There’s a lot of talk in our industry about getting more women into the field of investing. We’ve made some strides, but we need more action.
As a portfolio manager, I work with my team to engage colleges and find women finance majors who can join us after graduating. But there aren’t enough to recruit. Why? Because the finance programs don’t get enough applicants, due to lack of interest among girls in the high schools where they recruit.
To change this, our industry needs to reach out to girls at the high school level, not just college. If we truly want to see more women in asset management, we need to start speaking from the heart and appealing to the next generation’s desire to help.
Where do girls’ views of finance STEM from?
We’re missing the bus on capturing hearts and minds. From K-12, there’s a huge focus on getting girls into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). It’s easy to understand how these fields spark kids’ imaginations: They offer innovative career paths focused on helping people.
But what you don’t see in these schools are programs to get kids interested in financial services jobs.
So what happens in that void? Unfortunately, kids are left to their own devices to form a perception of our industry—from the news, social media, and even movies that focus on the greed side of money versus the love side that allows us to help.
That’s a shame, because my story as a portfolio manager is to help our investors build wealth so they can achieve big life goals, such as paying for their kids’ educations, saving for a home, and generating income for a secure retirement. In fact, in my 27 years in the field, every single job I’ve held has been rooted in love and in helping people, starting with an unexpected event that changed my life.
Answering the call (from midnight to 8)
I was supposed to be a schoolteacher; that’s what I studied for. But life threw me out of my comfort zone. I had a baby boy who was born with a serious heart defect. My husband and I knew the type of care he needed meant one of us would need to be home all day. But we had bills to pay. So I took a nighttime job at a call center answering calls from mutual fund investors from midnight to 8 a.m.
It’s times like that, you learn what you’re made of. Would I succumb to anxiety of the unknown, letting fear stop me in my tracks? Or would I dig into my new situation, to find something positive? I chose the latter. And even though to this very day I’m a natural-born worrier (just ask my family), I’ve learned how to put fear behind me and compel it to be the wind behind my back.
Answering calls when most people were asleep gave me time to dig deep and learn about my company’s funds, portfolio managers, investment strategies, and equity holdings. That sparked my unending curiosity about the markets. However, the timing was unsustainable. I needed balance: time at home when my husband, son, and my daughter (who was born near the end of my time at the call center) were awake.
So I applied for a job as an administrative assistant to a portfolio manager. That job only lasted six months, but for a very good reason.
Defying job descriptions (at work and in your head)
In my new role, our portfolio team was so small that the lead manager was also the dedicated analyst for media companies. So when he was on the road… well, how do I put this? There was no dedicated analyst for media companies.
Keep in mind, this was the mid-1990s, so something exciting was on the verge of happening in the media industry that would eventually transform everything about how we work, shop, communicate, and consume information. This wasn’t a time for ignoring a sector until the flight home from LAX.
Flash back to me, new office assistant who just wanted to help. I decided to keep up with media stocks while my boss was traveling. It seemed like the right thing to do:
- Tracking news about media companies
- Studying their earnings reports
- Sending faxes (okay, don’t laugh, it was the 90s) to my traveling boss about industry trends that our fund team needed to act on
While working outside of my job description, I noticed an emerging trend in which cable TV companies were burning through their cash. Market analysts rolled their eyes at this small, spendthrift industry of one-trick ponies that focused on a single revenue model: modest cable TV subscriptions. But I believed something bigger was in the works.
Digging a foundation (while the rest aren’t looking)
I look at my situation—a newbie office assistant, likely not expected to progress to the point I did but willing to dig deep into my work while others slept—and I realize that cable companies were kind of doing the same thing.
They were digging too (deep into the ground), lining every residential street in America they could get their hands on with miles and miles of coax cables. They had a vision that defied their job description: creating a network not just for movies but for communication and high-speed data transfer.
Clearly, this paid off for the cable companies. But unbeknownst to me, all of my digging and working outside expectations was about to pay off as well. The groundwork I was doing—just to help make my boss’ life easier—led to him returning from a trip one day and saying “Guess what! You’re our new media analyst.”
After my initial hesitations (after all, I hadn’t gone to school for this job—did I deserve it?), my boss went on to become a mentor who trusted me to make the big call on cable stocks that, in turn, led to portfolio gains for our fund. Cable TV stocks were trading at multiples of 8x cash flow when our team first started exploring their potential. Within four years, their multiples skyrocketed all the way to 12x, on top of huge revenue growth. Those gains, in turn, would eventually help us build that wealth I mentioned earlier for our investors.
I should clarify something. When I say build wealth, I’m not just referring to the oft-used connotation that applies to having a high net worth. Wealth has other meanings, too. As a portfolio manager, I’m proud to help families build wealth for tackling financial challenges, like providing a better life for their kids through investing.
That’s the field of asset management I know—the one that’s rooted in love. As a woman in investing, these are the parts of the industry I’d want the next generation to know about.
If we can provide more high school girls with a connection to the human side of our field, I bet we’ll see an uptick in college finance majors. In turn, I bet we’ll see more applications for jobs not only for roles I’ve taken—like call center reps, research analysts, and portfolio managers—but jobs as sales reps, product analysts, and marketing managers. And while we’re at it: CEOs.
Ann Miletti is head of Active Equity at Wells Fargo Asset Management (WFAM).