Women in Finance March 2024

Women in Finance

A Guide to Key Investors

First published, October 2020; This version, March 2024

Ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March, we would like to provide you with an updated guide to Women in Finance. Again, we’ve added numerous interviews with leading female investment practitioners to the [i3] Insights database. 

The purpose of this guide is to shine a light on some of the leading female investment professionals and their achievements in the Asia-Pacific region. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but we hope to contribute to female inclusion by, not only highlighting the achievement of senior female executives, but also inspiring a new generation of leaders. 

After all, women join the finance profession in similar numbers to men, but they are under-represented in the senior ranks of companies.

As part of our commitment to increase the visibility of women and their contributions to the investment industry, we’ve created this guide, which complements our Women in Finance category in [i3] Insights. We hope it inspires a new generation to follow in their footsteps.

Progress So Far

Although progress in improving the female participation rate in board roles has been glacial, there are some signs things are slowly getting better, especially in the last couple of years. Multiple initiatives for the promotion and visibility of women in finance have been launched in recent times, creating some momentum to female representation.

A long running study in the United Kingdom traces the percentage of female directors on the boards of the top 100 companies listed on the FTSE.

The FTSE Women Leaders Report, published in February 2024, shows that the number of female-held directorships among FTSE 100 companies increased from 23.5 per cent in 2015 to 42.6 per cent in October 2023, with 445 women serving on FTSE 100 Boards out of a total of 1044 directorships.

In 2022, the FTSE 100 also exceeded the 40 per cent target, three years ahead of the deadline date.

In Australia, a similar picture has emerged in recent years, albeit somewhat lagging that of the UK.

Whereas in 2015, women made up 20 per cent of ASX 200 boards, this percentage had increased to 36.4 at the end of June 2023. The percentage is even better for the 20 largest companies in Australia, where now 40 per cent of board members are female.

The number of female executives in listed companies is still too low, but also here we are starting to see meaningful change.

In Australia, research by Chief Executive Women (CEW) showed there were 26 female Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of ASX 300 companies at the end of June 2023, an increase of eight compared to 2022. Of the 42 CEO appointments last financial year, 10 were women.

Significant was also the finding that while in 2022 still 46 ASX 300 companies had no women in their executive leadership teams, last year this number had fallen to 28 companies.

The investment industry itself has also become more active in promoting female participation in recent years. In October 2020, pension fund HESTA launched a new initiative, called 40:40 Vision, which aims to see women fill at least 40 per cent of executive roles in the ASX 200 by 2030.

The initiative is a joint program that also includes fund managers Aberdeen Standard Investments, BlackRock Australia, Ellerston Capital, Fidelity International, First Sentier Investors, IFM Investors, Pendal Group and WaveStone Capital.

It also has the support of industry partners CEW, the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors, 30% Club and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

Investors joining the initiative will commit to engaging with ASX 200 companies to encourage them to pledge to achieve 40 per cent women, 40 per cent men and 20 per cent any gender among C-suite roles by 2030 and to set clear and public targets towards this goal.

Female Leaders Spotlight

Although there are relatively few female Chief Investment Officers (CIO) in Australia and New Zealand, we’ve been lucky enough to interview several of them over the years. We spoke to Sonya Sawtell-Rickson, CIO of HESTA, about the fund’s journey to insourcing asset management functions, while Coal LSL CIO and former State Super CIO Lisbeth Rasmussen sat down with us to tell us about her 30-plus-year career in investing.

We also spoke with Wendy Norris, Deputy Chief Investment Officer – Change & Innovation at the Future Fund about the work the fund has done to reposition the portfolio for a world of higher inflation, increased volatility and lower returns.

More recently, we’ve also increased our coverage of private wealth firms, including family offices and institutional grade advisers to high-net worth individuals. We spoke to Sally Auld, CIO at JBWere, about fine-tuning the asset allocation during the midst of the global pandemic and the challenge of higher inflation.

We also interviewed Jacqueline Fernley, CIO of Mason Stevens, about the development of an outsourced CIO function for wealth management firms servicing retail and wholesale clients. Fernley designed a suite of options that allows firms to create a set of multi-asset portfolios drawing from a wide spectrum of vehicles, from exchange traded funds to bespoke, directly managed bond portfolios.

We also looked outside of Australia and spoke to Serene Tan, Head of Investments for Sun Venture in Singapore, about the importance of understanding the investment objectives and the role this plays in setting an asset allocation. 

There are even fewer female Chief Executive Officers, but we were inspired by our conversation with Jo Townsend, then CEO of Funds SA. Townsend, who is also a former General Manager of Investments at super fund REST, discussed the need to boost resources and systems after a period of rapid growth for the fund. She also showed why insourcing asset management functions for Funds SA would not bring the same benefits as it has for some of the country’s largest pension funds.

But one of the most influential women in the Australian institutional investment industry is, without doubt, Fiona Trafford-Walker, one of the founders of asset consultant Frontier Advisors and former adviser to some of the largest super funds in the country. Trafford-Walker sat down with us for a podcast interview to talk about her career and was as candid and insightful as ever, giving her views on the changing role of asset consultants, the underperformance of value-style investing and the old chestnut of style drift. After 25 years with the asset consultant, Trafford-Walker decided it was time for a change and is now concentrating on a portfolio of directorships.

Staying with Frontier, Kim Bowater, Director of Consulting at the asset consultant,  spoke about some of challenges ahead for the industry, including the responsibilities that come with in-house investing and the impact of the Your Future, Your Super reforms.

Another asset consultant, JANA appointed last year its first female CEO: Georgina Dudley. Dudley has been with JANA for nearly 15 years and in this interview with [i3] Insights she shared some of her insights in how the role of asset consultants have changed over time and why they are still relevant in today’s environment of insourcing super funds.

Earlier that year, we also spoke with Dudley’s colleague Kirsten Temple, General Manager of Investment Strategy at JANA, about the challenges of Your Future, Your Super and the increased importance of sequencing risk.

Innovation & Alternatives

Unlisted assets form an increasingly larger part of super fund portfolios and our contributor Florence Chong spoke several times to Sandra Lee, Head of Private Markets at Unisuper, about a large range of topics in this space, including private equity, timber land and infrastructure. Lee also spoke at the Frontier Advisors annual conference in 2023 about valuation practices in unlisted assets.

Tammi Fisher, Head of Alternatives at the Future Fund, spoke to us about constructing a portfolio of alternative assets under a total portfolio approach, or ‘joined-up investment approach’. Fisher explained that under these circumstances the alternatives portfolio looks very different than if it was a standalone portfolio.   

Alicia Gregory, Head of Private Equity at the Future Fund, explained to us what the recent strategic investment review of the fund and the increased appetite for risk means for her domain. Private equity is set to benefit from this review through higher allocations and Gregory put this in the context of the fund’s total portfolio approach and joined-up investment philosophy.

We also spoke with Judith Smith, who has been one of the leading lights in the domestic private equity and venture capital industries. Smith, the former Head of Private Equity at Industry Funds Management and former Chair of LUCRF’s investment committee, discussed the development of the venture capital industry in Australia since the government introduced favourable taxation regulations for investments into start-up technology companies in the 1980s and the problems over the years with fund structures.

Sandra Bosela at Canadian pension fund OPTrust walked us through the challenges of private equity investing during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the fund has a preference for businesses that are not beholden to the economic cycle, but produce stable profits in any environment, the global pandemic provided a new challenge.

Lianne Buck, former Head of Infrastructure at TCorp, took us through some of the highlights of establishing a real assets portfolio for the asset manager of the New South Wales state government, including co-investments with several of the fund’s Canadian peers. Buck also addressed the future of the airport industry under the global pandemic and the resilience of the individual assets.

On the property side, we find an interview with Mary Power, Principal Consultant with JANA. Power emphasised the importance of adaptability, which was only made more relevant by the recent global pandemic. As employees switched to working-from-home arrangements, property owners, especially in the office sector, had to think about how to deal with the new situation. Technology provided part of the solution, Power said.

This pre-COVID, two-part interview with Frontier’s Jennifer Johnstone-Kaiser delves into the firm’s property research program, how to identify investment opportunities and how changes in market trends can impact clients’ portfolios.

We also looked at innovative approaches to portfolio construction, featuring Carrie Lo, portfolio manager with CalSTRS and lead developer of the fund’s risk mitigation strategy. Lo was trying to solve the problem of portfolio construction in a low-yield environment, seeking equity diversification through trend following, global macro and factor strategies.

Talking about factor strategies, Bev Durston, Managing Director of Edgehaven and a fount of knowledge on alternative assets, warned of the popularity of factor-based investment products and pointed to a number of issues, including spurious correlations and underperformance during regime changes.

We also sat down with Durston to discuss the opportunities in distressed debt, an area that usually does well towards the end of a financial crisis. She was some what careful about the scope of the opportunity this time.

As Susan Oh, former Director, Risk Parity, Currency Hedging and Strategic Implementation at Pennsylvanian pension fund Public School Employees’ Retirement System, saw her non-United States equity portfolio take a plunge during the Global Financial Crisis, she wondered if there was a better way of doing things. Oh ended up taking a risk-parity approach and is slowly transforming the portfolio to reflect a more balanced risk profile.

One of the most pressing puzzles to be solved in the pension industry in Australia today is the development of adequate retirement products. Jacki Ellis, Portfolio Manager for Retirement Strategy with what was then First State Super and now Aware Super, spoke to us about the issues with creating a default product and the need for customisation.

Anne Fuchs is a veteran of the retirement space with a background in the advice industry. As such, Fuchs understands the importance of tailored solutions, especially where people are faced with challenges to fund their retirement. This is an issue that the retirement covenant seems to gloss over she says. While the covenant is an important step, it seems to focus on spending, thereby assuming the problem of retirement adequacy is solved. It is not.

Investment teams in insurance companies often have quite a unique set of requirements and targets compared to their superannuation peers. In an interview with Stephanie Weston, a former Investment Management Director for insurer Genworth Australia, she proposed the division of insurance portfolios into short, medium and long-term tranches, each with their own risk and return objectives. This helps insurance companies align their investment strategies with their liabilities.

In today’s environment, innovation and sustainability are often intertwined, especially when it comes to investments around the energy transition. Canadian pension plan OPTrust decided to make this link explicit by creating the role of Managing Director of Sustainable Investing and Innovation and appointed Alison Loat to the role. We speak to Loat about narrowing down the opportunity set, rather than addressing all of the world’s problems at once.

Last year, we caught up with Loat to speak about OPTrusts new climate policy and the use of climate due diligence frameworks in the investment team.

Angelina Lai‘s interest in sustainable investing was inspired by a passion for diving. It only takes a few dives before you realise the full scale of the pollution problem, Lai says. She now applies this philosophy in her role as Head of Division – Asia Investment at wealth manager St. James’s Place.

Marigold Look, Executive Director, Infrastructure at IFM Investors, took a deep dive into the challenges of measuring scope 3 emissions and gave some practical tips on how to address this issue today.

Marisa Hall, Head of the Thinking Ahead Institute, sat down with us for a conversation on culture and how this influences the making of a super team. 

Amber Rabinov, Head of Macro Research at AustralianSuper, spoke about the importance of geopolitics and how the world post COVID is driven by security considerations rather than economic ones. But one shouldn’t assume this means we will head down the path of deglobalisation.

Morningstar published a report last year in which it analysed the internalisation efforts of both AustralianSuper and UniSuper and found there is no one-size-fits-all approach to bringing assets in-house. We spoke to Annika Bradley, Director of Manager Research Ratings for Asia-Pacific at Morningstar, about the cost of internalisation.

New Zealand & the Pacific

Anne-Maree O’Connor, Head of Responsible Investment with New Zealand Super, explained how environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) issues impact on investments and how this area tries to quantify unaccounted-for costs. O’Connor also emphasised the importance of culture within an organisation and pointed out it is easy to dismiss the focus on culture as a fad, until something goes wrong.

Another New Zealand Super staffer, Del Hart, who is Head of External Investments and Partnerships for the fund, explained how the fund thinks about partnerships and how it has mapped the expertise of its fund managers with its internal research program. Hart showed how the fund has broken down the partnerships into three areas of focus: research support, secondments and fireside chats. She said sharing knowledge is the main aim, but in order to do this effectively, you need to be targeted in your approach.

Catherine Savage is one of the most respected chair persons in New Zealand. In this interview, we talk about her 12-year tenure on the board of New Zealand Super, and as such Savage knows a thing or two about governance. Governance is about creating value over the long term and to do that you need clear decision-making structures that are transparent, accountable and promote decisiveness.

Frustrated with the high fees charged by commercial private equity funds, especially compared to the returns they were delivering, as well as governance and performance challenges of poorly constructed direct businesses, Debbie Birch, a veteran of the private equity industry, set out to create a new model for Māori investors to co-invest alongside institutional investors in unlisted New Zealand companies. The resulting vehicle, Te Pūia Tāpapa, closed with almost double the capital initially sought to establish the fund.

Petra Suhren-Chan Tung, CIO of the Samoa National Provident Fund, explained the fund’s solution to costly personal loans on the island. The provident fund provides a range of loans to members, including housing, land and education loans, where members can borrow up to 50 per cent of their account balance.

Unfortunately, domestic violence permeates all levels of society and the investment industry is no exception. [i3] Insights spoke with Justina Sau only weeks before her untimely death. Sau, the founder CEO of the Unit Trust of Samoa, was an extraordinary business person and trailblazer for Samoan women, shattering glass ceilings wherever she went. A list of leading women would not be complete without remembering her.


Earlier in this guide, we mentioned our podcast interview with Fiona Trafford-Walker, but there have been many more interviews with inspirational women in the podcast series. Below is a selection of some of our favourite interviews. 

Tanya Branwhite, Head of Portfolio Construction at  TCorp, came to our office and we spoke about some of the earlier challenges in her career, especially when she ruffled a few feathers at Macquarie Group with her analysis during the GFC. But true to Macquarie’s meritocratic culture, the episode only cemented her reputation as a thorough researcher within the group. We also cover TCorp’s investment strategy and its approach to total portfolio management.

Sue Brake was previously the CIO of the Future Fund. We were able to sit down with Brake and have an in-depth discussion on the early days of the Future Fund in the light of the fund’s 15 year anniversary, how it got set during the GFC and how this influenced the portfolio as it stands today. We also spoke with Brake in a previous capacity at Willis Towers Watson and discussed governance, both the added value of good governance and also the costs of bad governance.

For a series on ESG issues, we spoke with Daniela Jaramillo, then of HESTA, and Nicole Brandford, who was at Cbus at the time. Recorded in early 2021, it started to become clear that decarbonisation was quickly rising to the top of the ESG agenda and the question how quickly to get there and whether to set interim targets was a key question.

An interview with Caroline Cantor, Investment Director at Federated Hermes, focused on biodiversity, a topic that has drawn increased interest in recent times as guidelines were released by the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures in late 2023. Did you know the average person eats about a credit card worth of plastic a week through micro plastic pollution? Yuck!

More recently, we spoke with Maria Elena Drew, Director of Research, Responsible Investing at T. Rowe Price, about the challenges and opportunities of transforming investments into net zero portfolios. How does it affect your objectives and engagement with companies?

And let’s not forget about Daniel Grioli’s podcast interview with US-based Denise Selden, who was Senior Portfolio Manager with Copper Rock Capital Partners, but has since retired. A veteran of the growth equity style of investing, Selden was one of the few women to work on Wall Street 60 years ago and found, at that time, women were not allowed on the floor of the stock exchange or even in the dining room. She talked about the sit-ins female finance professionals organised in order to change the status quo, but also about the dangers of the current identity politics. A truly impressive story.

To access all Women in Finance articles please click here.


Beyond the Panel Pledge

The Investment Innovation Institute [i3] supports the Panel Pledge and we work hard to ensure women are represented in all of our panel discussions and speaker line-ups. We will avoid panels consisting of only men or where the only female participant is the chair of the session.

We aim to extend the philosophy of the Panel Pledge to all of our activities and in addition to female participation in our forums, we also strive to increase the visibility of women by regularly featuring senior female investors in our publication, [i3] Insights, and on our website. We also aim for gender balance in our [i3] Podcast series.

In doing so, we hope to contribute to breaking the glass ceilings and overcoming the cliffs.



[i3] Insights is the official educational bulletin of the Investment Innovation Institute [i3]. It covers major trends and innovations in institutional investing, providing independent and thought-provoking content about pension funds, insurance companies and sovereign wealth funds across the globe.