The ETF industry has been at the forefront in addressing gender equality issues, however, there is still a long way to go.

Research has shown empowering women in the workplace can deliver stronger financial returns. According to Morgan Stanley, companies which have taken a holistic approach towards equal representation have outperformed their less diverse rivals by 2.8% per annum over the past eight years, highlighting the importance of diversity.

Over the past two decades, the industry has been a major part of this change we are now seeing across financial services and is one of the most advanced in terms of diversity and initiatives.

Highlighting this, organisations such as Women in ETFs, which has seen its membership grow to over 5,600 in just six years, have been a huge factor in giving women a platform to showcase their knowledge and expertise.

Following International Women’s Day on Sunday, which saw 81 exchanges around the world ring the opening and closing bells in support of the initiative over a two-week period, we asked five leading women from the ETF industry what changes they have seen in the ecosystem and what more can be done to tackle the lack of diversity.

Caroline Baron (pictured top left), head of EMEA ETF sales at Franklin Templeton

In my experience, the ETF industry specifically appears to be more balanced in terms of gender equality than other areas of finance. This is essentially due to the fact that initially it was harder to attract people to this new area and therefore, it gave women a significant opportunity in a very innovative field. I remember in the early days being part of an all-women team and many of my peers are still in the industry nowadays.

If you look at the investment management industry holistically, it is clear that more progress needs to happen. The industry needs to find ways to retain more women, especially at certain stages of their life such as juggling a young family where a demanding role can be very challenging. And to address that, we need to better equip and support our women for those more demanding times, we need more role models and lastly, we need to empower women to have a voice.

In our society today, women are still viewed and expected to be the primary carers and this needs to change.

I come from a family of working women who have been well supported by their partners and have been able to thrive in their jobs and at home. For that to be successful, you need to set clear expectations and priorities and to organise yourself very well. You also have to accept that we are not perfect and that we may have to compromise from time to time.

Our industry could do better with more dialogue on the topic and showing examples of “normal” women who are successful at managing a family life and a career. There are not many role models in our industry at this stage and that needs to change.

Fannie Wurtz (pictured bottom right), head of ETF, indexing and smart beta, at Amundi

The ETF industry is one of the most advanced in terms of diversity and initiatives such as Women in ETFs help promote gender equality and women empowerment.

That being said, investing in education, talent fostering and mentoring should continue to be an area of focus for the whole industry. I see myself as a good example of my firm's willingness to promote women. If you look at the executive committee, around 20% are women and on the board of directors, more than 40% are women. Regarding the 150 top managers of Amundi, 28% are women.

I strongly believe that having a diverse team actually helps both the business and decision-making process much more powerful.

Hortense Bioy (pictured bottom left), director of passive strategies and sustainability research at Morningstar

ESG is a great opportunity to bring more women into the asset management industry. Sustainability is a topic that appeals to women and makes investing perhaps more meaningful and impactful.

I have the impression that the ETF industry is more diverse than the broader asset management industry. Whether the fact that the ETF industry is relatively new and fast-evolving might have something to do with that or not, I am not sure.

Sarah Melvin (pictured top left), head of UK at BlackRock

This year's International Women's Day theme 'each to equal' really resonates with me. I believe in giving everyone access to the same opportunities to succeed at work and 'each to equal' encapsulates this perfectly.

As we celebrate International Women's Day this year, I am asking you to join me by challenging any bias that you may hear around you. We can make our workplaces more inclusive and diverse, and in doing so, we will make our companies more successful and our colleagues more fulfilled.

Debbie Fuhr (pictured centre), co-founder of Women in ETFs and managing partner of ETFGI

Recruiting, developing and promoting women and diversity is beneficial to everyone. Empowering women in the workplace generates financial returns in the private sector. Research shows that companies with at least one female director have better share price performance and return on equity, and companies with more than one woman on the board return 3.7% a year over those that have none. Having at least 30% of women in leadership positions added 6% to net profit margin.

Furthermore, firms with female CEOs and CFOs have produced superior stock price performance, compared to the market average. In the 24 months post-appointment, female CEOs saw a 20% increase in stock price momentum and female CFOs saw a 6% increase in profitability and 8% larger stock returns.