Why We All Need Women In ETFs

Women in ETFs made its San Francisco debut this week. It’s about time.

Director of Research
Reviewed by: Elisabeth Kashner
Edited by: Elisabeth Kashner

Women in ETFs made its San Francisco debut this week. It’s about time.

I’m the director of research at ETF.com, but lately I’ve been doing double duty as co-head of the San Francisco chapter of Women in ETFs.

I serve along with BlackRock’s Managing Director Deepa Damre. She and I think it’s high time to take the ETF industry to the next level by reaching out to women.

San Francisco is a stronghold for the ETF industry. Wednesday night’s kick-off attendees included women from BlackRock, Schwab, Citigroup, MSCI, FTSE, State Street, Vanguard, Lattice, Merk, FutureAdvisor, Natixis, RS Investments and ETF.com, plus dozens of advisors. That’s 123 ETF industry women—and a few men—ready to embrace Women in ETF’s mission to support, connect, and inspire.

Left-coast San Francisco may be a progressive haven, but San Francisco women face the same testosterone-heavy workplaces as women throughout the financial services industry: The overwhelming majority of our colleagues are men. Too many of us are still the only woman in our groups, our departments, or even our firms.

Only 36 percent of ETF.com’s employees are women, narrowing down to just 30 percent of the content team, and a mere 20 percent of our Analytics group. Is your firm any different?

Not As Easy As It Looks

Everyone at ETF.com, from the founder and chief executive officer on down, wants to hire more women. I’m in charge of hiring within my group. Fantastic, right? I have the tools and the mandate to even things out.

Except I don’t, really, because my sisters just don’t apply.

A few weeks ago, I posted an ad for a junior analyst. Less than 14 percent of the applicants had female first names. I reached out to all who met my screening criteria, but none of them made it to the final round. I’m about to make an offer to a wonderful young man. Again.

In the 1990s, it was even worse. When I walked onto the floor of the Pacific Stock Exchange in July 1995, only 7 percent of the traders were women. In my firm, I was it.

In many ways, I’m still alone. Or I was, until Wednesday night.

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A New Era

BlackRock’s Deepa Damre, Sue Thomson and Amy Schioldager, plus Schwab’s George Pereira wowed the crowd, suggesting that, this time, things really are different. They made a strong case.

Deepa reminded the crowd that, more often than not, people find growth opportunities through networking and connecting.

“Your next career opportunity is more likely to come from someone you don’t even know yet as opposed to someone you know very well,” Damre explained.

Sue Thomson, senior advisor and former head of BlackRock’s RIA business, is one of five Women in ETFs founders. Sue praised the organization’s dramatic growth: 600 members and six chapter launches, all within 10 short months. More importantly, Sue told the crowd, “As co-president of the organization, I have been amazed and deeply humbled by the outpouring of interest and the passion and energy that this amazing group of women has brought to bear.”

George Pereira, Charles Schwab Investment Management’s COO, standing in for Marie Chandoha, CSIM president and CEO, emphasized the value of diversity within Schwab and the financial services industry.

The Right Industry At The Right Time

Amy Schioldager, BlackRock’s senior managing director and head of global beta strategies, spoke about the tremendous growth in ETFs, and the excellent opportunities available for women in the ETF industry.

Amy hit the nail on the head. ETFs are still in their infancy, with lots of room for innovation and creative energy. So many of today’s top-level ETF executives stumbled into this wide-open industry.

Today’s young women have every reason to embrace the ETF story, because our dynamic industry offers all kinds of growth. There’s economic growth, career advancement and, best of all, the chance to advance democracy.

The accelerating adoption of ETFs makes for a growing industry. Better still, career advancement is within reach, as most firms are meritocracies, with few obstacles to advancement. As Damre explained: “There’s no generations-deep ‘old boys’ network, because women have been in ETFs from the start.”

Best, ETFs are engines of democratization, offering low-cost, institutional-caliber investments to anyone with a brokerage account. ETFs allow investors to cut out layers of fees, benefiting rent-seeking middlemen. When small investors keep more of their gains, that’s a home run for economic justice.

Democracy and economic growth have historically been good for women. The ETF industry can—and should—empower women on every level. It’s a win for everyone.

Seize The Day

In my closing remarks, I instructed the 123 attendees to take charge, to introduce themselves to each other, to seize the moment and begin to make critical connections. The room proceeded to buzz for a full 90 minutes. Managing directors talked to junior analysts. Traders talked to marketers.

Women from rival firms smiled, shared a drink and munched M&Ms. Me, I talked to everyone, but on the sly I counted pregnant bellies. Three.

I reckon those will be some lucky babies, born to a more open, diverse and democratic world, thanks to Women in ETFs.


Elisabeth Kashner is FactSet's director of ETF research. She is responsible for the methodology powering FactSet's Analytics system, providing leadership in data quality, investment analysis and ETF classification. Kashner also serves as co-head of the San Francisco chapter of Women in ETFs.