FLASH FRIDAY: Girls Who Invest Generates Big Returns

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Seema Hingorani won the 2015 Achievement Award in Markets Media’s inaugural Women in Finance Awards, when her Girls Who Invest brainchild was just getting off the ground.

A half dozen years later, Girls Who Invest has succeeded and grown beyond anyone’s expectations (except maybe Seema’s). 

Seema Hingorani

Traders Magazine caught up with Hingorani, Founder and Chair of Girls Who Invest and Managing Director at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, for an update.

What have you been up to since 2015?

I went ahead with starting a nonprofit called Girls Who Invest. We had our first summer program in 2016 at Wharton, with 30 diverse college freshman and sophomore women from different schools across the U.S. I created a ten-week summer program: four weeks of training followed by a six-week paid internship at a leading asset management firm in the U.S., the UK and Canada. The four-week curriculum includes core finance and investment concepts taught by some of the best business school professors in the world, presentation skills training, interview prep training, and business etiquette training including what do you wear and what do you not wear? We also added a speaker series where every day at lunch, our scholars would hear from amazing women and men in our industry, across asset classes and including asset owners such as CIOs of public pension plans, university endowments and foundations. 

Immediately following the four weeks of training, which is all paid for by Girls Who Invest, our scholars put into practice what they learned at six-week paid internships at leading asset management firms around the world. And these are all front-line principal investing jobs.

In that first year, we had over a hundred amazing applications from women at many different colleges across the US, all from word of mouth. I literally just had a flyer. I made everything up which I realized is what entrepreneurs do. It was hard to get firms to sign up in the beginning, because a lot of asset management firms didn’t have college internship programs. Now they do because of Girls Who Invest.

In year two, we had 450 applications. The women told all their friends. And then we had a wait list of firms that wanted to hire women through our program. Then we added free online programs because our on campus program was capacity constrained.

And now in six years, we have put over 1,400 college women through our programs, and 70% of these women are staying in the investment business — getting multiple offers from some of the greatest firms out there, including Morgan Stanley Investment Management, where I am now. We now have over 100 partner asset management firms around the world hiring our scholars as summer interns. 

That 70% number is fantastic. I feel really good about that. We are changing the way our industry recruits talent and changing so many young women’s lives at the same time which is amazing. We’re also building out an incredible Girls Who Invest alumni community with the goal of helping these young women advance in their careers as investment professionals. 

And we are going to continue to serve even more young women. We’re getting pushed by great firms in our industry to do a London Girls Who Invest, an Asia Girls Who Invest, a Canada Girls Who Invest. It’s been unbelievable.

Talk about Girls Who Invest’s emphasis on diversity?

The diversity of our cohorts is really important. About 70% of the women are women of color — a lot of them are East Asian and South Asian women, but 20% of the women are Black and Latina women, which our industry doesn’t look like. And we get better every year. We’ve put out a target ourselves that by 2025, 25% of our cohorts will be Black and Latina women. We now have a fantastic new Head of Recruiting and Admissions. He knows how to do this. He knows how to get students in certain colleges that are not yet believing that they can actually do this job, and do it really well.

Our women also come from over 60 different colleges across the U.S., 25% of which are public universities, So this is not just about the Ivy League. And represented are over 50 different majors of study from English and Philosophy, to Economics and Finance and 25% of the women identify as socioeconomically disadvantaged.

We have many amazing men in our industry, who I always knew we needed to partner with to get this done, and several of them had never considered hiring a student out of college for their investment teams. And now they’re hiring our women. We’re going to continue to find gems out there through our application process and then flood the system with this incredible talent. 

For our alumni, we have been building continuing education type content and programming, and we’ve been getting grant money to help us do this. Most of the donations so far have been coming into Girls Who Invest from our asset management firm partners, but now we’re getting grant money from outside the industry, for example from the Coca-Cola Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

What has been your professional path since 2015?

I pulled out of the day-to-day running of Girls Who Invest when we hired a new CEO four years ago. I started a fund called SevenStep Capital, which was a seeding fund directed toward investing in women alternatives portfolio managers who wanted to start their own asset management firms. While it’s hard for anyone to raise capital to start a business, it’s especially hard for women to raise capital. And women are a hugely overlooked investment opportunity set. 

And it was in my raising anchor capital for SevenStep, that I met Dan Simkowitz, who runs Morgan Stanley Investment Management. I never intended to join a big firm ever again in my career. I loved being an entrepreneur and that’s what I wanted to keep doing. But Dan and I met through a mutual friend and we hit it off on all kinds of levels. I would’ve never joined if he didn’t deep down in his heart and soul believe that diversity of all kinds mattered for better business outcomes and higher investment returns. 

Dan loved the idea of my fund and he encouraged me to come build it on the MSIM platform. He also asked me to join the senior leadership team at MSIM to help enhance the firm’s culture where all talent, especially diverse investment talent, could feel a sense of belonging and thrive at the firm throughout their careers. So Dan and I wrote a job description together, I joined the firm two years ago, and it’s been fantastic.

On the investment product side, we are building a platform of commercial strategies to invest in diversity, equity and inclusion. It’s a massive commercial opportunity. I always knew that, with Girls Who Invest too. It’s not just about social good. This is about making your business better, making your investment returns better for your clients by having diversity of thought and perspectives on your teams. I also created and helped launch earlier this year a year-round junior investment talent development program where we focus on helping our colleagues become more productive, more creative, become better investors and want to stay at MSIM a long time. Our industry is doing a much better job at recruiting more diverse talent in but we’re not as good yet at retaining that great talent and helping develop and advance them. We want to take a leadership role at Morgan Stanley, rather than have our clients have to push and prod us for more diversity and transparency.