Investment Management in Australia: Where are the women?

Over the past 25 years working in Australia’s investment and super industry, I’ve come across a lot of skilled investors. It’s been a privilege to work with a wide spectrum of investment teams from across Australia and the world’s leading asset managers.  

But in that 25 years of interviewing or providing communications for asset managers—and supporting the media programs for literally hundreds of local and global investment executives—I can count on two hands the number of women in senior investment roles I’ve encountered. 

Last year Honner joined a growing movement to tackle the lack of diversity in Australia’s substantial investment industry by providing pro-bono support to diversity initiative Future IM/Pact

Recently I spoke with diversity champion and former Honner teammate Yolanda Beattie. Yolanda founded and leads Future IM/Pact, which is starting from the grass roots: building a passion for investing among young women, and matching those women with potential employers in the industry. The goal is to achieve an equal number of women and men in junior analyst roles by 2023. 

Yolanda, how did this great initiative come about?

About four years ago, when I was leading Mercer’s diversity and inclusion consulting practice, I led a research project in partnership with funds managers and super funds investigating why there are so few women in investment roles. At the time it was a really obvious problem that had CIOs and CEOs scratching their head in wonder and throwing their hands up in frustration. If they had 100 applicants for an analyst role, they were lucky if 10 women applied. They were desperate to get more women into their teams but just couldn’t find the talent. I was determined to solve the puzzle.

We surveyed and interviewed hundreds of women and men in the industry and at university to figure out what was going on and we boiled it down to five big issues. 

The first problem to solve was a lack of awareness about the profession. Uni students didn’t know about investment management and, if they did, they were tainted by Hollywood stereotypes and high-profile scandals. Worse still, female finance students were almost 50% less likely than their male counterparts to consider a career in investment management. Not knowing enough about the industry and opportunities, and a sense they wouldn’t fit in, were among the top reasons cited. 

So a group of the original industry partners and a few extras joined forces to build a campaign to help young women learn about the impact they can have as an investor.

You’re building a future pipeline of talented women for the investment industry. Tell us a bit more about how you do that.

Our strategy is to inspire super smart, critical and creative thinkers to learn more about investment management, and then provide them with the experience, networks and career pathways to get a foot in the door. We do that with social media campaigns, networking events, investment competitions and paid intern opportunities. This year we’re also launching a virtual intern program and mentoring circles to give students an inside view of what it’s like to work in an investments team.

Why is it important to have more diverse investment teams?

In a world where there’s more to know about everything, bringing different perspectives to the decision-making table is essential for overcoming unavoidable blind spots and biases. Investment management is one of those professions where this matters hugely to outcomes. Women tend to bring a different perspective than men for reasons that are biological and socially conditioned.

Bringing women, and other visible diversity like cultural diversity, into white, male dominated teams also has a massive impact on behaviours. Research shows diversity prompts more thoughtful decision making: fewer assumptions are made, more points are considered and there’s more turn taking around the table.

I could rattle off stats about the correlation between gender diversity and investment returns or total shareholder returns but the truth is a sceptical mind can unpick those stats because most studies don’t adequately control for other factors. And when you do tighten those controls, you find other factors matter more—namely educational and experience diversity and team behaviours.

But when you speak to any investment leader who has worked in nearly all male teams and those that have more gender diverse teams, they will tell you it feels different. Egos are more in check and discussions are more considered.

What it takes to attract and keep great women investors are the same attitudes and behaviours known to improve group dynamics and team performance. Alliance Bernstein did an excellent meta study on this, which I boil down to four factors that inhibit effective problem solving within groups: excessive hierarchy; dominant majority and its impact on group polarisation; conflict avoidance; and emotional insensitivity. Get that stuff right and you not only retain minority talent but you make better decisions.

The project is now in its second year, what success have you had so far?

We’re killing it! Thanks to our amazing partners, supportive university societies and my excellent team, we beat our key performance indicators for last year and are on track for an even bigger 2020.

The best measure of success so far is our investment competition where gender-balanced university teams of four competed to win a paid summer internship. Close to 130 women registered for the competition and an all-female team ended up winning. Each member of this team hadn’t heard of investment management before Future IM/Pact and they met at a Future IM/Pact event.

Our industry partners like Cbus, Nikko Asset Management and Yarra Capital Management have been thrilled with their interns who are delivering more value than they’re taking.

What are some of the other barriers to diversity you found in your original research? What are the other opportunities for the industry?

Arguably the biggest issue is keeping the great women already in investment teams. We found women were 30% less likely than men to be promoted and 50% more likely to leave at the senior analyst level. Culture, bias and a lack of flexible working are the main reasons for this disparity.

But the opportunity is way bigger than gender. Ultimately this is a very human story. The best investors are excellent at marshalling diverse perspectives and creating an environment where people can do their best work. The factors I mention above from the Alliance Bernstein research boil down to self-awareness and strong interpersonal relationships. And when you get under the hood of that you find many other juicy topics—knowing how we get triggered, managing negative thought patterns, gratitude and compassion, the power of mental models for improving decision making, to name a few.
In a game where teamwork and decision-making drives tangible performance outcomes, doubling down on what we need as humans to thrive is the next big opportunity.


About Future IM/Pact 

Future IM/Pact is an industry initiative aimed at attracting more diverse talent into the investment teams of fund managers, super funds and industry participants. The project was launched in July 2018 with founding partners Mercer, AustralianSuper, HESTA, QIC, Cbus Super, NAB Asset Management, Pendal, Magellan and Wavestone. Since then, Nikko Asset Management, Fidelity International, Yarra Capital Management, Challenger Limited, Macquarie Securities, Vinva Investment Management, Schroders, Cooper Investments and Perpetual have joined the project. More information can be found at
If you would like to be a part of Future IM/Pact contact Yolanda Beattie at

Insights from Canada (2019 Exchange) – The changing face of communications

Communications is a rapidly changing field and one that’s increasingly globalized. Honner’s global network of partner communications firms ensures we keep abreast of the latest thinking and techniques so that we can implement them for our clients.

As I mentioned in my last blog, I was recently privileged to experience an exchange program working at Argyle Public Relationships – one of Canada’s largest management-owned communications firms and recently named by the Globe and Mail as one of the country’s fastest growing companies.
The exchange with Argyle was a chance for me to step back from Australian financial services communications, a world I have been working in for over three years, and to learn what is best practice in the PR industry in Canada with an agency whose clients range from Facebook to the Ontario Science Centre.

It was also particularly a good time for me to take this trip while we’re continuing to expand our service lines at Honner, into influencer marketing, investor relations and more, and to see how other agencies have also built more integrated campaigns, an area that Argyle specialises in.

In this blog, I explore Argyle’s approach to communications – featuring some powerful and unique tactics that have led them to this success. 

Media is only part of the solution     

At Argyle, PR and communications are highly integrated, with media only being a part of the solution. PR is a lot more than media relations and Argyle clients do not see their PR consultants as ‘one trick ponies’.  

A typical Argyle strategy would include a wide range of tactics such as: media; social and digital; strategic partnerships with researchers or think tanks; association and community engagement; influencers; media buying; creative advertising (banners, display ads storyboards, infographics, videos), content marketing; events; and websites. 

In Australia, Honner too has been on a journey in recent years to expand our offering, building on our strong background in financial services PR to now utilise a much broader range of tools to achieve our clients’ strategic goals, including investor relations, marketing solutions, digital communications, and content marketing. 

So, it was great to have first-hand experience of working with an agency that’s pushing the boundaries of communications, including utilising new technologies to shake up campaigns, especially in the consumer space.

Particularly in digital, Argyle are doing some cool things such as touch screen engagements using kiosks, digital billboards, virtual / augmented reality pop ups, sensory images, interactive charts, Snapchat filters and Instagram stickers for their clients.  

Influencer engagement is mainstream 

Argyle helps clients garner unconditional support from influencers. Similar to Honner’s media roundtable events, Argyle launches the products and services of their consumer clients directly to influencers. 

The success mantra is to work around their timings (most influencers have full-time jobs), select an ‘Insta-friendly’ venue, use custom hashtags and pitch it right: What’s in it for them? How can they engage their followers better through this content? 

Often, Argyle also encourages including the influencer voice in client media releases or media engagements, where appropriate, to add an extra layer of third-party credibility. It works. 

At Honner, we are exploring how we more effectively engage influencers and opinion leaders across the financial services sector to help clients tell their story in different ways to new audiences. 

In-depth audience analysis comes first 

Audience analysis is sacrosanct for any strategy build, and Argyle’s approach is very impressive. 

A typical audience mapping includes identifying who is most critical in directly helping clients achieve their top three objectives and what their sweet spots are: What keeps them up at night? Who influences them? Who belongs in their circle of trust? What are the best ways of reaching them?

Argyle does this by developing detailed illustrative personas listing their risk tolerance, motivation, pain points, influencers and media habits. This exercise helps them to answering the above questions and hit the bull’s eye when it comes to understanding the psyche of their audience. 

An audience intelligence and social listening platform, Pulsar, is what they swear by. 

Secondment in client offices

Argyle has dedicated consultants working on their single largest client, Facebook Canada, which also involves spending a couple of days working out of client offices each week. 

This is a common concept at the agency and very well received by clients. It is a classic example of how Argyle consultants work as an extension of their clients’ marketing and PR teams and are able to work seamlessly towards achieving their clients’ business and communication goals. 

Overall, it was a fantastic experience to be able to spend some time with the exceptional team at Argyle, learn more about Canadian culture and also share my insights on the Australian business and media landscape with the team. 

Lastly, my highlight: amid a fully packed week, I managed to pay a sneaky visit to Niagara Falls for my Instagram. A major tick off the bucket list!

Insights from Canada (2019 Exchange) – Far flung markets with much in common

When you become deeply involved in one industry, sometimes it pays to take a step back. It can be beneficial to look into a new market, or another industry, and adopt the insights into your own world. 

That’s exactly what I did during my agency exchange to Argyle Public Relationships in Toronto late last year, and I will be grateful to Honner for giving me this opportunity, and to Argyle for their hospitality.

The opportunity to work with this award-winning agency was possible due to the strong relationships that Honner has formed around the globe. 

These relationships allow Honner to deliver cross-border programs, create highly integrated programs for clients, and offer international experience to its staff. By participating in international exchange programs, employees of Honner play a role in bringing insights back on the latest communications techniques from around the world.

Firstly, let’s briefly compare the financial services markets of the two countries, then in my next blog I’ll share some insights from the Argyle approach to communications.

Same-same but different 

Despite being located in two distant corners of the world, there are remarkable similarities between the Canadian and Australian markets. 


The Canadian banking industry follows a typical oligopolistic structure like the Australian banks. ‘Big Five’ is the name colloquially given to the five largest banks that dominate more than 75% of the nation’s banking assets: Bank of Montreal (BMO), Scotiabank, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CBIC), Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD). 

When considering how Canadians feel about their banks, one phrase comes to mind: love-hate (Rings a bell?). Canadians love owning bank stocks (some also hold 100% of their portfolio in banks!) as they are among the most powerful institutions in the country paying attractive yields, but hate them for their aggressive sales tactics, annoying ATM charges and petty fees – all of which indicate the staggering amount of money they make. 

However, the Royal Commission into Banking and Currency in Canada happened in 1933 and there are no signs of it happening again. Why? Research shows that Canadians banks are better with corporate governance. Boards of Canadian banks are larger, more experienced, paid 40% less than Australian directors and are more diverse. In short, Canadian banks’ governance practices are more “mature” so despite a few scandals, they’re well shielded from any potential scrutiny.  

Despite this regulatory inertia, there is pressure on the banks from increased competition as fintech adoption picks up and innovative products catering to specific consumer needs hit the market. 

Pension industry 

There are also a number of similarities between our pension systems. Both countries are focused on a pension policy of compulsory savings and their asset pools are comparable in size. Australia’s $2.1 trillion superannuation system edged ahead of the Canadian pension scheme to rank as the world’s fourth-largest pool of retirement savings not too long ago. 

However, Canada Pension Plan (CPP) is compulsory for all Canadians (minus Quebec residents), unlike Australia where you can either choose your super fund or must invest in the default fund of the industry you work in. 


On the media front, there are fewer trade publications in Canada than in Australia after a period of consolidation in the industry. Among the major newspapers, Globe and Mail, Financial Post and Toronto Star are the holy grail for all business brands, similar to the dominance of the Australian Financial Review, The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and Sydney Morning Herald this side. With media desks shrinking, pre-briefs are preferred over press release distribution, and the demand for exclusive stories is on the rise. 

It would be unfair to conclude one is better than the other. But there is great opportunity for both countries to spend more time comparing notes, given the commonalities. One thing that really stood out to me is that Canadian financial companies are constantly connecting and getting involved with local communities whether through PR / marketing campaigns or through direct sponsorships and partnerships. 

Thanks to the relationship we have cultivated with Argyle PR through this exchange, we are well positioned to embed the Canadian best practice into ours, to help our clients communicate their messages more effectively in the new decade. 

Look out for my next blog on communications strategy insights from Toronto and the ‘Argyle way’ of doing things.