Manuela Fröhlich likes to keep busy in her spare time. When the Bavarian fund executive and music fan lived in London, she managed four rock bands on the side. “It’s the same principle,” she says. “You have to do your negotiations, need to get on the road, you have to budget costs.” After 13 years in the UK, she moved to Frankfurt and decided to use her spare time to promote women in the asset management industry.
When Fröhlich met up with two long-time friends at an industry event--Anne E. Connelly, a former Morningstar manager, and Anke Dembowski, a financial journalist--they ended up discussing the quota that required 30% of board members at large German firms to be women. “We’d been pioneers in the industry,” says Fröhlich. “We’d always found it was a lonely ride, but it never occurred to us to do something.” The quota sparked them to act. Fondsfrauen (funds women) “was pretty much born around a table” at that conference. It went live in January 2015.
The outfit started hosting free networking events in Frankfurt and it soon expanded. First to Munich. Then, a board member said: “We need that in Zurich.” “We were then approached by banks in Austria,” Fröhlich recalls. Fondsfrauen also introduced a mentoring programme (limited to 13 places at a time) and specialised workshops (free for members).
They try to avoid banging on the same gender equality drum. “We don’t want to constantly talk about what challenges women are facing and only this topic.” Rather they’ll set up, for example, “a risk management panel with all female risk managers and see how they do a different job from a mixed team or a male team.”
Fondsfrauen is a limited company, not an NGO. “We believe we will be taken more seriously [as a business] than as a foundation or association.” Also, they may turn a profit in the future. “In the end, we want to build a long-term sustainable business that supports women in the asset management industry and this will be beneficial for all the employers,” who support the initiative. Most of its corporate sponsors come via gender diversity programmes, but Fondsfrauen believes the recruitment element shouldn’t be underestimated. Corporate sponsors, Fröhlich reckons, need “to be seen and to be catching talent. It’s all about the talent.”
Fröhlich moved to Luxembourg four years ago and she’s now global head of business development for LRI, a super manco (third-party asset manager). Until recently, Fondsfrauen has just dipped their toes in the local market, partnering with the law firm Arendt & Medernach on a 2016 event and working with the consultancy PwC on a half-day forum last September. Now, they’re ready to turn up the volume in the grand duchy. A formal announcement is expected in the spring.
The organisation holds networking and informational events for women in the financial sector in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, and is getting ready to unveil its programme in Luxembourg. All events here will be held in English. They also offer mentoring and professional matchmaking. Altogether, they’re connected with about 2,100 women.