Top Black Women in Asset Management: Interviews, Career Advice

  • Senior Black women in asset management discussed working in a white- and male-dominated industry. 
  • The women addressed whether the industry’s diversity problems are fully understood.
  • In interviews with Insider, the executives shared victories and pivotal moments in their careers. 
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Pension funds, university endowments, foundations, and insurance companies control a combined $70 trillion in assets — and the majority of people managing that massive money pile are white, male, or both. 

That reality was thrown into sharp relief after George Floyd’s murder by a police officer in the summer of 2020. The killing sparked nationwide protests and prompted numerous corporate CEOs, including BlackRock’s Larry Fink and JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, to vow to do better when it came to diversifying their ranks and promoting equity. 

It also prompted Black professionals in the industry to speak about their experiences of not fitting the typical finance-industry mold. One year later, diversity statistics remain bleak — and a group of Black women who collectively control billions of dollars in assets on behalf of institutions recently talked to Insider about how and why that needs to change. Women- and minority-owned firms manage just 1.3 percent of the industry’s $69 trillion in assets, according to a study from Bella Research Group and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Being the first and only Black woman in many spaces she enters in finance feels both “proud and lonely,” Mellody Hobson, co-CEO and president of Chicago-based Ariel Investments, a $16.2 billion money manager, said in a Washington Post Live interview in February.

“But at the same time, I would say it gives you a tremendous advantage at times. I tell people I used to walk into rooms all the time in the financial-services sector where I’m the only Black person, the only Black woman,” Hobson told The Post. “I’m going to stand out for my ideas, my point of view. I’m going to be unafraid. I will be brave.”  

Thasunda Brown Duckett, the new president and CEO of New York-based TIAA, which has $1.3 trillion in assets, said at a May event held by the Stanford Graduate School of Business that she feels “privileged to have the opportunity to talk about being Black or being a woman because I’m trying to get the world to get proximate to who we are, so that we can change the outcome and the narrative of what is possible.” 

“I know that so many women and so many Black women still feel invisible,” Duckett said during the virtual event.

Insider spoke with eight Black women in high-powered asset-management roles, who talked openly about the microaggressions — subtle or indirect acts conveying prejudice — they’ve experienced throughout their careers.

The women discussed why they believe the industry has struggled to diversify its ranks and shared experiences that have helped shape and empower them in their roles. They also offered advice for young professionals in search of inclusive workplaces. 

The executives we interviewed vary from asset-management firm founders to pension-fund CIOs to the head of one of the largest university endowments in the US. 

Here are their stories. 

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity. 

Dekia Scott 

Headshot of Dekia Scott, the CIO of Southern Company.



Southern Company


As the chief investment officer of the Atlanta-based energy company Southern Company, Scott oversees about $24.5 billion in assets across its defined benefit and 401(k) plans, as well as various trusts, foundations, and other asset pools.

On microaggressions she’s experienced in her career:  

It’s been mostly from the external-facing parts of the role, not internally. For over 20 years it required a lot of meetings with prospective and current money managers, where we would all put our business cards on the table. My boss was a chartered financial analyst; my colleagues were CFAs, and I had that designation, while maybe a couple colleagues did not have a CFA. And usually the only person who they wanted to learn more about as far as their background was me. 

Everyone wanted to know what town I grew up in, what college I went to, did I have an MBA. And how did I get to Southern Company? The first microaggression was having to tell my story when I put down those cards. The other microaggression was them trying to go around me to achieve what they wanted to achieve. 

There were some men — or primarily men — who had done very well at bringing in new business to the asset-management firms, who thought I should call them back in one day instead of two. They wouldn’t call me about it, but they could call my boss at the time, the previous CIO, Roger Steffens. 

My boss called me into the office with those folks on the speaker phone. He said, “I’ve delegated this work to her, and I believe she can do it. Please don’t call me anymore about this.”

Word spread quickly about that. It happened one time that I was aware of. It definitely empowered me because a lot of times you need support from your manager.

On whether the industry understands why it has a diversity and equity problem:

I think we all know why. Whether or not we own it is another thing. As far as I’m concerned, the data speaks for itself. That’s one of the things Mellody Hobson at Ariel Investments has said: If you want to know your progress, just count the number of people of color on the external board of directors, the number in senior leadership, the people at the company who are at the officer level.

It’s a male-dominated industry and what some would call a good ol’ boys’ club. With evolution and more women going into the investment field, those numbers have begun to change. But the whys of how we got here, I think everyone knows it. 

Are we prepared to change it? I think it depends on who you talk to. I view this issue as turning a 757 aircraft in slow-course fashion versus just hooking a right in a Dodge minivan. It’s a tremendously large industry. It’s not going to make huge strides in a year or two or three. But we should make meaningful change. 

After the death of George Floyd, we had many companies make commitments to improve D&I issues across industries, not just in finance. And several were in the asset-management industry. That was a year ago or more that happened, but if you count the progress, you might be disappointed that the needle hasn’t moved in the way the company statements implied it would. To be prepared to make a change, you have to put your money where your mouth is and you have to be active.  

Kim Y. Lew

Headshot of Kim Lew, president and CEO of the Columbia Investment Management Company.



Columbia University


Lew is president and CEO of the Columbia Investment Management Company, responsible for managing Columbia University’s $13 billion endowment.

On a pivotal time in her career that made her feel empowered in her role:

There’s a lot of anxiety around board management. Boards most especially tend to not look like me. They tend to be very white, very male, and much older. You walk into the room very conscious, and that difference can be very hard. In a board meeting I got a really hard technical question about asset allocation and risk, and I could answer that question, and it was very clear that changed the dynamic in the room.

I believe there was a certain amount of thinking that, “We are taking a chance on this person and we aren’t even assuming she is good.”

I think when we get these opportunities, it’s because there is someone who believes in you. But that one person can’t carry you forever. They can get you in that door. I had to win over everybody else. And it was that moment when I realized I had won over everybody else.

On a time in her career when she wished she’d said no:

I’m a classic overcommitter. I’m not sure if there are things I should have said no to. I think there probably are. I think it’s the toll on my family. Every time you choose to give time to something, you have to take it from somewhere else. 

My husband passed during COVID. He was diagnosed with renal cancer last April and died in June 2020. 

I think to myself how hard I work all the time. Sometimes there’s definitely boards I’ve said yes to. I’m one of those people who every time a young person calls me up to meet, I try to take that call, even if it’s five minutes. I don’t think there’s a time when I haven’t at least given someone five minutes. 

That was me. I didn’t have a network. I was a kid that grew up in the Bronx. I’m glad I can do that. I think at different points in my life along the way I found a way, so I want to give that to somebody. But I do think there is a cost to it. And I don’t regret any of it.

On the resources Black professionals in asset management most need to flourish in their careers: 

I think they need to be given permission to fail and have it not be career ending. 

The feeling is that if I fail, that’s the end for me. Then you take less risk. It’s very difficult to be successful when you take less risk. We need to create an environment where they can.

The tax of failure for people of color and women is so much higher.  I’ve heard someone say, “I’ve invested in a woman-run fund and it failed, so I won’t do that again.” And my answer to that is, that has probably happened on a male-run fund and you didn’t do that. 

Tina Byles Williams 

Headshot of Tina Byles Williams, CEO, CIO and Founder of Xponance.



Xponance


Williams is the CEO, CIO, and founder of Xponance, a Philadelphia-based money manager with more than $12 billion under management.  

On microaggressions she’s experienced in her career:  

I’m fully aware that when you ask the random person, ‘What comes to mind when you think of an investment manager?’ I’m pretty sure that the image that comes to mind doesn’t look like me. It probably doesn’t look like a woman, and it surely doesn’t look like a Black woman. That is the opportunity and the burden. What you have to fight through is that predisposition. No, I don’t look like the standard issue, but I can compete. 

Sometimes you are marginalized. I remember early in my career, I was competing against a firm run by a man, and one allocator said, “I’ll give the man the business because he has a family to feed.”

One of the struggles is to break through their presumptions through competence at the end of the day — through people’s presumptions about different roles that women should play or their presumptions about what an investment manager should look like. 

It’s a burden in that there’s an additional step to break through the presumption. But I’d say it’s an opportunity because it’s always good to exceed people’s expectations. 

Cheryl Alston

Headshot of Cheryl Alston, CIO of the Employees’ Retirement Fund of the City of Dallas



Dallas ERF


Alston is executive director and CIO of the Employees’ Retirement Fund of the City of Dallas, which has $3.9 billion in assets.  

Advice for young, Black professionals seeking an inclusive workplace:

If I were going into a company, I would look at their board and senior team and whether they have a diverse group of leaders. Do they have a program where they formally or informally assign mentors to help you through? And do they have a training or continuing-education program to help you grow? 

As professionals grow within the organization, one of the things we look at is ownership. What is the process to get ownership? We are always a little wary when ownership is concentrated among one or two people. People want to work at a company where they have a stake in it — and eventually be where they are making decisions.

The firms that share ownership tend to have more longtime workers.

On the resources Black professionals in asset management most need to flourish in their careers:  

I really think they need mentors. That’s one of the things I will say has helped me from when I started this position: someone who I can talk to and they can help me think through some of the difficult issues and then I can, in turn, help others. When I first started, there were a few mentors who really helped me navigate this asset-management world, and it’s been extremely helpful. 

One of them is definitely Kneeland Youngblood. He is the CEO of Pharos Capital Group. In 2008, it was tough. He said, “This is one of the greatest buying opportunities ever.” In 2009, our return was over 30%. 

Last year, during the pandemic, I feel like I had that calm. I thought, let’s see where we can take opportunities and grow the fund, and the fund has grown tremendously. (The one-year return for the Dallas Employees’ Retirement Fund was 24.07%, as of May 31.

JoAnn H. Price

Headshot of JoAnn Price, co-founder and managing partner at Fairview Capital Partners.



Fairview Capital Partners


Price is the cofounder and managing partner at Fairview Capital Partners, a West Hartford, Connecticut-based private-equity and venture-capital fund-of-funds manager serving institutional investors. Fairview has about $10 billion in assets under management since inception. 

Advice for young Black professionals seeking an inclusive workplace:

You cannot go in naively. You’ve got to go in knowing that you may have a variety of interactions and things that you may confront.

The second thing is, you have to make sure that you have a disposition that demands respect for who you are, what you bring to the table, what you’re trying to do. You may be new and you’re building your career, or wherever you are in the career ladder, but you have to go in with confidence that you can do well, that you can succeed, that you can build. And you have to do the work. 

You also have to be realistic about what you might confront. So you need mentors and people that will give you some advice. And if you have a potential mentor within the organization of any color, that mentor will be very important in your career. You don’t have to pretend to be something you’re not. Be who you are. Because people are looking for that, and if they don’t see that, they are like, “Who are you?” A mentor should not have to figure that out.

Dominique A. Cherry 

Headshot of Dominique Cherry, head of capital markets at Philadelphia Board of Pensions & Retirement.



Philadelphia Board of Pensions & Retirement


Cherry is the head of capital markets at Philadelphia Board of Pensions and Retirement, which has $8.6 billion in defined benefit and deferred-compensation assets.

On a time in her career when she felt empowered in her role:

Particularly early in my career, I didn’t always feel that my voice was considered valid. I didn’t always feel that I belonged in a space where, at times, I was the only woman and/or the only person of color in the room. That was a little intimidating. So I found myself waiting for permission or waiting for the opportunity to share my thoughts or ask questions. And quite honestly, sometimes that opportunity just never came. 

What I decided to do differently was, I knew I was better than that, and I knew that my voice did matter. So I began to do things like attend women’s-empowerment conferences and networking and working with other women who may have been experiencing the same concerns. I wanted to hear the conversations and share thoughts on the intersectionality of being a person of color and being a woman and how people were dealing with that.

As I matured, I became more aware of issues and built confidence. I don’t have those issues anymore. I unapologetically take up space. You just make a decision that you’re going to take up as much space as needed until that point that your presence is recognized, your voice is heard, and hopefully you can bring a couple of young people along the way with you.  

Angela Miller-May

Headshot of Angela Miller-May, CIO of Chicago Teachers' Pension Fund.



Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund


Miller-May is the chief investment officer of the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund, which has $13 billion in total assets.

On a time in her career when she wished she’d said no:

I wish that there was a time in my career when I felt that I had the right to say no.  My career has been about saying yes because I was afraid to say no to any opportunity that came my way. I think that the fear comes from thinking that there won’t be another opportunity, as if you only get one shot to shine and that you need to take advantage of every opportunity.

Saying yes has been beneficial for me, but it is the exhausting story of having to do more, be more, or accomplish more because you are a Black woman in an industry where, many times, you’re the only Black woman in the room.

I would like to think that I’ve grown into a place in my career when I can say no, but habits are hard to break.

Advice for young Black professionals seeking an inclusive workplace:

My advice would be to do your homework on any organization that you are thinking about joining. Do they have a stated mission, a vision, or core values? Have they won awards that validate their culture in the industry? What does their employee turnover look like, from senior leaders to entry-level staff?

Do they pose questions in your interview about how you deal with difficult people, challenging situations, or pressured environments several times and in several different ways? If you’re wondering whether something is going on, it probably is. 

Research their diversity data and employee makeup. Research any diversity initiatives, community outreach, or employee-training programs. Do they have a diversity leader, a diversity committee or even unconscious-bias training? Do they engage with organizations and groups that encourage diversity and inclusion?

Again, do your homework and think of yourself as the asset that you need to protect in this situation. If you’re looking for career growth and personal growth, look to organizations that will foster that with a diverse and inclusive culture.

Michaela Edwards

Headshot of Michaela Edwards, partner and portfolio manager at Capricorn Investment Group.



Capricorn Investment Group


Edwards is a partner and portfolio manager at Palo Alto, California-based Capricorn Investment Group, which manages more than $8 billion in assets for family offices, foundations, sovereign wealth funds, and pension funds in Europe and the US, as well as the assets of the billionaire tech entrepreneur Jeff Skoll’s family office and the Skoll Foundation. Edwards was previously a senior portfolio manager for Norges Bank Investment Management, the sovereign wealth fund of Norway. 

On a time in her career when she wished she’d said no:

Many a time. Especially when people have asked me to get coffee or take notes. I am not here to make coffee or take notes.

Part of this is also the female experience. I don’t want to make general statements, but to not be afraid of not being liked. We’re not here to be liked, and we’re so afraid of not being liked and not being kind. We’re almost trained to be kind, right? If somebody asks you for something, it almost takes a lot to say no. But you can do that in a very nice way. And some of that just takes time and experience and getting some maturity. But I wish I had done that earlier.

On a pivotal time in her career that made her feel empowered in her role:

There’s been several, but I think one lesson that’s been pivotal for me to understand is that I have to ask for a seat at the table, and I have to use my agency to speak up. 

Very recently, in the last few years, we were hiring, and I was in the room when we were discussing an offer to make to someone who came from an underrepresented group. Someone said, “I think this person can take this offer at a certain number.” And I said, well, it’s not about what that person will accept. It’s about what the role and the job is worth. And we’re paying everybody else this number. 

And for me, in that moment, to be able to use my voice and to be heard — to almost be surprised that I was heard —  was important to me because it meant I need to use more of my agency in the rooms that I am in and the tables I sit at. I need to use my voice at the level I’m at now to weigh it in the right direction and speak up and not be so afraid of saying something or correcting something that I think is unjust. So that was powerful to me, for my self-realization.