Endowments/Foundations, Governance, Institutional Investors, Performance Measurement

Shortfall in Women CIOs at Endowments is Mysterious: Skorina

Executive search firm Charles A. Skorina & Company has reviewed the number of women CIOs at big endowments and finds the shortfall in the number of women in this role “mysterious,” according to a report yesterday from the firm.  Among 109 North American endowments with more than $1 billion in assets under management, the firm identified 20 women executives (18 CIOs, one director of investments and one CFO who liaises with their OCIO providers), representing just 18% of the overall community.

Charles Skorina, principal of Charles A. Skorina & Company

In addition, Charles Skorina, the firm’s principal, noted that when his firm looked at mid-sized schools (in the $500 million – $1 billion bracket) it found the situation is no better: “We found 10 females among 85 schools. That’s just 12 percent—a significantly lower representation than among the bigger schools.” He noted, however, that 12% may not be as bad as it sounds, because mid-size endowments are less likely to have dedicated in-house investment staff—either men or women.


But, as sobering as the static picture may be, the trend is even more important. The gender gap appears to be widening.  Looking at recent turnover, nine departing female CIOs have been replaced by men, while only three were replaced by other women, while just one departing male was succeeded by a female, the report indicated.

See chart of women CIOs at U.S. endowment $500m – $1bn AUM here

See chart of recent turnover among female CIOs at endowments with AUM > $500m here.

What explains this trend?

“Frankly, we don’t understand it,” Skorina said in a phone interview, noting that the sector in question is “politically-correct academia.”  “Their board members are publicly and prominently committed to hiring and promoting women.  Charges that they are favoring male candidates over equally-qualified women seem facially implausible. We’ve looked at various factors, hoping to uncover an explanation,” he said.

Asked if performance is the reason, Skorina responded: “Not likely!” He pointed to his firm’s latest five-year endowment performance study. “Women are nailing it,” he asserted.  Paula Volent (Bowdoin College, $1.6bn) has been outperforming her mentor, the revered David Swensen (Yale U. $29.3 bn). Colette Chilton (Williams College, $2.7 bn), Alice Ruth (Dartmouth College, $5.4 bn), Sandra Robertson (Oxford U., $4.3n) and many others are among the top multi-asset institutional managers in the world, and they are making their schools lots of money, he said.

When pressed on the question, Skorina—who said he was motived to conduct the study upon recognizing the number of women CIOs “clustered” at the top of core fund performance rankings—continued: “The only thing I can think of is that not enough women candidates are being introduced to boards of trustees at these institutions for consideration by other executive recruiters.”  When asked why this may be, he pointed to recently appointed Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen, whom he characterized as “spectacular” and whom he says was quoted in the press recently saying that when she was first called as a candidate for the Planned Parent presidency, her first thought was that she was not qualified. (Wen is a physician and former Baltimore City Health Commissioner. She’s also a Rhodes Scholar who began college at 13).  She accepted the role last November.

“As an executive recruiter, I’ve heard this time and time again from female executives,” Skorina lamented.  “And I’ve never heard that from a guy, ever!” He added that in his experience with women candidates for senior roles, very often when approached with the opportunity their response is they have to think about it.  “And they do think about it; That psychology tends to hold them back.”

In a recent conversation with a senior female investment banker/asset manager, Skorina said, she told him that as she was coming up in the bank she observed that when women showed up in morning they remained at their desks all day, barring a brief lunch break. “By contrast, the men showed up in the morning, stayed at their desks till lunch, and when they returned from lunch headed straight for a higher-up in the firm with whom to schmooze.”  

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