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Margaret Franklin, President and CEO, CFA Institute, shares her experiences in the investment management industry and the way forward for a more gender-diverse industry. She explains what could inhibit more women from joining the industry and how these challenges can be overcome to build a thriving financial services and investment management career. Edited excerpts from her interview with Mint:

With 25 years as a finance and investment professional, what does gender diversity mean to you in this industry?

When I think about diversity, I feel it is about making sure that there is diversity in perspective, experience and cognitive abilities. Most often that comes from starting with gender diversity. Throughout my career, it was really apparent how few women there were in the investment and finance business.

Today, we see more women entering the industry and going forward you will see women in leadership positions as well. That requires us to reimagine how we think about talent selection, inclusion, retention and promotion. It is my firm belief that when you have gender diverse teams the outcomes are much better.

What according to you is the reason there isn't gender diversity in the investment management industry?

The first barrier is that today, when more and more people are thinking about striking a balance between doing purposeful work and having a good career, this industry is not portrayed as doing noble work or impactful work. This prevents women from choosing this industry as an obvious career path.

The second barrier is that women don't generally see themselves in the investment industry because most leadership continues to be predominantly male. So if you can't see it you can't imagine it. I like to use the phrase - Visibility is Validity.

The third barrier is the pool of women professionals keeps getting smaller and smaller as you go up the ladder. Even during the pandemic, for instance in the USA 2.5 million women have left paid work. That is very consequential because the burden of child care and elder care is falling predominantly on the shoulders of women.

CFA Institute launched the Young Women in Investment program in 2018 to enable more women to view the investment management industry as a career option. How can such initiatives help more women join the investment management and financial services industries?

For a career in the investment management industry, women have a competitive advantage since most established firms wish to embrace gender diversity. In order to make the most of this, women should develop their technical knowledge and soft skills. We at CFA Institute provide a range of courses to help professionals develop the requisite knowledge.

What I love about the Young Women in Investment initiative is that it not only gives women technical knowledge but also helps them develop soft skills. Our program covers financial modeling, different asset classes, alternative investments and new technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. Such aspects help women get an overall understanding of the industry.

What can women do to prepare themselves better from an academic as well behavioural perspective, to become a part of the investment management and advisory industry?

This is a very interesting industry that combines politics, economics, history and behavioral finance. There is also a huge focus on problem-solving and of course soft skills to deal with clients and convey ideas for a portfolio/investment.

Other than building competency in the aspects I have mentioned above, women must also adapt to the way the investment business is changing. Earlier the focus was only on generating returns but now we also look at the difference we are making. We now understand that clients have more complex needs and meeting those needs is what is important.

Further, the most joyful aspect of this career is the focus on lifelong learning. You will always be required to keep up to speed on trends and changes in the industry.

What would be your concluding advice for women looking to enter this industry?

Our work begins with understanding what our clients need to be successful and how we can help them get there. I think envisioning a career starts with understanding the different parts of the business, why they're valuable, what types of skills you have to meet the needs of your clients and things that you like to do. Analysing the above aspects, women can think of building a career in the investment industry.

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