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Women in Alternative Investments: Reflection on the COVID-19 Pandemic and the Outlook for a Return to the Office and In-Person Networking

Aug 2, 2021

EisnerAmper’s Financial Services Group has rolled out a two-part blog series on “Women in Alternative Investments: Reflection on the COVID-19 Pandemic and the Outlook for a Return to the Office and In-Person Networking.” Part I features women in alternative investments who share their perspectives on the topic and Part II will feature the insights from male alternative investment professionals.

It’s no secret that women, whether in the workforce or not, or with or without children, were particularly hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. And as the country continues to reopen and more employees are expected to return back to the office,  fully or on a hybrid basis, women in the alternative investments industry have been contemplating and anticipating their new routine regarding commuting, in-person meetings and conferences, all while balancing their personal lives.

EisnerAmper spoke to a selection of women in the alternative investment industry who shared their reflections on what the pandemic has been like for them, addressing the biggest challenges they faced, along with their outlook for returning to the office and in-person meetings. Conversations included what they are most concerned about and what they are most looking forward to.   

“There were two pandemics: one for those with children and one for those without children,” said Tiffany Orcutt, director of investor relations at Smith Group Asset Management.

Orcutt, who is based in Greenwich, Connecticut, worked remotely prior to the pandemic and will continue to do so since the firm she works for is headquartered in Dallas. However, like most other working mothers, she had to make adjustments since her children were home from daycare for the first few months. And while she wants to return to traveling for work, she admits that she does not plan to do so at the same level or frequency as she had done before.

Beth Mueller is a partner with Socium Fund Services, a woman-owned fund administrator in New Jersey. She noted “Pre-pandemic, the pendulum was at one end of the spectrum and then 15 months of fully-remote work swung us to the complete opposite extreme.  It’s somewhere in the middle that may hold the most ideal situation for all, and I think it will take time for our industry to achieve that.”

Although child care was always a concern for working mothers, the women that EisnerAmper spoke with agreed that COVID-19 forced a more open dialogue about the topic and brought to the forefront what many women have dealt with and juggled for years prior.   The interviewees echoed that even in the most equitable of partnerships, the burden most often fell on the woman.  

One example was when one of the women EisnerAmper interviewed recently attended an alternative investment industry conference in California and noted while “these types of conferences normally have a heavy male presence, this time, it was even more prominent.”

She agreed that a possible reason the conference had a more prominent male attendance was due to women having no or limited child care. But more so, after speaking with other women, she noted that some perhaps did not want to risk traveling and contracting the virus or get the vaccine because of the potential health impacts or ramifications on having children or on a current pregnancy. And while the vaccine has given people more freedom, there is a hesitancy to travel or even go to restaurants when there are young children at home who can’t or are ineligible to receive the vaccine. Orcutt raised this point and the question: “Is it worth the risk?”

Throughout the pandemic, some women said they had the support of their firms juggling their work and personal responsibilities, while for others it was more challenging.  

“We need to be able to work the way we want to work, and the way we need to work,” said Cindy Chen Delano, a partner with Invictus Global Management based in Austin. “Work flexibility in any space creates a better worker.”

Studies have shown that happier employees are more productive, more innovative, more creative and have a better morale.

Chen Delano has taken on an abundance of risk in the past couple of years by co-founding Invictus Global and going live during the pandemic. She said she likes being in the office when it’s necessary as the complexities of the pandemic have required a more nuanced approach to “face time.”  

And while women are all figuring this out as they go, they agreed what doesn’t make sense is a binary, black and white, one-size-fits all-policy that doesn’t consider everyone’s unique situation.    

All agreed that there are a need and value in meeting with clients, potential investors and teams face-to-face, arguing they are necessary for collaborative functions. But as the past 16 months have proved, it doesn’t necessarily mean having to be in the office five days a week. The biggest underlying concern of almost all those interviewed was that employers would push to return to “normal,” the way things were before the pandemic as if it didn’t happen and not acknowledge that things, life and people have changed.  And while they all have expressed they are looking forward to in-person events again, their participation would be at a measured, tempered pace.

In the case of Mueller, whose office has been back since early June 2021 full time, she and her team enjoy being with their coworkers again. She appropriately noted that, “There is a certain energy and rapport that comes with being in the office that you cannot replicate on a video conference call or through a laptop.”

A hybrid model, such as some companies are adopting, will be instrumental in demonstrating and teaching new hires or recent college graduates how to work successfully in a flexible, ever-changing environment, and how they can meet all the demands and expectations work will throw at them. In a time where inclusion is more important than ever and since everyone has had different pandemic experiences, the interviewees agreed trying to approach the conversation from another’s perspective may allow everyone to get to the middle area of a new office work paradigm – one that can lead to better and perhaps even happier workers.

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Elana Margulies-Snyderman

Elana Margulies-Snyderman is an investment industry reporter and writer who develops articles, opinion pieces and original research designed to help illuminate the most challenging issues confronting fund managers and executives.

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