As part of International Women's Day 2022, former pupils explore this year's theme - break the bias. Abby Glennie, Class of '03, shares her experience of being a female in the investment industry.

Investment management is often an industry which people know little about at school age, and what they do often comes from tv which dramatises reality. In investment, every day is different, you are constantly learning and challenging yourself, it’s very visible how well you are performing which can be highly motivating, and you get access to learn about companies across all different sectors.

Is it like the movies?

Clichéd portrayals of the investment world such as the BBC’s series Industry put off exactly the kind of people we want to attract – women, people from a diverse background, people with strong morals and environmental principles. An investment career is really miles away from what you see in The Wolf of Wall Street, and less fast paced, aggressive or male dominated than in Billions.

How has the industry changed?

Unfortunately, female fund managers are still very much a minority – the number has dropped by 11% in the past year – despite all evidence to show how well they do in the industry.

The investment world continues to be seen as a macho, cut-throat one, with people working impossible hours. That side did exist once and may exist still in some corners. But the industry I know of Investment Management and have worked in for 14 years could not be more different. It’s a world of intelligent, numerate, creative people who enjoy finding out about businesses and making good investment decisions. If you admire the ‘dragons’ on Dragon’s Den, you’d probably enjoy being a fund manager. Our job involves the research to uncover good investment opportunities, meeting and learning from company management teams, and keeping a close eye on things when we’ve invested our clients’ money.

I gained a finance degree at uni, I enjoyed learning about companies, so was attracted to investment. My role isn’t too theoretical, I’m tapped into everything that’s happening in the world and how it affects businesses and share prices. I have to stay alert to change and constantly challenge previous opinions.

What’s a typical day?

My day is nothing like in the movies! Our office is filled with people having informed discussions and collaborative meetings and calls, rather than barking orders and shouting ‘buy’ and ‘sell’ down the phone. I’ve always managed a good work/life balance, probably living in Edinburgh helps relative to London. Our team is happy to work flexibly, something which will remain well past Covid, and we’re focused on outcomes rather than presentee-ism. It’s a very supportive work network, with plenty of study leave when people want to gain extra qualifications.

Typically, I’m looking at newsflow from 7am, and I’m at my desk at 8am when I’ll read company results. I’ll usually have a couple of meetings with company management teams, then the rest of my day will be spent debating stock views with colleagues, doing research independently, and writing reports. Engaging and challenging the senior management teams of businesses is the most enjoyable aspect of my job, it’s a chance for exposure to really impressive leaders of companies, learning from their success and mistakes, and reflecting on how you can take interesting insights and apply them to other investment ideas. We invest across a range of different types of companies, and this keeps every day interesting; well known retailers, video games developers, media businesses, software providers, food producers, financial services companies, businesses in animal health - all sorts!

A different part of my role is marketing; creating an interesting and clear pitch as to why people should invest in our funds, meeting with clients, and presenting at conferences. Increasingly we do live podcasts or record videos for the website. Marketing is an area where social skills and personality really come into play, and can be very different from the research aspects of the role.

Does investment suit females?

Not common in the industry, but my own investment team is five females to four males. I’ve been lucky to have always had females in my team, but when I go to external events, women remain thin on the ground.

This industry requires skills that women are just as likely to possess: you should be inquisitive, analytical, patient, able to multitask, with good time management and communication skills; the ability to absorb a lot of info and focus on key points is also key. You’ve also got to have trust and confidence in you and your teams decision making. To attract female graduate talent, we need to have senior females to act as role models; we need to retain women and promote them, and companies across the industry are increasingly focused on how to achieve that.

A more balanced gender split and more diversity within investment teams isn’t just “the right thing to do”, it’s crucial for future performance. Team diversity brings diversity of thought, different life experiences, different social skills, different energy and ideas to the table - all are so important for better relationship building, better marketing, better investment decisions, and better outcomes. Research shows gender balanced teams create better investment performance.

What can the industry do to attract and retain females?

Firstly, it’s important we increase awareness about what roles in investments involve, and educate about how the industry has evolved.

Secondly, the abrdn research institute highlighted the single most important factor to improve gender equality is giving equal and generous parental leave. As an industry that tracks performance over three years, we’re working out how to make sure people, both male and female, can feel comfortable about taking long breaks off.