No one organization is responsible for the advancement of women, and that means every organization is. Women’s empowerment starts with education. It continues with the ability to earn an equitable living, especially in fields where women are underrepresented, and crests with women playing leadership roles at work or owning their own businesses.
On International Women’s Day, we’re using the international language of numbers to highlight three very different organizations that are empowering women, as well as looking into empowerment in our own backyard. The three external organizations are exactly the kinds of entities that AB’s sustainable and impact investing strategies focus on, while our own example is an effort to hold ourselves accountable as we consider the way forward.
THE CASE FOR WOMEN’S COLLEGES: MOUNT SAINT MARY’S UNIVERSITY in LOS ANGELES
Women are more likely to earn a graduate degree after attending a women’s college than a co-ed institution. They’re even more likely to pursue graduate studies if they attend Mount St. Mary’s University, the only women’s college in the western United States.
Women’s colleges are certainly effective at pushing women to achieve as much as they can, but it’s clear that women overall have made tremendous strides in higher education over the last five decades.
WOMEN TAKING THE LEAD AT WORK: THE CANADIAN IMPERIAL BANK OF COMMERCE’S (CIBC’s) WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP BONDS
It’s no secret that women are underrepresented at the top of the corporate ladder, including on corporate boards and in executive positions.
That’s why CIBC Women in Leadership bonds are so unique. These securities package together loans from companies that meet highly specific criteria for women in leadership. A company can make the cut in one of three ways:
EMPOWERING WOMEN THROUGH ENTREPRENEURSHIP: ETSY
Etsy is a company that walks the talk on serving women and hiring women, including in jobs where they are usually underrepresented.
Data shows that more businesses would be wise to follow suit, as women-owned businesses grow faster than businesses overall.
WOMEN IN UNDERREPRESENTED FIELDS: AB’S FEMALE QUANTS
Amy Yang’s job is to churn through mountains of data to show investment teams how portfolios look from 40,000 feet—their exposure to risk and other factors that may influence performance.
Yang is one of the youngest quantitative equities research analysts at AB and one of only a few women in her role. There are no reliable statistics about the number of female quantitative analysts in financial services, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it’s small. Though AB is firmly committed to gender diversity, with women comprising 42% of new hires in 2018, male quants outnumber their female counterparts here, too. (It should be noted, however, that AB is proactively trying to add more gender balance in this arena.)
The story of Yang’s career offers a possible route to recruiting more female quants.
Step 1: Encourage early and often
Women in the US earned roughly half of bachelor’s and advanced degrees in STEM fields in 2015, but they were severely underrepresented in math, computer science and “hard sciences” such as physics—just as they are in quantitative research.
Yang’s experience suggests that the expectation of success can go a long way toward keeping women engaged in science and math. Yang struggled with math in elementary school, so her mother gave her additional practice problems at home. As she worked through them and gained confidence, she fell in love with the subject. When programming classes were giving her a headache as an engineering major at Columbia University, the challenge only made her more determined to succeed.
“I never gave myself the choice to give up,” she said.
Step 2: Urge women to advocate for themselves
Confidence was key to advancing at work, too. Yang seeks out people she admires at AB to discuss their careers, asks people with more experience for advice and help, and applied for her current role–an internal transfer–knowing she’d face a learning curve.
“Sometimes, as women, we want to feel that we’re ready before we apply for a job, while I think men are more willing to take the chance that they can learn what they need to know on the job,” Yang said.
Yang’s eagerness to learn from more experienced peers doesn’t mean she sells herself short, however. She knows she brings important skills to the table, including her ability to mine new data sources and create digestible narratives to explain those insights.
Step 3: Create a supportive culture
The open, team-oriented culture at AB is what allows Yang to feel comfortable asking more senior executives to coffee and sharing her findings in a room full of people with 20-plus years of experience.
“I never feel that people don’t want me to raise my hand in a meeting,” she said. “They make me feel really comfortable about the ideas I bring to the table, even if they’re not the best ideas they’ve ever heard.”
Yang loves her job and says she doesn’t think much about her gender while she does it. Still, she would like to see more female quants. Maybe she’s just the inspiration the next generation needs to make it happen.
The views expressed herein do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of all AB portfolio-management teams.