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What Has Taken You So long, Women in Power?

One female panelist shared her real-life story at the end of a professional event.    She had already worked in the accounting department of a private equity firm for many years when the CFO left.  The founder of the firm asked her to help train the next CFO and she did.  Another two years passed, the new CFO left for personal reasons, and again, she was asked to help with the search and training of the next CFO.  She got very frustrated during the process:  Why wasn’t she promoted to be the CFO, twice, when she was obviously qualified to train a CFO?  Finally one day, she walked into the office of the CEO and told him that she wanted the position herself.  The CEO looked up from his desk and asked her, “What has taken you so long?”  She got the job.

Moral of the story?  Be an advocate for yourself. 

My male friends seem to have an easier time with this concept, but it’s not the same with my female friends.  They are just as smart, hard-working, and strong-willed as their male friends, but rarely give themselves enough credit for all their merits.  They include some of the top female professionals in the alternative investment industry.

As most of you may already know, this industry has been historically male-dominated, especially at the senior management level.    There are many reasons for the lack of women leaders, and most of them apply to other industries as well.  For the alternative investment industry, the problem originates from the source: a limited supply of female professionals from the entry level up.  Most investment industry professionals graduate from MBA or PhD program and the number of female students is small from the start.

Ironically, there is little doubt that with more women in top positions in Wall Street and the government, the economic crisis would have been less severe.  Many people speculate that we might not have been in this big of a financial crisis if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Brothers and Sisters.

In recent years, the environment has become friendlier towards female professionals.  In spite of this change, there was an SEC investigation of PAAMCO last October after Manhattan District Court Judge Richard Sullivan said, in an August 2010 ruling, that the firm’s arrangement with Sussman, who seeded the firm with $2M, “may have been designed to mislead a number of observers, from the tax authorities to the SEC to entities wishing to invest in women-owned businesses.”   The case didn’t close until last month, without charges filed.    However, the judge granted Sussman a 40% stake in the holding company of the $9B firm for providing seed capital to the company’s four founders, two of which are female.  The stake allowed Sussman to convert the $2M loan he gave the company a decade ago into an equity stake.  I would have been furious if I were the two women.   The investment industry is more realistic than any other.  It’s all about performance, and it’s not something one can mark up nicely by claiming one’s firm to be women-owned, especially a decade ago. 

We, both male and female professionals, don’t need to get clients by playing the gender card. The clients come to us.  According to researchers, “heterogeneous groups outperform homogeneous groups. Corporations are more likely to have conflict-of-interest guidelines and codes of conduct if they have a decent representation of women on their Boards of Directors.”

I am among the lucky few who started their career in this industry at a time when there are various resources available to assist women to reach their career goals.  In my case, memberships with different women-oriented associations have helped me expand my network and provided education, training and inspiration.  Through these associations, I’ve made some wonderful female friends in the industry, whom I would like to acknowledge:  Ildi Duckor, attorney at Pillsbury; Maria Hall, owner of MD Hall; Grace Sucaldito, partner at Grant Thornton; Dara Kaplan, senior consultant at Eze Castle and Marianne O at Lumen Advisors.   All of you are an inspiration to me and I thank you for the friendship that you share with me.  I’d also like to thank the following ladies for their generous support and advice:  Rebecca Trinh with Ernst Young, Yvonne Yang with Harb, Levy & Weiland, Loretta Doon and Joelle Jenkins with the CalCPA Society. 

Last but not least, Happy Mother’s Day to my dear mom!  I hope you are enjoying your vacation with dad in Vietnam and Cambodia.   You master the art of being a loving mother and a dedicated professional at the same time.    A great example of “we can have it all”!


If you are a female professional looking for professional associations to join, below are a few:

  1. 100 Women in Hedge Funds (global)
  2. Association of Women in Alternative Investing (San Francisco only)
  3. Financial Women Association (New York and San Francisco)