Girls Who Invest
Published: September 10, 2019 / Author: Andrew Mentock
Women account for more than 30 percent of lawyers and doctors in the U.S. But when it comes to the asset management industry — working for private equity firms and mutual funds, for example — the percentages of women in leadership roles are much lower.
Just 7 percent of investment managers in the mutual fund industry is are female. Even worse, only about 1.3 percent of the assets in the U.S. asset management industry is managed by women- and minority-owned investment firms. The findings from studies by Morningstar and Harvard University run directly counter to significant evidence that diversity in the workplace leads to stronger decision making and better financial returns.
To address this imbalance, the University of Notre Dame Institute for Global Investing (NDIGI), as part of its Women in Finance Initiative, has partnered with the educational nonprofit Girls Who Invest (GWI). The vision of the nonprofit is to increase the percentage of global investable capital managed by women to 30 percent by 2030.
For the second year, NDIGI hosted the GWI Summer Intensive Program, a rigorous, four-week course of study for rising undergraduate juniors from colleges and universities nationwide. Both Notre Dame and the University of Pennsylvania offered the program. Of the total 150 GWI students, Notre Dame enrolled 60 participants from 35 schools.
“There is a significant opportunity to increase the number of women managing global capital,” said Erin Bellissimo, managing director of NDIGI, which is located within Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. “By partnering with GWI, we can tackle the issue of diversity directly. Talent retention and education are key to establishing long-term equity in both the investment industry workforce and its leadership.”
Based in New York, GWI seeks to inspire and support young women to become tomorrow’s leading investors through an approach that combines education, mentorship, internships and a supportive community to expose women to career opportunities in the asset management industry.
“Girls Who Invest directly addresses an important shortcoming in the investment management industry today – an urgent need for greater diversity in the workforce, including more women at all levels of investment firms,” said Jay Jacobs, parent of three current Notre Dame undergraduates and retired president and managing director of investment manager PIMCO, who, along with his wife, Kelly, sponsors Girls Who Invest at Notre Dame. “Importantly, NDIGI, in partnership with GWI, is providing real-world insights into an industry where talented young women can have successful and satisfying careers, while fully aligning with Mendoza’s mission for business to be a force for good in the world.”
The GWI program includes foundational courses in finance, accounting and presentation skills, as well as onsite visits to investment firms in Chicago and guest lectures by investment professionals from across the industry. Students submit an application to GWI in September (Early Action) or November and are notified about acceptance by the end of the calendar year.
The Notre Dame program kicked off on June 1 with orientation, a scavenger hunt to familiarize the students with the campus and other icebreaker activities. The students then entered the classroom for a crash course in finance taught by one of Mendoza’s top faculty members.
“We actually presume no knowledge in the program,” said Carl Ackermann, Mendoza finance professor and faculty coordinator of the program of GWI at Notre Dame. “So even though most of the students are either economics or finance majors, a number of the students are not business majors at all. For the first week and a half, we have the students learn or relearn all of the rudiments of finance so that everyone then has a similar background.”
For the remainder of the course of study, the goal is to prepare the students for a six-week internship with one of GWI’s partnering asset management firms such as Vista Equity Partners, PIMCO, Blackstone and Goldman Sachs. The internship provides an immersion into the world of asset management and a chance to gain valuable work experience in an ultra-competitive field.
“Career opportunities are starting earlier and earlier,” Bellissimo said. “Twenty years ago, an undergraduate student might not have had a serious internship on Wall Street until between their junior and senior years. Now internships are starting post-sophomore year, some even post-freshman year.”
Another important aspect of the program is to help the students build a supportive culture, which starts with establishing the expectation that the students will help and encourage one another within the campus cohort. They all stay in the same dorm and are given community-building activities to work on together.
“The community piece is really my favorite thing about Girls Who Invest,” said Clare Oatway, a Notre Dame undergraduate student participating in GWI. “It parallels with what I love about Notre Dame: living in a dorm and getting to know people in and outside of the classroom. Everyone has such different backgrounds and perspectives.”
Outside of their cohort, participants are given a mentor and access to GWI’s ever-growing alumni community, which currently consists of nearly 700 members, including those who have participated in either the Summer Intensive Program or GWI’s online programs. GWI has a commitment to mentoring women in the program for at least five years..
Between providing women with skills in the classroom, real-world experience and lasting connections, GWI is knocking down barriers and setting women up to discern if a career in asset management is right for them. GWI wants them to be confident that opportunities are available and that they are going to be valuable to whatever firm they might be working with.
“Another thing that I really like about Girls Who Invest is that they’re trying to both educate us about finance, and also to reframe how we think,” Oatway said. “I started to think about how being a woman in this environment is an asset. We do bring a different perspective and a different way of thinking, and, yes, we’re still the minority right now. But I think in some ways, that’s a really good position to be in. We can be a leader in this industry.”