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AIMA, 100WF elevate women’s voices

Investment management still trends “pale, male, and stale”. But a new mentoring program is aiming to close the female participation gap.

It took the Global Financial Crisis for Ming Long AM, now the chair of AMP Capital funds management, to get the CFO role at Investa Property Group. The company had just been taken over by a private equity group and was teetering on insolvency; the previous CFO had resigned, and potential replacements were serially uninspiring.

“They asked me to become CFO, and I said “You’ve got to be frigging crazy”… But what was great was the CEO didn’t give up on me. He set two of the female board members on me and worked on me for about a month,” Long said last Thursday (5 May).

“I eventually did say yes, because there was no other time they would give a woman like me that job. Without the GFC, and without this company being right on the edge, when was an Asian woman like me ever going to get the opportunity to become CFO?… The GFC made me.”

Long was speaking at the launch of the Elevating Women’s Voices program, created in a partnership between the Australian branch of the Alternative Investment Management Association (AIMA) and 100 Women in Finance (100WF). The program, which is being run on a pilot basis, will run between 5 May and 23 June and comprise a series of group training sessions and smaller mentor sessions aimed at addressing the low female participation rate in the investment management industry by giving young women the skills to make themselves heard in a historically male-dominated environment.

The vexed issue of female participation in the investment management industry has leapt to the fore in recent years, but participation still remains incredibly low. The demographics of the industry trend “pale, male, and stale”, and to some extent are self-perpetuating; men are more often elevated to the executive function, and women’s voices are drowned out. It seems that women are often only handed the reins in a crisis – a poison chalice, where men get the golden parachute.

“This program has been designed to arm women in our industry, who are already very capable, with the skills, experience, confidence and opportunity to share their views and actively participate in industry events as speakers, panellists, moderators and chairs; and to talk to the media and generally be more visible within our industry,” said Michael Gallagher, managing director and head of AIMA Australia.

“The ultimate goal, is in that having these extremely capable women’s voices being elevated more, it will encourage more women in our industry and into our industry, and maybe – just maybe – we can close the participation gap.”

The launch – delayed for nearly two years by Covid – was held at the ASX, and included a panel discussion between Long; Anne-Marie Birkill, venture partner and director at OneVentures; and Janet Menzies, country head of Amazon, who got her first introduction to public speaking when she took over an advertising course at the local community college in Canada. Her mother, a teacher, nominated her for the role on the basis that she then worked in community relations at McDonalds, and helped guide her through the process.

“I showed up and managed to make my way through the 12 weeks,” Menzies said. “It was just about having a bit of encouragement from my mother and being motivated enough to take the risk. The other thing that happened was that I did have someone who could help me structure and fill a two-hour lecture… certainly it was a baptism of fire.”

Long’s first experience with public speaking also came during the GFC, when she had to address the finance team. It didn’t come naturally; she found speaking at events “incredibly difficult”, but forced herself to go and make her voice heard.

“You must have a go, even if you don’t have the confidence,” Long said. “I had people scaffold confidence for me. I’d borrow the confidence they had in me. And its all about preparation. The more you do it the better you get and the easier it becomes, to the point where you will realise that you must stand up and speak. You must stand up and be seen.”

“Because it’s not just for you – it’s for that next generation that’s coming. They must see and hear you; if you don’t step into that arena, your legacy is diminished.”

Menzies believes that women don’t lack confidence, but that they’re up against “a bigger challenge”. Indeed, they have to be more confident because they’re facing “a chillier climate relative to the norm.”

“We’re super confident, we’re just more likely to be poorly received… But even if I’m not going to feel great, I’m just going to do it anyway. I know I can feel this anxiety, I know I’m not feeling confident. But I’m just going to do it, because I don’t think I’ll ever have enough confidence to get all the way there.”

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