn encourage more women to invest – surely a benefit for everyone.


Lack Of Progress?

What sometimes can depress me is to think how little has changed I started working in financial journalism. In early 2012 I attended a Cazenove conference, packed full with investors. One highly respected fund manager was talking about the fall of underwear chain La Senza: “My wife was disappointed, but not as disappointed as me,” making the audience laugh and insinuating his bedroom preferences rather than disappointment at the falling share price.


I suppose I laughed too, to fit in. But that didn’t make it any easier when it came to the Q&A and I raised my hand, now feeling singled out and even unwelcome.


Even can occasionally fall foul of the golden standard, but we strive to put that to rights. Quite recently I had to point the team’s attention to an article which said the U.S. market was looking attractive and was the “prettiest girl at the ball”. I asked to remove that sentence and we did. The fact is we can take every opportunity, no matter how seemingly small or seemingly insignificant, to make a change. My asking for that sentence to be edited meant that up to half a million readers that month did not have to imagine U.S. equities in a skirt.

Choosing The Right Metaphor

The way my contacts sometimes choose to talk to me can also be a little puzzling.


How many times have people resorted to metaphors of shoes and handbags when I have asked them to explain a complex point? If these guys could see my trainers and old rucksack they might choose to rephrase.


Put simply, I’d just like us all to develop better manners, and to celebrate the achievements of women in this industry.


My Dream Conference

I want to go to a financial industry conference where it’s not just the “ladies” who are handing out the name badges and running round with microphones or asking the basic questions. I want to go to a conference where our male counterparts stop calling us “high-flying females” or confuse Victorian-era politeness and gentlemanly manners with condescension or belittlement. I would like to get through a whole day of debates and sessions without even the slightest grimace or urge to squirm in my seat.


International Women’s Day has come and gone, and sadly, so has the spotlight on women's rights in finance. The week running up to 8 March we published some brilliant articles on our website, including a blog on how to take care of your female clients by adviser Susan Hill, how ETFs continue to innovate by State Street’s Eleanor Hope-Bell, and how to decode messages from the Bank of England by Vanguard’s Biola Babawale. There was also a thought-provoking series called “5 Questions For”, quizzing prominent women such as Evrin ErdemDeborah YangGillian Walmsley and Miranda Brawn.


I have made a resolution to up that coverage again and give women a better and more visible platform within the microcosm that is the ETF industry. After all, we in ETFs are not stuck in the opaque world of hedge funds, nor do we rely on the face of the fund manager to sell products as in the active world – we can do better than that.


Rachael Revesz joined in August 2013 as staff writer. Previously an investment reporter at Citywire, she has a background in writing content for retail financial advisors and has covered a wide range of subjects in finance. Revesz studied journalism at PMA Media, which has since merged with the Press Association. She also holds a B.A. in modern languages from Durham University, as well as CF1 and CF2 financial planning certificates from the CII.