What it's like to be a woman in the hedge fund business

Business Insider

Women have a long way to go on Wall Street, and nowhere is this more true than in the hedge fund industry, where only 15% of CEOs are women.

While women often hold marketing and compliance roles, they are rare in investing positions, which usually pay the most.

There are a lot of reasons for the gap, among them biases, cliquey hiring, and weaker professional networks.

Last year, I spoke with female investors about what it is like working in the industry. We’re republishing their stories in honour of International Women’s Day on March 8.

Some spoke of annoying biases — one woman who launched her own fund said she stopped wearing her wedding ring at investor meetings because she grew tired of questions about what her husband did. Others spoke of being ignored for the investment ideas they presented or hearing crass talk about female colleagues.

Most said their experiences had, on the whole, been otherwise positive. Investing proves a quantifiable measure on which to be measured, something other careers lack, some mentioned. There are fewer grey areas on which to be measured, the thinking goes, if you can point to a number that proves your performance for the year.

Everyone asked to be kept anonymous so to not jeopardize their careers. Here are their stories.

'There's a certain approach to conversation that comes out of knowing what is expected in a conversation' -- Female minority hedge fund investor who studied engineering

'I've always operated in an environment where the distribution was highly skewed ... There's a certain approach to conversation that comes out of knowing what is expected in a conversation. Sticking to a need to say basis. Speak about what's relevant. The content matters ... being to the point.'

'If you're in the minority, being the only woman on the team, your voice is heard more. I think of it like a parent with 10 kids and you think you have an underdog in the family. You think you need to call out the weakest link, the quietest child so you can hear what the quietest child has to say ... The fact that you are the only one on the team makes you more visible in many ways. And the reason you made the team is because you met certain criteria and you deserve to be on the team. And you have a level of credibility that you get to be heard, and amplified.'

'He was surprised I wasn't pitching a more 'girly' name' -- Female hedge fund analyst

'It has always been a more uncomfortable game of numbers where the ratio of male to females in any event is 10 to one and the men huddle together and the women are sort of separated. In one instance, I was meeting with an analyst from a hedge fund in the city and he asked whether I had any names I could pitch him. I began to talk about a semiconductor company when he interrupted to say he was surprised I wasn't pitching a more 'girly' name.'

'Sometimes it's an advantage to be the only woman in the room' -- Female hedge fund founder

'I try not to sweat the small stuff. I've been fortunate not to have had any bad experiences with my boss or colleagues. I've definitely had it with conferences, with other people.'

'There are pros and cons to everything. Maybe being a minority or a woman in the field might feel lonely, but I think there has been a ton of progress that has been made versus the '80s.'

'It's also perception. Some people will be like, 'They're not listening to me because I'm a woman.' I'll just be like, 'Uh, these people are not listening to me.' ... It never occurred to me that they wouldn't be listening to me because I was a woman.'

'Sometimes it's an advantage to be the only woman in the room. Sure, you're going to have plenty of people that think you're a marketer … I take that as a compliment -- they must think I'm very friendly. It's sort of the way you look at it ... Probably most of the people in the room are marketers. Just because he thinks I'm a marketer, he's not necessarily saying that because I'm a woman … most of the people at conferences are marketers.'

'(As a woman in hedge funds) you can talk to more people. If I was a middle-aged white guy and three guys are talking, I could not just go up and say, 'Hi, how is it going?' I think you have a little advantage with being different.'

'The nice thing about where you're making investments and generating revenue, you have a clear-cut way to measure your performance. It doesn't matter if you are friends with your boss or play golf with colleagues on the weekend or if your clients like you.'

'I remember a man saying, 'I don't think you have the stamina'' -- Female minority hedge fund partner

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

'I remember a man saying, 'I don't think you have the stamina.' It's very much a code word in our industry for the reason why a woman shouldn't perform certain roles.'

'This popped into my mind with the election, with (Hillary) Clinton being accused of not having stamina. I think people outside of finance don't know how much of a code word that is.'

'It's one of those ways for some men to discount women by saying they cannot work hard enough. It's hard to say anything about that. How do you prove you have the stamina? You can certainly point to your experience ... I was just so shocked that he said it. I didn't have a response.'

'If I was counseling my younger self, I would have pushed it back on him. I would have said, 'That's interesting, because no one has ever said that to me. I've worked in investment banking for several years and done sports, and I wonder why you would think that.' To get that person to have a rational response.'

'It's easy to feel defensive about it. That's the worst thing you can be in this business. It's a forward, offensive business and culture.'

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