Interview with Anja Mikus

(A version of this interview appeared on Bloomberg to coincide with International Women’s Day 2017)

 

How did you break through into this industry? Did you find at any point any barriers because you’re a woman? If you did, how did you push through them?

 

When I started my career as an analyst and portfolio manager with Allianz, I didn’t notice any gender-related issues. By being a member of an excellent team and by being highly motivated, I was able to build up my fund performance track record. Within professional portfolio management where hierarchy levels are low, the only thing that really counts, ultimately, is performance quality.

 

The role required me to have a good market understanding, an opinion and to make the good decisions under uncertainty in order to add value to client portfolios. I like that kind of challenge. Therefore, I had a good starting point, and some years later I got promoted to managing director.

 

There is still, however, a prevailing attitude among men that can sometimes hold women back in finance, one which exists almost subconsciously. It’s a cultural thing – especially in the fund industry – where people ask, ‘Can a woman really fill that role, managing hundreds of millions?’ Even though their qualifications are the same, a female fund manager will face this question more than her male counterpart. We still haven’t moved on in that respect.

 

What is your take on board quotas? Do you think women should only compete on merit to be on a board or should there be quotas in place?

 

Principally, I do not like quotas. I think they are artificial and can be unfair. However, at the same time, change won’t happen on its own. Until more women are in higher management roles, I do believe unfortunately that we need mechanisms in place to achieve better gender balance at the top table. I support quotas for now, but hope to see a day soon where they are redundant.

 

Some people have said that one of the barriers to increasing office diversity is work culture. Since you started your career have you noticed the culture of your industry changing at all, and do you see things getting better or worse for the gender parity issue?

 

Child care, for example, was much different when my son was a baby. My employer at the time said that a company kindergarten was completely out of the question because ‘an employer should not get involved in the education of its employees’ kids’. Times have changed a lot.

 

The investment industry is, by and large, a forward looking industry and very much client oriented. But it has ignored fundamental changes in society where, over the past two decades, more and more women have taken over management positions across a wide range of sectors.

 

Equity analysts know that companies with good corporate governance have a significantly better chance of being competitive in the future, and generating sustainable growth. At Arabesque, where we integrated ESG data analysis within a quantitative investment process, it is the ‘G’ – governance – that is one of the most important factors when considering extra financial performance. It reflects a company’s culture, its research and development, and its decision-making process. It is all part of risk-management, and keeping reputation risk low.

I’m now at a stage of my career where I want to support other women, and I am therefore a member of the networking organization Fondsfrauen (Fund Ladies). Over a hundred women from the investment industry in Frankfurt came to the first kick-off meeting, and it now has over a thousand women registered with 14 corporate supporters. The organization will help to keep the spotlight on diversity in the industry, and to actively push for actions to achieve and deliver better diversity.

 

Legal changes due to the gender quota are now prompting companies to re-evaluate their HR policies, and the idea that a more diverse workforce makes for better business is being embraced. The fact that less than 7% of fund managers are women is no longer acceptable.

On maternity leave, in your own experience or in the experience of your peers, do you find that women don’t take full leave that is offered due to peer pressure? Why or why not? What is your view on paternity leave?

 

I think it’s better to think first about what is the best solution for the family, and then secondly for the job. With a good and optimized solution in the workplace, then I think the right balance can be found. Whilst I think that peer pressure around length of maternity leave is less of an issue – certainly in the finance industry – than it once was, it’s undoubtedly true that there remains a certain amount of peer pressure around paternity leave. However, attitudes are shifting, with increasing levels of shared responsibility for childcare. And that can only be a good thing for everyone.