The Conversation Continues: Progress Disrupted, Not Derailed

March 2021

It’s been a year since I wrote a piece to celebrate International Women's Day 2020, noting that the beginning of a new decade provided a good opportunity to assess progress with respect to gender in the workplace. At the time of writing, there was no sense of the impending crisis to come. Nor could we have predicted the scale of the pandemic the world has faced, or the ways in which our lives would change so dramatically.

The COVID crisis has underscored society's reliance on women both at work and at home, and the impact of the pandemic has, perhaps unsurprisingly, not been 'gender neutral.' The effects of this past year have been felt disproportionately by women who work in industries such as retail, food service, childcare/early education, and domestic work—which happen to be among the segments hardest-hit by the pandemic. Even in other sectors, tenuous progress in recent years is at risk given recently shifting dynamics of the workforce and the numbers of women who have had to downshift or leave their careers altogether in order to manage the home front and see their families through the changes wrought by COVID.1,2 Although all working parents, both men and women, have had to try to balance employment with childcare and remote schooling responsibilities, women were already behind the curve in this regard pre-pandemic, spending nearly two and a half times the number of hours on unpaid care work as men, a gap that has only widened in the last year.3 This data point and other dire statistics have been well documented (though perhaps not scrutinized carefully enough), but the question remains, where do we go from here as we look ahead to the post-pandemic landscape?

Against the backdrop of the grim realities and known setbacks women have suffered professionally in the past year, it is perhaps hard to find the positives. But I want to reflect on the ways in which we can progress, and not just to make up for ground lost during the pandemic, but to push beyond our historical baseline. Not surprisingly, given how I spend my days, I am focused on the potential for positive impact in the asset management industry – leveraging the industry as a force for good. The long-overdue conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) are, at last, becoming more meaningful in the corporate world, as well as the political one. The financial industry, amongst many others, is taking a much-needed look at itself and how, or if, it represents the investors and communities it serves. As ever, this begins with a reflection on where we have progressed and an honest look at how much more we need to do.

The theme of this year’s International Women's Day is #ChooseToChallenge. In last year’s post, I noted the importance of building the pipeline to lay the groundwork for greater female representation at the senior levels, by supporting women at a much earlier stage in their careers than the industry historically has. As one of the co-chairs of Acadian’s Diversity and Inclusion Forum, it’s a discussion I’m keenly involved in, and I choose to challenge us as a company to think of both creative and practical ways to ensure we are providing opportunities for, and developing, the next generation of our firm’s leaders, and breaking down the historical, systemic biases around gender and race that have characterized the industry over many decades.

At a more holistic level, it’s worth noting that 2020 saw a huge uptick in ESG investing, with investors focusing on ways to achieve positive returns with positive impact. More focus than ever is being turned to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals—targets that include gender equality, quality education, and good health and wellbeing, all areas where women have historically been disadvantaged. The fact that these conversations are becoming more meaningful, and are increasingly expected from investors, energizes and excites me.

As the impact of COVID eventually begins to subside, and the corporate world considers what a return to the office-based environment looks like, there is an opportunity to focus on increased flexibility—a shift which is sure to benefit all workers, but which may prove to be particularly beneficial to women who still disproportionately take on caregiving roles for young children and/or older family members who need support. My hope is that we can start to tackle the often-overlooked issue of “deciding” between flexibility/family commitments and career progression.

Forcing the conversation about pay equity, flexible working, and the work/life integration can be difficult, but for those of us who are in senior, visible positions especially, it's imperative that we continue to challenge the status quo, and the historical inequities around gender in the workplace. As a woman executive in this industry, I believe I have a responsibility to ‘pay it forward’ to the next generation of female employees, and future leaders striving to make the corporate environment a more equitable place, so that the path for the women who come after us is easier. I challenge myself to continue to push. And I encourage all women to have the difficult conversations they may have been putting off; discuss your career development and aspirations, examine your compensation if you see worrisome disparities, ask for the small adjustments that will make a big difference to your work/life life balance, and #ChoosetoChallenge.


  1. Women in the Workplace: 2020 Study. McKinsey & Company and Lean In.
  2. COVID-19: How women are bearing the burden of unpaid work. World Economic Forum, 18 December 2020.
  3. From UN Women, the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Legal Disclaimer

These materials provided herein may contain material, non-public information within the meaning of the United States Federal Securities Laws with respect to Acadian Asset Management LLC, BrightSphere Investment Group Inc. and/or their respective subsidiaries and affiliated entities.  The recipient of these materials agrees that it will not use any confidential information that may be contained herein to execute or recommend transactions in securities.  The recipient further acknowledges that it is aware that United States Federal and State securities laws prohibit any person or entity who has material, non-public information about a publicly-traded company from purchasing or selling securities of such company, or from communicating such information to any other person or entity under circumstances in which it is reasonably foreseeable that such person or entity is likely to sell or purchase such securities.

Acadian provides this material as a general overview of the firm, our processes and our investment capabilities. It has been provided for informational purposes only. It does not constitute or form part of any offer to issue or sell, or any solicitation of any offer to subscribe or to purchase, shares, units or other interests in investments that may be referred to herein and must not be construed as investment or financial product advice. Acadian has not considered any reader's financial situation, objective or needs in providing the relevant information.

The value of investments may fall as well as rise and you may not get back your original investment. Past performance is not necessarily a guide to future performance or returns. Acadian has taken all reasonable care to ensure that the information contained in this material is accurate at the time of its distribution, no representation or warranty, express or implied, is made as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of such information.

This material contains privileged and confidential information and is intended only for the recipient/s. Any distribution, reproduction or other use of this presentation by recipients is strictly prohibited. If you are not the intended recipient and this presentation has been sent or passed on to you in error, please contact us immediately. Confidentiality and privilege are not lost by this presentation having been sent or passed on to you in error.

Acadian’s quantitative investment process is supported by extensive proprietary computer code. Acadian’s researchers, software developers, and IT teams follow a structured design, development, testing, change control, and review processes during the development of its systems and the implementation within our investment process. These controls and their effectiveness are subject to regular internal reviews, at least annual independent review by our SOC1 auditor. However, despite these extensive controls it is possible that errors may occur in coding and within the investment process, as is the case with any complex software or data-driven model, and no guarantee or warranty can be provided that any quantitative investment model is completely free of errors. Any such errors could have a negative impact on investment results. We have in place control systems and processes which are intended to identify in a timely manner any such errors which would have a material impact on the investment process.

Acadian Asset Management LLC has wholly owned affiliates located in London, Singapore, Sydney, and Tokyo. Pursuant to the terms of service level agreements with each affiliate, employees of Acadian Asset Management LLC may provide certain services on behalf of each affiliate and employees of each affiliate may provide certain administrative services, including marketing and client service, on behalf of Acadian Asset Management LLC.

Acadian Asset Management LLC is registered as an investment adviser with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Registration of an investment adviser does not imply any level of skill or training.

Acadian Asset Management (Singapore) Pte Ltd, (Registration Number: 199902125D) is licensed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

Acadian Asset Management (Australia) Limited (ABN 41 114 200 127) is the holder of Australian financial services license number 291872 ("AFSL"). Under the terms of its AFSL, Acadian Asset Management (Australia) Limited is limited to providing the financial services under its license to wholesale clients only. This marketing material is not to be provided to retail clients.

Acadian Asset Management (UK) Limited is authorized and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority ('the FCA') and is a limited liability company incorporated in England and Wales with company number 05644066. Acadian Asset Management (UK) Limited will only make this material available to Professional Clients and Eligible Counterparties as defined by the FCA under the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive.