‘It took me 15 years to meet a role model’: How a British Pakistani defied the odds in asset management

Mehvish Ayub is a senior investment strategist at State Street Global Advisors, the Boston-based asset manager. She previously worked at Barings Asset Management. She is also an ambassador for Reboot, a non-profit organization focused on ethnic diversity in financial services.

Here, she tells Financial News about her experience working in asset management as a British Pakistani – one of the most underrepresented groups in financial services.

Education has always been important to me. No surprise, perhaps, given that both my parents were teachers.

I grew up in East London and was guided a lot by my parents, who had emigrated from Pakistan. They were typical of the British Pakistani community of the time – fairly conservative, but strongly educational.

I attended public school and then applied to a local high school for A levels. Getting into high school was a game-changer in some ways, with less emphasis on the academic side of things and more on the fact to become a complete individual.

I participated in activities like public speaking, and there were other opportunities like putting on plays. Interestingly East London has a very large Asian community so this school was my first time being a ‘minority’ as it was mostly white Brits.

High school boosted my confidence at an early age and really helped me with college and grad interviews. It got me used to understanding British culture better than my friends who went to more multicultural schools in the area.

Because I was good academically, my parents assumed I would be a doctor. But they were very supportive that I didn’t want to do science and focus more on economics and politics. This was quite rare in the British Pakistani community at the time, where the only career paths that were truly considered successful were medicine, engineering and law.

Once I made the decision to study at the London School of Economics, financial services was one of three or four sectors I thought about entering for a career.

I haven’t always been in asset management, I have also had stints in banking and consulting. I started my career in a leading investment bank, then moved into consulting and finally into asset management. Almost 20 years later, I am now in a place and a job that I really enjoy, but it took a lot of travels in financial services to get there.

The London School of Economics was very diverse, as was the entry level of investment banking graduates. I didn’t feel like I was in the minority then, but I felt it more when I moved into advisory and asset management roles.

Mehvish Ayub, Senior Investment Strategist at State Street Global in Dubai

Siddharth Siva for the FN

Investment banks tend to have very large graduate programs, so you tend to see a more diverse mix of applications. But when you move into the asset management industry, it’s a much bigger niche and you’re competing at a higher level where you notice how the demographics change. I can’t think of a single ethnic minority woman as a role model for me for at least the first 15 years of my career.

At the beginning of my career, I participated in the search for managers. I attended many events in the City and visited different asset managers. Often I was the only woman in the room, not to mention the only Pakistani. I would attend a research conference and be one in three women out of a few hundred people in the audience. I have rarely met anyone else like me.

LILY Beware the sting in the queue for executives tying pay to diversity

Because I had moved earlier in my career, when a position wasn’t quite right for me, I would move on. There was only one very clear instance where I changed roles due to overt discrimination. Once I discovered that my level of pay was low compared to equivalent people doing the same job. This is why companies should be encouraged to disclose the gender and ethnic pay gap.

Recently, when I changed roles, I was not asked how much I was paid – I was asked why I would move. I put in a number and the company went over it. HR policies should aim to have a diverse list, but also frame questions in a way that avoids conscious bias when interviewing and questioning individuals.

I am aware that my story does not represent the majority of British Pakistanis. For example, this group has the lowest percentage of workers in ‘professional’ jobs of any ethnic group in the UK, despite being more skilled than the UK average. Only one in ten British Pakistanis will be in sustainable employment five years after graduation, well below the national average. And alongside our black and Bangladeshi counterparts, British Pakistani women are also the lowest paid.

This is why we really need to understand the nuances of race in the UK and realize that the ‘A’ in BAME hides many issues that need to be addressed.

As well as being an ambassador for Reboot, I have been involved as a mentor throughout my career and have met a number of young people from East London – mainly ethnic minorities. It’s an amazing experience to see the impact it has on their motivation and self-confidence to enter an industry they thought was out of reach for them.

I often wonder if I had had more role models from a similar background earlier in my career, what could have been different. Should I have traveled so much to find a job and a firm that I liked? Maybe not. Could I have been promoted sooner? Yes. Would I have realized sooner the full extent of my professional value? Probably yes.

To contact the author of this story with comments or news, email David Ricketts

Rebecca R. Santistevan