BlackRock 1st quarter results...epa05258649 (FILE) A file photo dated 12 January 2016 showing a view of the New York offices of the financial firm BlackRock in New York, New York, USA. BlackRock reported their financial results for the first three months 2016 ended 31 March 2016. Laurence D. Fink, Chairman and CEO of BlackRock said 14 April 2016 BlackRock generated long-term net inflows of 36 billion USD in the quarter. Adjusted net income for the 1st quarter stood at 711 million USD, compared with 830 million USD in 2015, a change of 14 per cent. EPA/JUSTIN LANE
BlackRock has, for the first time, shared data on how many women it employs at a senior level © EPA

I get a lot of criticism for FTfm’s coverage of the position of women in the asset management market. It feels like a necessary evil, however.

When I was given the job as editor of FTfm almost four years ago, I had simple instructions: hold the industry to account. Break news and be interesting, yes, but the message was to refrain from being overly friendly to a market that is used to making friends of journalists. In short, I was told to “keep the market honest”.

My team and I have worked hard to do that and some of the letters and emails we get — not to mention the more colourful comments lodged at the end of our articles — attest to the fact that we tackle subjects that can often irk our readers.

Sometimes, of course, we get it wrong and criticise where no criticism was necessary, or push a story when it might have been better to be quiet.

But on the issue of the woeful underrepresentation of women in the investment industry and the treatment of those women who decide to make a career in asset management, I make no apologies for our campaigning.

The statistics are alarming. Fewer than one in 10 UK funds are managed or co-managed by women, and in the US that figure is much worse: just 184 of America’s 7,000 mutual funds are run by female portfolio managers.

The findings from FTfm’s third Women in Asset Management survey paint an even bleaker picture. Two-thirds of female fund staff state they have experienced sexism at work, up slightly from 65 per cent in our 2014 survey.

A further quarter of female respondents say they have endured sexual harassment at work, up from a fifth in 2014.

The results make for uncomfortable reading. When FTfm first decided to examine the position of women working in the fund management market in 2013, we had no idea the findings would be such a cause for concern.

The original thinking was to conduct a “stock take” of the number of women working in the industry, perhaps celebrate a few of the success stories, and simply share with readers a few insights from women in the market.

As part of that study we asked 50 of some of the world’s biggest fund companies various questions about their female staff, ranging from how many women they employ to how that figure stacks up as a ratio of all employees — nothing we felt was overly taxing or difficult.

Not one fund company agreed to answer our questions. Fast forward three years and there is much to be hopeful for.

BlackRock has, for the first time, agreed to share data on how many women the world’s largest asset manager employs at a senior level, marking a breakthrough for gender equality in the asset management industry.

Another six fund houses, Franklin Templeton, Fidelity International, Amundi, Baillie Gifford, Union Investment and Capital Group, have also agreed to publish their diversity statistics, following growing concerns about the shortage of women in senior roles.

Only two months ago a group of Europe’s largest asset managers, including Aberdeen Asset Management, Schroders and Allianz Global Investors, also joined forces in an attempt to address accusations that the asset management market is an old boys’ club that promotes and protects the interests of white, middle-aged men.

Almost 30 companies and industry organisations signed up to the campaign, called The Diversity Project, which intends to ensure diverse recruitment across the industry in terms of gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background, age, sexual orientation and disability.

Helena Morrissey, chairwoman of the Investment Association, the trade body, and a leading activist for gender equality in the workplace, said of the project: “The asset management market has gone backwards in terms of diversity and something had to be done about it. Enough was enough.”

There are clearly still problems that need addressing, but women in the industry can take encouragement from the fact there is now recognition that problems exist.

Three years ago I wrote that I would continue to “knock on the doors” of the 50 largest fund companies with questions about their female staff. That will continue.

Just as our readers in the fund management market quite rightly demand balance from my team and I, we will continue to ask the same from you.

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