Anita Costa is IFM’s newest Investment Director in Active Equities, having joined the Small Cap team in January. With more than 20 years’ experience working in financial markets, we asked Anita about the successful career she has built
and the path that led her to IFM. With recent International Women’s Day celebrations still fresh in our minds, we also asked Anita for her thoughts on the challenge of increasing female representation on company boards and her advocacy
of encouraging and enabling more women to embark on rewarding careers in investment management.
How did your career in financial markets start?
Since my early high school years, I’ve had a strong interest in economics and how the financial world around me operates. STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects were my strong suit.
During my time as a university student, I got my first taste of financial markets through a part-time position I secured at an investment bank. I loved the pace, the company deals and the mechanics of each transaction, and I soon knew I wanted
to immerse myself in this field.
Over the following two decades, I went on to roles at both sell side and buy side firms. During this time, I juggled growing up and dealing with life's challenges with bringing two daughters into the world. They were very busy years. I recently
took an 18-month break from formal work to focus on my children and family and a lot of “life admin” that had built up over time – managing competing priorities and finding time to do everything is always a challenge.
Who or what inspired your studies and career?
My mother always worked outside the home - sometimes part-time, sometimes full-time. She drilled into me from a young age the importance of financial independence, as well as the mental stimulation and social enjoyment that work can offer. She
was amazing at balancing work with everything else that went on in the lives of my siblings and me.
During one of my early roles at Salomon Smith Barney (then taken out by Citigroup), I was part of a group of women, fresh out of university, who all started working at the same time. Together we shared the experience of learning and immersing
ourselves in the roles we had embarked upon – we worked hard and played hard. Many of these women are still part of my network today, working in various roles across the markets. It has been great to have the support of these peers and
share the highs and lows as our careers have progressed.
What attracted you to joining the IFM team?
There were a number of reasons I was attracted to working with IFM, starting with the role itself. I am passionate about investment management, especially working with smaller companies. I enjoy meeting management teams and business founders to
understand how their company fits into the world and where they want to take the business. I love the analytical side of drilling down into a company’s financials and monitoring financial markets and the associated nuances.
The IFM team is well-established and operates with a relatively flat structure with balanced gender representation. The culture of the team and the firm was also a big drawcard - we spend so many hours of our life working, we need to be happy
in our workplace.
How have you seen the consideration of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues in investment decisions grow in prominence?
ESG is coming more and more to the fore of people's focus in investment decision making. A focus on critical “E” and “S” factors is important, but a strong focus on the "G" is crucial to improved performance around environmental
and social factors.
Gender diversity is a prominent and important ESG theme in relation to long-term company performance – particularly with respect to increasing female representation on company boards and executive management teams. Throughout my career,
I have witnessed progress, albeit very slow, towards greater gender balance, but many obstacles remain, and we still have a long way to go.
We also need diversity more broadly, in people’s skills, experiences and perspectives. Greater gender diversity helps achieve this, but there are other dimensions of diversity to consider, too. Diversity strengthens decision making and helps
to avoid ‘group think’, which limits discussion, knowledge sharing and our ability to learn.
What’s the current state of gender equity across ASX-listed company boards? Is change happening fast enough? What will help accelerate change?
Female representation among non-executive directors serving on ASX 300 boards was 9.6% back in 2005.2 More than 15 years later, at the end of 2021, there was 32.7% female representation on ASX 300 company boards.2 This is
progress, however, I’m conscious of the growing propensity for companies to appoint from the existing pool of female directors, which can lead to workload issues.3 Returning to the same talent pool is not sustainable, and
I think we must maintain a strong focus on expanding the pool of high quality, suitably skilled female directors with varied backgrounds.
The pace of change is not likely to speed up in the short term, and I think improvements over time are dependent on making structural changes now, such as improving financial literacy and encouraging girls to select STEM subjects in high school.
We also need to improve financial empowerment for women through policies that better support their participation in the workforce and our economy – I think this will help to build the pipeline of women into business, investment and government
And we need to encourage women from an early age to network - you can’t be what you can’t see.
Speaking of investment talent pipelines, why are you such a strong advocate for encouraging more women into investment management careers?
There is a growing body of research indicating that female investment managers or teams with balanced gender diversity are more likely to generate competitive returns for investors. I think the IFM Small Caps team is testament to that!
I think investment management is a really interesting, challenging and rewarding role that not enough young women consider when they’re thinking about a career and choosing subjects.
I’m obviously a little biased towards roles in listed markets, but there is a range of roles across various asset classes that offer opportunities to be analytical, meet new people leading innovative companies, and to be an engaged and an
integral part of the economy around us.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘break the bias’. What does this mean to you and how do we overcome it?
One of the barriers to greater gender diversity and equity in industry is unconscious bias – it’s everywhere. Breaking it down will be a slow process that starts with being aware of it.
When we are aware, we can interrupt it. It disproportionately affects women, but it’s not only women who need to be aware and to disrupt it. Men can be important advocates and agents of change, too, and we need them to recognise that there
is an issue and actively work to enable more women to sit at and bring value to the decision-making table.
1 Many are called, few are chosen. An analysis of the composition of ASX 300 boards from 2005 to 2020. Ownership Matters, October 2020 https://ownershipmatters.com.au/many-are-called-few-are-chosen
2 Australian Institute of Company Directors, https://aicd.companydirectors.com.au/advocacy/board-diversity/statistics
3 Many are called, few are chosen. Ownership matters, 2020.