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Advice for emerging female asset managers – Part 1

Part 1: The power of intentional mentorship and community

By Isabella Mnisi, Sector Head for Asset Management and Funds and Tarryn Lyall, Client Strategist for Global Securities Services at RMB

The financial services sector has typically been male dominated, and the asset management space is no different. Today, however, there is greater understanding of the benefits of gender diversity and inclusion, and the unique perspective and advantages women bring to this field.

Female asset managers have different insights and experiences, which bring an element of innovation and creativity. This can improve decision-making and critical thinking, enhance risk management, result in more robust investment strategies and lead to better overall performance. New perspectives can be a source of significant competitive advantage. From another angle, women make up a large proportion of the sector’s client base. Female asset managers can help foster better relationships and tailor products and services to better meet the requirements of female clients.

But how do we encourage women to pursue careers in this dynamic field, in spite of the challenges? We chatted to some inspirational women making waves in asset management about the secrets to their success.

Intentional mentorship

Mentorship has always been critical to growing a new generation into their roles. The guidance, advice and support offered by mentoring is invaluable in overcoming obstacles and grooming confidence. Mentors can open doors, provide networking opportunities, and help with skills development. They advocate for and champion mentees, which is critical to changing perceptions and breaking boundaries.

A student bursary gave Nomathibana Okello, Managing Director and Portfolio Manager at Terebinth Capital, a foot in the door at Old Mutual Investment Group. While she was given the opportunity, it was her own drive that led her to use the bursary as a platform for growth. Inner drive, complemented by people who support you on your journey, is vital. She says that mentorship has been instrumental in her growth, and recalls people who have pushed and encouraged her on her path.

“One portfolio manager took the time to sit with me and chat, have lunch and converse on various topics. My direct boss also took the time to chat and pushed me to do my best. They were not scared of heated debates. These moments always seem insignificant at first, but in retrospect they were critical in driving me to a specific path,” she says.

She adds that it is business leaders’ duty to be intentional about mentoring: “Otherwise it doesn’t happen, especially with hybrid working. Interactions don’t happen as naturally and there is no chance for them to be accidental encounters.”

Nkareng Siwale, founder of Raindance Asset Management, agrees that effective mentorship and leadership are pivotal to career progression and acceleration. Before striking off on her own, she had leaders who challenged her, and who set up the right conversations with the right people.

She says: “You need a person to advocate for you in the room you are not yet allowed in. Therefore, when I finally got to enter, senior members of the company already knew who I was. This ‘informal mentorship’ has been an incredible lever of my success.”

The power of community

Nkareng also acknowledges the power of role models and support beyond leadership and mentors – a massive asset as it gives women the confidence to pursue a career in finance in the first place.

“Entrepreneurship is lonely. The bigger your support community, including friends and family, formal industry platforms and forums, the better. Networks in this industry is vital, but my family played a big role in how I conceptualised myself and my future. My sisters always told me I was smart, and gave me the conviction to study finance and economics at university,” she adds.

Noma believes that stories are important. They expose children to career paths they may not have considered otherwise. A pivotal moment for her was watching Ranti Mothapo, the youngest person in the country to qualify as an actuary, and South Africa’s first black actuary, telling his story on the 7pm news.

“I was in high school, and it made a huge impact on me and my sisters because he had studied and qualified in South Africa. It was my first exposure to this field. My sisters all went on to study finance and economics, and gave me the confidence to follow suit,” she says.

A foot in the door

People are where the real power lies – from supportive and inspirational women at home to public figures. The spirit of community is the first step in igniting the desire to follow a career in finance. This needs to continue throughout primary, secondary and tertiary education and into the workplace, where intentional mentorship and effective leaders are instrumental.

However, once women have that foot in the door, it is easy to simply ride the coattails of diversity and inclusion. Businesses want women, especially women of colour, to tick boxes on a BEE scorecard. It is up to us to take advantage of the opportunities and push ourselves to reach our full potential.

The Second Part of this two-part series looks at the importance of direction, internal drive and effective self-marketing for women in establishing a successful asset management career.

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