In looking at this year's women in asset management list, one point is clear: Women are rising in influence in the asset management space, but are still underrepresented.

What are some of the elements in play?

Competence and confidence have certainly helped catapult this year's Women in Asset Management honorees to new professional heights.

THE CONFIDENCE CODE

A recent flurry of media attention has centered on a new book "The Confidence Code: The Art and Science of Self Assurance-What Women Should Know, by journalists Claire Shipman and Katty Kay. Creating a flurry of conversation on social media sites and discussion boards, the authors say that "evidence shows that women are less self-assured than men-and that to succeed, confidence matters as much as competence." In studies cited by the authors, men overestimate their abilities and performance, while women underestimate both. Their performances, however, do not differ in quality.

In two decades of covering American politics Shipman and Kay have interviewed some of the most influential women in the nation. They were surprised to discover the extent to which these women suffered from self-doubt. Even Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told them a year before her book, "Lean In," was published: "There are still days I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am."

The main question for Shipman and Kay has been: Why do women seem to lack the self-confidence that men have and how that can negatively impact women's career paths? These are big questions that merit a thorough and ongoing discussion. We all have daughters, sisters, nieces or female friends.

According to Shipman and Kay, confident people feel up to most challenges, and are likely to embrace more risk and action than most. They solve problems and make things happen. "The ability to make decisions big and small, in a timely fashion, and take responsibility for them, is a critical expression of confidence, and also leadership, according to all of our most confident women," said Kay and Shipman. "Even if you make the wrong decision, they say, decide. It's better than inaction."

MORE PROGRESS NEEDED

A quick review of the individual bios of this year's Women in Asset Management is impressive indeed.

While progress has been made over the years, in an industry that has a long tradition of misogyny, women are still woefully underrepresented at the highest levels. A quick visit to the Morningstar Investment Conference site shows that just four of the 38 speakers are women.

More girls and young women should be encouraged to enter the financial services industry. Women often have robust social networks that can be activated around a cause or campaigns.

They are often good at telling compelling personal stories that motivate friends and strangers alike to take action. Studies show that women's brains are wired to combine analytical and intuitive thinking. Shipman and Kay say it may be as easy as building confidence in our young people. "Instead of repeatedly telling your friend she's great, try encouraging her to take action instead. One little nudge might be all she needs," the authors say.

WINNERS EXHIBIT THE TRAITS

This year's Women in Asset Management honorees exhibit all the qualities espoused by "The Confidence Code" authors. Here are a couple of comments from industry observers:

Daniel Kern, president and chief investment officer of Advisor Partners, an asset management firm serving clients exclusively through financial advisors, met Pimco's Virginie Maissonneuve a few years ago in connection with due diligence efforts on the strategies she managed for Schroders. Prior to joining Advisor Partners, Kern was managing director and portfolio manager for Charles Schwab Investment Management. "I'd followed her strategies for several years, considering her a thought leader unafraid to challenge consensus thinking about individual stocks or countries, Kern said. "I was even more impressed after an in-person meeting with her, enjoying her perspective about investing while rethinking some of my investment positioning. I left the meeting admiring her as an investor," said Kern.

Tom Lydon, a veteran asset manager who started his career with Fidelity Investments Institutional Division 25 years ago then went on to establish his current firms, Global Trends Investments and ETF Trends, adds these comments about Joanne Hill of ProShares: "After 17 years at Goldman Sachs, Joanne Hill has transformed the complexities of the alternative investing world to much more palatable and easy to understand philosophy. She's a brilliant thinker with the ability to communicate about the simple and relevant strategies that advisors and investors should implement in today's market environment. The ETF industry has and will continue to benefit from Joanne's guidance as investors enjoy the ongoing development of these creative tools."

Bravo and congratulations to all of the women on this year's list. More importantly, thanks to all who work tirelessly to advance the profession, whatever gender or role in the hierarchy. Confidence, competence and passion can create a winning formula.

Marie Swift is president and CEO of Impact Communications, a full-service public relations and marketing communications firm.

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