listen. culture

Inspiring Women with a Path Forward – An Interview with Kathleen Dunlap

State Street

December 28,2017

Kathleen Powers Dunlap is Girls Who Invest’s Chief Executive Officer.

She is an investment management industry veteran with over 35 years of experience. As a leading woman in the industry, we wanted to get her thoughts about what can be done to empower and inspire more strong women to follow in her footsteps.

What do you like about being a woman in the asset manager industry? What do you wish you could change?

I've been in the asset management industry since 1978 and really appreciate the aspect of meritocracy in the industry. If you deliver good work, it doesn't matter if you are a woman or a man, or where you are from—you can achieve.

On top of that, asset management is intellectually stimulating, ever-changing and exciting. It's an industry where you can bring creativity and hard work to the table and be rewarded for it.

All the good things aside, I would love to see the industry embrace diversity and inclusivity with more vigor. Today, women and minorities manage only 1.1%1 of the asset management industry's $71 trillion in assets, which means we're dealing with a severe talent constraint. Businesses are fishing from a tiny corner of the talent pool when they don’t look to include more women and minorities.

What people don't realize is that diverse teams improve investor outcomes—it makes good business sense. In fact, a June 2015 Morningstar report2 found just that: funds run by both men and women had better returns than funds run by only men or only women.

What people don't realize is that diverse teams improve investor outcomes—it makes good business sense.

This becomes even more important as the structure of the asset management industry continues to shift. Historically, our industry operated with a "star" culture. There was one headline portfolio manager calling the shots and on call 24/7. Recently, however, there has been a shift away from "star" managers in favor of investment teams, likely due to evidence that teams outperform single managers. Women thrive in team cultures and are great collaborators. As our business accepts this team model more and more, we will see remarkable change.

What needs to shift in our culture so more young women feel encouraged to consider a role in finance sooner?

It's a long list, but undoubtedly, the number one need is better awareness. College-aged women simply don't realize that asset management is a stimulating, impactful and rewarding career. Look at school systems, for example. Very few high schools teach the basics of finance—even personal finance—so it rarely comes up as a career choice when women are young. It's just not on their radar.

There is also a lack of awareness surrounding the potential career trajectories of the asset management industry. A bright, promising, young woman who wants to be a doctor or lawyer knows exactly which steps she needs to take to get there. In our business, the pathway to success is more opaque. High-potential women are not aware of the path to become a fixed income expert or international portfolio manager, and I think a lot of women are uncomfortable with that uncertainty. Beyond that, young women are also not exposed to senior female role models in the industry—it becomes even more difficult for the next generation to fully envision what their career could be.

At Girls Who Invest, we're working to spread awareness and build clear pathways for young women to enter the asset management industry. During our Summer Intensive Program, scholars are not only taught by leading business school professionals, but also by industry practitioners who provide a powerful link between the classroom and job. Since so many of the speakers we bring in are high-achieving women in the industry, our scholars can better envision success. They think, "I'd like to do that too." It's truly inspiring.

How do you feel the finance industry compares to other male-dominated fields when it comes to working for gender diversity?

Quite frankly, we are light years behind other professions. Women make up 33 percent of U.S. doctors and 36 percent of U.S. lawyers. If you look at CPAs, 63 percent of accountants and auditors3 in the United States are women. Most industries are doing a good job of including more women. Yet, in our industry, less than 10 percent of all U.S. fund managers are women. It's an appallingly low number.  

How do we combat unconscious gender bias in the workplace?

Firms need to send a clear, unequivocal message about their values and policies toward inclusion. It's something everyone needs to care about. Diversity isn't just a part of morals; it's become a vital component for firms to remain competitive. Leaders must spread that message consistently and methodically throughout their business.

Dealing with unconscious bias requires training. Many people are completely open to changing their behaviors, but they need to know what can be done to help them overcome their biases. People bond over a variety of different things—where they went to college, favorite TV shows, even their love of golf. We need to appreciate our commonalities, and yet know how to look beyond those commonalities to identify new talent and create impactful teams.

Whether it's race, gender, sexual identity, socioeconomic status or disability, it's critical that we recognize this is a talent issue. Different people are going to bring different ways of thinking to the table, and it becomes invaluable to the overarching culture of the firm. Girls Who Invest's primary lens is gender, but we also look beyond gender in everything that we do. There needs to be a collective push that extends to all groups—even beyond women—to bring more voices to the table.

How can male colleagues/managers become true allies for women in the asset management industry?

It has to start at the top with management leading by example. But even if the corporate communications aren’t what you want, every person can make the personal choice to be inclusive.

Find ways for people to connect—whether it's through events, projects or even new desk assignments, these connections melt some of those biases away. Most organizations have a women’s affinity group, which is great, but usually it’s women talking to women, which can only accomplish so much. Having men and women come together helps break down barriers.

1. Knight Foundation. (2017, May 3). New report reveals low levels of diversity in asset management industry, despite similar investment performance at women- and minority-owned firms [Press release]. Retrieved from

2. Pavlenko Lutton, L., & Davis, E. (2015, June). Fund Managers by Gender (Rep.). Retrieved  

3. Women in Accounting. (2017, September 20). Retrieved November 06, 2017, from


Topics: Diversity , Recruitment

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