With the launch of #buysidewomen at the recent 7th annual Alpha Trader Forum (ATF) Global Summit in February, Eden Simmer, head of global equity trading at Pimco was one of five senior women buy-side traders who took centre stage to share their experiences on “A head trader’s perspective - organising the trading desk and managing staff careers”.
Eden shared her thoughts on dealing with the challenges of being a global desk head, what motivates her in her current role and offers valuable advice to the next generation of women who aspire to join the buy-side trading world like herself.
When did you start your career on the buy side?
I started as a junior trader in the beginning of 2008 - right at the start of the financial crisis. It made for an eventful initiation into buy-side trading while learning the ropes under extreme conditions, but also allowed me to have a reference point for one of the most volatile trading environments in our history.
How has the culture/environment changed over the years?
Technological advancements in the equity industry have increased access to markets and evened the playing field as well as bringing new participants to the marketplace. In addition, increased regulatory scrutiny and the shift of end-consumer investment styles are driving changes in how funds are structured and accessed. The role of the buy-side trader is evolving from the model that it was 10 or 20 years ago because of the dynamic nature of the market.
On the cultural side, we are seeing improvement from when I first started. Certainly, we have more data around gender and how it impacts recruitment, pay and promotion, and with that data comes awareness and tracking of certain behaviours and patterns. In any situation, the first step is to identify the problem, in this case the scarcity of women on the buy-side, which has been known for a long time. Now it has become prioritized because we can quantify how widespread the problem is in regards to career progression and how the lack of diversity negatively impacts companies. In addition, this open discussion and dialogue helps increase the visibility of the issue and drive change. Women in buy-side leadership positions can also prioritize working on these issues at their individual firms and increase their physical presence in the industry at large to ensure they are helping to drive the conversation forward.
What motivates you in your role?
That every day is different. When I walk in the door, I have no idea what is going to come down the pipe or what project will materialize. I've been fortunate to be able to work with a high performing and collaborative equity team that thrives on change. Being able to build a successful equity desk that can handle the large quantities and types of equity trades that a global institution like PIMCO requires, has been incredibly rewarding.
That sense of ownership and accomplishment drives us forward to think about the next challenges we may face and how to best prepare for them.
We're always focused on continuous improvement, whether they are existing processes or new ones. I would suggest that the key to career progression is to make sure the learning curve is always as steep as possible. Ensure you constantly re-evaluate your approach to technology and processes, and constantly interact with colleagues internally and industry-wide.
Eden Simmer (PIMCO), Cathy Gibson (RLAM) and Vernita Exum (Vanguard)
Eden Simmer (PIMCO), Cathy Gibson (RLAM) and Vernita Exum (Vanguard)
What challenges do you have in your role and how did/do you overcome these?
The constant challenge I face is how to prepare the trade desk and equity business for the constantly evolving global equity markets. This includes adapting to the shifting patterns of market participants and ensuring we are achieving optimal outcomes and executions for our funds and our clients.
I am constantly thinking about our footprint over the next five to ten years and how I can focus my team's resources on continual education and learning about new structures or products that could be additive to our trading toolkit.
Why do you think there are not more women working in buy-side trading roles?
I believe that it's due to three main reasons.
1. Women can be more risk-averse than men and are sometimes less likely to put themselves forward for an advancement opportunity or a new role if they don't believe they can fulfil 100% of the requirements. Their male counterparts are often more likely to raise their hands in this situation.
2. Men tend to have the networking advantage given the structural make-up of the industry. Many buy-side roles are more scarce with longer tenor at large institutions which usually rely heavily on recommendations and word-of-mouth.
3. Although technology has advanced tremendously in our industry, the legacy mindset around flexible schedules and working arrangements has not advanced as much. Perception around maternity leave and parental leave has definitely improved but often not to an extent that it offers women the optimal balance of work and raising children.
How do you optimise work/life balance?
I don't think there really is one way to optimize work/life balance but for me, it's more of an understanding that prioritization is paramount and that some things are going to fall through the cracks and you can't beat yourself up for that. Accept help from others, learn to delegate and release control, pick the right team if you are in a managerial position and really focus on what motivates individual teammates. It's ok to say no to non-value add meetings if they aren't the best use of your time.
At home, I try to outsource elements of my life that are not the best use of my time or do not bring a sense of purpose or fulfilment. I try to focus on the big things and each year when I'm setting my career objectives, I also set personal objectives that I want to accomplish. Most importantly, I practice self-care. I often find that women tend to put everyone first before taking care of themselves,
but to operate at an optimal productivity level, mental and physical health are of the utmost importance.
Can you share any personal experiences that have either helped you in your career in buy-side trading?
I have had experiences of having very strong relationships with other women in the trading industry and we have supported each other and helped each other to advance and I have also experienced the flip side of that, just as I have with my male counterparts. I believe that negative experiences are just as important as positive ones to help in career progression and development. Because of both experiences, I have been able to make conscious decisions along the way of the examples I want to follow, keeping in mind the managers and colleagues that I respected and still keep in contact with to this day. Only through supporting each other and not pushing each other down are we going to be able to drive and promote true equality in our industry, both in representation as a percentage of the workforce as well as in compensation and promotion.
What advice would you give to the next generation of women who aspire to become successful buy-side traders like yourselves?
Raise your hand for new opportunities for advancement and although you may not check off all the qualities on the job description, have the confidence in yourself to put your hand up and learn what you need to know. Surround yourself with people that offer support and honesty and that will hold up a mirror to you. Support other women, this is critical to break the mindset that because of the scarcity of women, only a few can succeed.
When success starts coming your way, make sure to reach back and pull other talented women up with you.