Inside Private Markets: an interview with Manuela M. Froehlich, Fondsfrauen

April 22, 2024

Luke Hinchliffe

Marketing Director

In our continuing series of interviews to gain better insights into private markets, we spoke with Manuela Froehlich who is one of the founding members of Fondsfrauen, the biggest network for women in finance in the DACH region. Manuela’s career spans 35 years in international banking and asset management, with extensive expertise in global marketing and capital raising in Germany, London, Luxembourg, and Zurich.

Hi Manuela, it’s great to speak with you again. Would you like to explain in a bit more detail your role with Fondsfrauen and why it was founded?

Hello Luke, thank you for having me and for being a long-standing Fondsfrauen ambassador. I am a co-founder and partner of Fondsfrauen and am responsible for growth in Luxembourg and Switzerland in particular and, together with my two co-founders, represent internationally at events, support our own events, and act as mentor and gender diversity ambassador.  

In 2015, we started building a career network for women in the German investment fund sector. Today, we are active in Switzerland, Austria and Luxembourg and are open to all women and companies across the financial sector. Our goal is to advance women's careers and promote equal opportunities and diversity. We motivate women to fulfil their career aspirations and support them in achieving their professional goals.

Fondsfrauen recently published their fourth study regarding gender diversity in the asset management industry in the DACH region, in conjunction with KPMG and the University of Mannheim. The positive headline is that the number of female applicants in the fund industry is growing slowly, but there are still a disproportionate number of female employees working in back-office areas. What needs to change to readdress the balance?

It's promising to see an uptick in female applicants, but it's clear there's still work to be done to achieve gender balance, especially in more front-facing roles within the asset management industry. To address this, organisations need to prioritise fostering an inclusive culture, providing mentorship and advancement opportunities for women, and actively combating biases in hiring and promotion processes. Additionally, initiatives such as ours, together with our partners, that work relentlessly towards this goal can help shift the industry towards greater gender parity. We have recently increased our outreach to students to ensure that the talent pipeline understands what a great industry we are in and how much impact they can make.

Your website mentions you have over 4,000 members – do you know how many women from the private markets sector are included in this? Alternatively, what work do Fondsfrauen do with women in private markets? For example, I see you are running a Women in Private Markets Forum at SuperReturn Berlin this June.

When we started out, we focused on our immediate network, which consisted mainly of the traditional fund sector and liquid alternatives. Building on my roles within the industry, we ventured into private markets about four years ago. Although we don't differentiate between our members' activities in the public and private markets, I have noticed a significantly faster development in the latter area. One movement we are happy to support is the events organised by PEI or Informa that specifically highlight the many talented women, such as in Berlin. It also attracts more women into the industry. After all, you cannot be what you cannot see - so visibility is key!

Do the mentoring or buddy programs on offer cater for those aspiring to build careers in the finance or operations side of fund management?

To date, a total of 147 mentees have been mentored by fund women experts and female managers over the past 7 years in order to actively support them in their next career steps. In addition, a total of 36 young professionals have received support and advice as part of the Buddy Programme launched in 2022. Our mentors represent a very diverse background in our industry, so we are able to guide them in all areas and support all hierarchies from junior to senior level and across a wide range of functions.

Fondsfrauen also runs a ‘Fund Women Awards’, with winners announced in October I believe. I note that last year the deputy head of operations oversight at Amundi Luxembourg won ‘role model of the year’ award. Tell us a bit more about the awards and how people can nominate in the various categories.

In 2019 we initiated the first female finance award in Germany, as research proves that role models are important to advance women's careers. Women are not a homogeneous group; they have different personalities with different career paths and therefore require different role models. In addition, women want to work for companies that take gender diversity seriously. This is why we have by now five award categories: one for companies and four awards for role model, women of the year, rising talent and fund manager of the year. Every year toward summer, we start the online nomination process, where everyone can nominate in each category and as often and many as they want through an online nomination form with a few questions. We encourage the women to also nominate themselves, if they feel they meet the criteria. Last year we counted nearly 300 nominations, proving how important this initiative is. So, look out for the announcements in July and the award event in October.  

And finally... I must ask you about something mentioned in your bio. It describes you as a “USA-loving Bavarian who has a passion for rock music”. Please elaborate!

Oh my, you did read my bio! This is me in a nutshell.

I feel a strong connection to my homeland, which is why I identify as Bavarian rather than simply German. My fascination with the USA began during the 80s, sparked by my passion for rock music, particularly the scenes in California and New York. This interest deepened over the years, especially as I ventured into the financial industry. To this day, I am a dedicated rock and heavy metal fan and in my heydays, I attended around 120 concerts a year across Europe and the US. I should add that from 2005 to 2014 I worked in the music industry on the side as a band manager and looked after 4 bands. Since 2015, Fondsfrauen are rocking my life and I've been taking it easier, with around 5 concerts a year: Despite any changes, my heart will forever resonate with the sounds of Rock & Metal.

Thank you Manuela!

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