Research by Morningstar shows more women are working in defined contribution (DC) plan administrator roles—and they’re more likely to add key benefit options to their plans.
The study used a probability matching approach based on the first names of plan administrators surveyed to determine if the administrator was male or female, and found that female representation within the field had risen from 30% in 2000 to 50% in 2017. (The survey excluded names such as “Lee” or “Terry” that were somewhat ambiguous.)
Additionally, it reported that female administrators were more likely to exhibit better plan-governance attributes, automatically enroll participants and offer target-date funds (TDFs). Therefore, the study found that plans run by female administrators tended to run at a better rate than those run by men.
“Gender diversity is improving, and that increase is leading to better outcomes for individuals in these plans,” said Julie Varga, a product and investment specialist for the Morningstar retirement solutions group, in a recent webinar panel on the study.
The webinar, titled “Wonder Women: Why DC Plans Benefit from Female Plan Administrators,” featured top management leaders who discussed the research and explained how women are paving their path in the financial services industry.
Samia Khan, senior manager of investment management for PwC LLP, noted more women are becoming interested in finance and the world of retirement plan benefits. She recalls that as a student majoring in math and economics, it was rare to see female representation in those fields. “If you think about the typical class, it was very much male-dominated, but the trend is changing,” she says.
Suzanne Carroll, director of treasury at Amgen, agreed with Khan, adding that there are now more opportunities for women in the financial services sector than there were in the past.
According to the Forte Foundation, a nonprofit group that supports women in master of business administration (MBA) programs and partners with business schools, no business schools it works with had reported enrolling at least 40% women in 2005. By 2019, 19 business schools, including Harvard Business School, Yale School of Management and the University of Chicago, reported reaching this threshold.
“We are seeing more women come into financial analyst programs,” Carroll said during the Morningstar panel. “I have seen these be male-dominated areas, but more women are expanding into these roles.”
Yet, despite the advances, women still face obstacles in the financial field. One of the many impacts of COVID-19 was that more women have left the workforce. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), woman have left their respective workforces at nearly four times the rate of men.
Additionally, other subsectors in the finance industry have not seen the same the gains as plan administrators. For example, the Morningstar research found the percentage of mutual fund managers who are women (14%) had not changed from 2000 to 2019.
Khan said adding flexibility in hours, improving parental leave and increasing pay will likely help retain workers. And, she said, it’s important for leaders in the industry to address the issue. “As a woman, it came to my mind, ‘What can be done differently as leaders in our companies, so that things can be different in the future?’” she said. “How can we make it more of a level playing field?”
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