Author: Maha Khan Phillips
In September 2022, participants of CFA UK’s pilot Young Women in Investment Program came together to meet in person for the very first time. After completing a four-week virtual investment ‘bootcamp’ run by Fitch Learning, and a final research challenge on the day, fast friendships had developed amongst the cohort, who were delighted to be together at last.
What the young women, who hail from a diverse range of backgrounds, have achieved is no mean feat. First launched in 2018 in India, The CFA Institute Young Woman in Investment Program is expanding globally, now taking place in India, Brazil, Qatar, Spain, France, and the UK. It is an initiative designed to create awareness about and instil an interest in the route of entry for women into the investment management industry. Because the program is open to all female graduates, regardless of finance background, it attracted a diverse pool of talent. Women learn about all aspects of the industry, from investment management, to financial modelling, to how to develop business skills, at a rapid pace.
“Some of the stories of what some of the young women have had to overcome to study a masters or to get into school gives me goosebumps. The women were phenomenal. Even those that didn’t get through to bootcamp; they deserve credit for overcoming many challenges that life threw at them,” says Charlotte Spooner, HR Consultant at CARA Executive Search, the firm that worked with CFA UK to find and select the women who would take part in the program.
“We found the experience to be incredibly rewarding and enriching and we were honoured to be asked to partner on this pilot program,” says Yvonne Crocker, Founder and Director at CARA Executive Search. Crocker felt that all the applicants were impressive, even those that were not selected to go forward in the program. “We found it a challenge to select a group of 44 for the first interview stage of the process and indeed to further narrow it down to 25 for the UK cohort,” she says.
To assist each of the forty-four who reached the interview stage, CARA proofread, edited, and improved their CVs to set them up for success for future job applications. “We feel that the experience of the interview process was also beneficial,” says Crocker. The firm also co-sponsored a coaching programme with Piers Courage-Jones and the Talent Praxis Group to profit from personal development, including personality and psychometric profiling, as well as follow up feedback and one on one coaching sessions.
After completing bootcamp, and after rigorous interview process, many of the young women are going on to complete internships in the investment industry, an opportunity that they may not have had in other circumstances.
“The vast majority of the women are from diverse backgrounds, some have financial degrees, some don’t. While many of our traditional graduates will do summer internships, a lot of these women hadn’t had internship experience because their lives up until this point hadn’t facilitated that opportunity,” says Spooner.
“You Realise How Helpful and Insightful the Training Is.”
A key part of the experience was connecting with the other women, she says. “The best thing for me was to be able to work with other young women, who I now consider to be my friends. Although we have finished the program we are still in touch and meeting each other. It was great to cooperate with other women who share not only the same professional goals but have also similar inspirations.”
She enjoyed all of the curriculum, particularly financial modelling. “What we’d been studying at university was more theoretical. What I really liked about the program was that it was about trying to relate the technical issues to the real world which was really interesting,” she says.
For candidates who want to apply in the future, Harmache has some advice. “The program was intensive, so there was a lot to digest during the four weeks, but if you manage to organise your time, attend all your sessions and go through all the material that was shared, then you realise how helpful and insightful the training is,” she says.
Investment firms are playing a key role in the program, by offering internships to participants. “Outreach to firms has been an important part of the process. It’s not just about providing the cohorts with access to internships, but about the firms themselves having developed inclusion programs, so much so that they are ready to support them. They also need to understand that the interns are coming from different routes and so the process needs to be equitable,” says Sarah Maynard, Global Senior Head, Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion at CFA Institute.
Gavin Anthony, Program Manager, CFA Institute, agrees. “Outreach is key to change attitudes. When we start these programs, companies will sometimes say they are not ready to do it. Or they will have a campus recruitment program where they look at certain universities and certain types of applications, and that means they get the same types of people.”
Companies that are taking part say they are excited by the talent they are seeing.
“We are thrilled to participate in the CFA internship program this year. Like many other wealth and asset management firms, we have a significant imbalance of females in our investment-based positions, even at entry level. The CFA Program came at the right time for us, and we are so pleased to be welcoming three exceptionally bright and driven female interns through our doors this winter. The quality and engagement of the female candidates is brilliant - well beyond our expectation and the boot camp they went through definitely showcased their newly acquired investment knowledge when interviewing with us. Clearly the CFA holds an excellent reputation with university students and was able to attract some exceptional female candidates – something we need to do more of across the industry,” says Charlie Fisher, Senior HR Manager at LGT Wealth Management.
This year, the program also partnered with Fearless Girls and CFA Society Ukraine, to provide 20 additional places to Ukrainian women displaced by the war. 13 women took part, and 11 were able to complete the process.
“We wanted to start the program after seeing India's and Doha’s experience a few years ago. We were thinking about how to run it but then the war started,” explains Anna Anzina, Executive Director of CFA Society Ukraine. “The situation in Ukraine makes it quite difficult to attract participants to educational opportunities but the thirteen participants were all really happy to take part. Most of them were in Kyiv so they definitely couldn’t expect internships or any kind of employment, but they found the educational opportunity extremely valuable,” she adds.
Anzina says participants were really happy they took part. “I received a lot of feedback from the participants about engaging with motivated peers from another market, working on the boot camp and on the challenges. To have this interconnection with colleagues is very important to them.”
It is, Maynard stresses, a reason why the virtual program was so important. “In order for the program to become global it needed to be scalable. The big issue was how do you control for quality? We reached out to a number of providers, and we had a vendor procurement process. We ended up working with Fitch Learning who proved to be really great partners,” she says.
As the program expands into new countries and as networks build, the hope is that more investment firms will become involved in offering internships, and will recognise what a unique opportunity the program provides to women from a vast array of different backgrounds.
“We open the applications to young women. Many of them look at this industry and see it as very male dominated, and they aren’t sure if they want to be a part of it. But once they’ve done the bootcamp then they’re part of a network of individuals who have all had the same experience as they have had,” says Anthony, who wants firms to work across their different offices globally and become as involved as possible.
As the program expands, it is also a chance for women who have gone through the experience to empower those that follow. “These talented young women have a network for life. They will encourage each other personally and also professionally. How powerful is that?” says Crocker.
Charlotte Spooner, HR Consultant at CARA Executive Search
Yvonne Crocker, Founder and Director at CARA Executive Search
Sarah Maynard, Global Senior Head, Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion at CFA Institute
Charlie Fisher, Senior HR Manager at LGT Wealth Management
Anna Anzina, Executive Director of CFA Society Ukraine
Gavin Anthony, Program Manager, CFA Institute