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The women managing top-rated funds in Australia

Emma Rapaport  |  10 Mar 2022Text size  Decrease  Increase  |  
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Dawn Kanelleas, Katie Hudson, Julia Forrest and Nikki Thomas. You may not be familiar with these names, but they are highly skilled portfolio managers that have built impressive careers, even as women remain severely underrepresented in the industry.

In 2020, Morningstar research found that just 46 women held the title ‘portfolio manager’ across the hundreds of Australian funds under analyst coverage. That number falls to 15 once researchers excluded women who work offshore, and those who share responsibility for portfolio management.

Women’s representation in portfolio management has come primarily through mixed-gender teams, Morningstar research found. Sole female managers and all-female teams remain rare.

In honour of International Women’s Day, we showcase exceptional female managers who are managing Australian funds. In the Australian equity category, women feature as lead or co-lead portfolio managers in funds from Yarra Capital Management, Airlie Funds Management, and First Sentier. On the fixed income side, Pendal Group, Colchester and Jamieson Coote Bonds also count women in their ranks.

Leading by example

Fidelity International’s Kate Howitt is another members of this very small club. Howitt has been running the firm’s Australian Opportunities fund since its 2009 conception and has made it her mission to get more young women excited about a career in funds management, including promoting the profession to young women at her daughter’s high school.

Speaking at a media event last week, Howitt spoke frankly about how she puts her beliefs into practice. As a major global asset manager, she believes Fidelity can pressure companies that lag industry standards around female representation on boards and within the senior leadership team. She makes gender diversity a key priority in Fidelity's discussions with management, and a major factor in their voting decisions.

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Howitt says the funds management industry as a whole would have a better leg to stand on in these meetings if they had more women in their own ranks.

“We can’t be on our own high horse, sitting across from companies saying ‘you need to get your women up more’ and they look across and see an all-male team looking back at them,” she says.  

“Now, as more fund clients have demanded that fund managers engage on ESG, it has become so glaringly obvious that you’ve got fund managers trying to engage with companies on their diversity issues, when there’s not much diversity on the fund manager level.”

Kate Howitt

Kate Howitt has run the Fidelity Australian Opportunities fund since its inception.

Howitt argues more women in the ranks leads to greater diversity of thought and better outcomes for investors. What’s true of gender is also true of diversity of ethnicity and culture. To attract and retain top talent, Howitt says asset management firms need to ensure women are encouraged to take an extended break and return to work on a flexible schedule following pregnancy. As the industry structure stands, internal teams need to take on a greater workload to support the portfolio management while team members are on leave because hiring temporary analysts does not work, she says.

“This is what it takes, but we believe that we will have better outcomes if we have a more diverse team,” she says.

Industry superannuation funds have helped spark major improvements in fund management gender diversity after decades of stagnation, says Howitt. Some funds have begun putting out ‘request for proposals’ where they ask asset managers about the diversity of their teams. This, she says, is creating a war for talent for female portfolio managers, and forcing asset managers to start at the graduate intake level to increase gender diversity.

“This is how change happens,” she says. “As with a lot of things, it’s when the customers start demanding things that you start to see real change, particularly from industry funds with large holdings in Australian business and strong female membership of the fund. ESG pressure and client pressure is forcing fund firms to figure this stuff out.”

Women in funds management

The below is a starting point for those seeking female-led funds, or funds with key female input. The list does not include women managing money in-house at superannuation funds or as part of a broader analyst team.

The list relies on self-reported survey data housed within Morningstar and does not distinguish between portfolio managers that share responsibilities or are based overseas. Some firms will report their entire portfolio management team, while others just the lead manager. Gender-based data in this space is hard to come by and what does exist is often out of date.

Several high-profile female portfolio managers are not listed as their funds are not under Morningstar analyst coverage. Sarah Shaw at 4D Infrastructure and Vihari Ross and Elisa Di Marco at Magellan come to mind. As do Catriona Burns at Wilson Asset Management, Bianca Ogden at Platinum, Jun-Bei Liu at Tribeca, Catherine Allfrey at WaveStone Capital, Mary Manning at Alphinity, Kelli Meagher at Sage Capital and Qiao Ma at Cooper Investors. The Morningstar coverage list was used as it is the most complete set of data.

 

is the editorial manager for Morningstar Australia. Connect with Emma on Twitter @rap_reports. You can email Morningstar's editorial team editorialAU[at]morningstar[dot]com

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