International Women's Day: Huihong Wang

7 minute read

There is no denying that women remain significantly underrepresented in the upper levels of the financial service industry. According to the 2017 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, female talent remains one of the most underutilized business resources. In some industries, like finance, this is especially clear. Things are getting better but there is still a lot of work to do.

1. Tell us a little about yourself: where did you come from, what was your family life like, where did you go to school, how did you end up at Aegon Asset Management as a portfolio manager, and other interesting things people should know about you.

I was born into a big family in the countryside in the southeastern part of China. I grew up on a farm, where we lived with about 25 people (grandparent, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, you get the picture). Life back then was quite different. During the dry season, my parents would send me out to watch over the water supply for our farm. This was an important job because as soon as the neighbors changed the water supply so the water would flow to their farms, I was supposed to change it right back so it would flow to our side again. When I was 10 years old, my family moved to the coastal city Xiamen, one of four special economic zones opened to foreign investment and trade as part of the Opening-up Policy under Deng Xiaoping. Growing up in the 1990s, I witnessed firsthand the extraordinary growth of the Chinese economy. These years also saw the private sector booming, which motivated many people to set up their own businesses, including my parents. My parents worked hard and moved from being farmers to owners of small businesses to co-founders of a family-owned company in renewable technology listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange. Growing up in this environment, I was fascinated to learn how the economy works and what makes businesses succeed and fail. As a result, I went to study in Beijing and obtained my bachelor's degree in International Economics and Trade before moving to the Netherlands for further education. I received my master's degree from the University of Amsterdam in 2010, majoring in International Finance. The day I started my master thesis - at PGGM - was also the day I met my husband. When I finished my master thesis, I started working at PGGM as a credit analyst. At the end of 2016, I joined Aegon Asset Management as a portfolio manager for corporate private placements. I had been looking for new challenges for a while already and when the opportunity came around, I took it and so here I am.

2. What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I did not dream of being in any particular profession when I was a child. I only knew that because of the very interesting time I grew up in and the entrepreneurship of my parents, I found a love for business and finance. So, after I chose to study economy and finance, it become gradually clear for me that being an analyst and later on a portfolio manager really suits me.

3. Do you have any female role models, or any male role models that support women in becoming more empowered? Why do you look up to this person?

During my work so far, I have encountered many inspiring women in the financial industry who are intelligent, strong and successful. I was hired by Ruulke Bagijn at PGGM, who is professional, influential and took an interest in advancing other women. Here at Aegon, I also have some close female colleagues who are very capable and have given me valuable tips and advice, both professionally and personally. In addition, I am part of a Lean In Circle, a small group of women who meet regularly to support one another and learn new skills. With such strong role models around me, I knew firsthand that a good career being an investor could be for a woman.

4. Do you think that it is a problem that women are under-represented in your field? Did you encounter any hurdles?

Undoubtedly, there is a gender gap in our industry. With so few women in the financial industry, particularly in senior roles, the image of a male-dominated culture is still very much prevalent. We need more female leaders and role models that young women can look up to. There is still a large untapped potential as many studies have shown that companies with more diverse teams outperform those with a more homogeneous workforce.

But I think it is not just about the financial industry. It is about the role of women in society in general. The society as a whole still needs to be more accommodative and supportive if we want to see more women in the workforce and advance in their career.

Personally, based on my experiences so far, I have not encountered any particular hurdles because of my gender in the Netherlands. In fact, I have had a mostly positive experience so far and I think this is an industry in which women can really thrive. Therefore, we should motivate, interest, and inspire more young women to join this industry.

The society as a whole still needs to be more accommodative and supportive if we want to see more women in the workforce and advance in their career.

5. Do you think women are better investors? Why (not)?

This is an interesting topic. There has been an increasing number of studies looking at how women and men perform when it comes to individual investing. The studies have pointed out that women tend to trade less frequently, take a longer-term perspective, are less inclined to embark on "lottery style" investing, and therefore in general make smarter and more calculated decisions about their investments. When it comes to professional investing, I have not seen any profound evidences yet that show clear differences between men and women. As for me, I have noticed that when I analyze a company, I often approach the company from different perspectives than my colleagues. I see this as a real positive, both for myself and for my coworkers, as it makes our analysis much more complimentary and comprehensive.

6. What do you think of International Women's Day? Is this still needed? Or do you think this should encompass a broader spectrum? What does inclusiveness mean to you?

As long as we have not achieved gender equality around the world, we still need a special day to mark the challenges faced by women, to celebrate the progresses we have made and to champion the full gender equality we hope to achieve one day. We have come a long way, but we have a long way to go.

Of course, diversity goes far beyond just the ratio between men and women. And indeed, seeing diversity from the angle of inclusion should help us achieve more. We should not only focus on adding more women or more minority members. We should all help create a collaborative, supportive and respectful environment that increases the participation and contribution of all employees. This is what inclusion means to me.

7. This year's theme is "Better the balance, better the world", do you feel like you are in an unbalanced industry? How do you think we could best fix the imbalance?

Things are getting better but there is still a lot of work to do. In my view, demonstrating that financial services is a sector in which women can thrive, by encouraging women and promoting them to positions in the financial industry, is a critical first step to achieving equality and everyone can become an advocate for this.