Being one of the only women in attendance at an ETF conference in Florida two years ago, Linda Zhang felt compelled to ask others she met if they too felt like a standout.

Sharing the same sentiment were ProShare Advisors' Joanne Hill and BlackRock's Sue Thompson -- both last year's honorees for Money Management Executive's Top Women in Asset Management awards.

"We were convinced there were other people like us," Zhang later told Investor's Business Daily. "We thought perhaps we can start something." The three decided to take action, and soon after formed Women in ETFs.

The group has grown steadily and now consists of over 1,000 members around the globe. This year, Zhang is leading the group's mentorship effort to speak at universities, she says, "to inspire more women to come into the finance industry in general, and within ETFs in particular."

Zhang has steadily built her own career in the asset management world as well. Having emigrated from Harbin, China to the West, eventually earning a PhD in finance in the U.S., she established herself as an institutional investment manager at firms like BlackRock, State Street Research and MFS Investment Management.

Closely tracking the ETF market for Windhaven Investment Management, she is interested in the challenges facing providers to come up with new or enhanced products that are cost and tax effective and more efficient to trade, along with products that provide exposure to previously inaccessible capital markets.

Zhang is excited at the potential for overall ETF growth. Compared to the $12 trillion U.S. mutual fund industry, the $3 trillion global ETF industry is still in its infancy, Zhang says.

"Most of the rapid ETF growth has happened just in the last few years," she adds, pointing out it's only a matter of time before mutual fund providers also crowd into the ETF space.

"Compared with traditional mutual funds, ETFs generally provide more transparency, efficiency and precision." 

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