A recently released global report on gender diversity from the CFA Institute, based on survey responses received from more than 5,000 CFAs, takes a close look at the severe underrepresentation of women in investment management and offers some suggestions on how to bring more women into the profession.

The report, “Gender Diversity in Investment Management: New Research For Practitioners On How To Close The Gender Gap,” notes women represent just 16.4 percent of CFA Institute members in the U.S. They’re best represented in Vietnam (43.0 percent), Romania (39.1 percent), the Philippines (31.5 percent) and China (31.3 percent). Seven of the eight countries with the highest percentages of women CFA members are in Asia.

Overall, “women as a percentage of CFA charterholders is only 18 percent and that number has been stagnant for two decades now,” says Leah Bennett, a contributor to the report and co-founder of the CFA Institute Women in Investment Management Initiative (WIM). In contrast, data cited in the report indicates that women represent close to half of CPAs and graduating business majors.

“We have a perception issue,” Bennett tells Financial Advisor. “I think as an industry we’ve done a very poor job of educating people [about its opportunities].”

Women in developed markets tend to see investment management as a male-dominated industry “where you work around the clock and you aren’t able to have a good work-life balance,” says Bennett, a vice president with Woodway Financial Advisors, a part of Westwood Trust Co., in Houston, “and that’s certainly not the case.” They also tend to automatically think of investment banking, she says, rather than other career paths such as private wealth and portfolio management.

In China, however, the investment management industry tends to be perceived as much more stable, says Bennett, which women find appealing. She also notes that many men in China are more entrepreneurial and don’t look at the financial industry as a good fit for themselves, leaving a wider door for women.

Bennett thinks the most surprising and disappointing finding of the study is that half its respondents don’t consider gender diversity to be an advantage in investment management performance, despite what she describes as “fairly robust data” from Credit Suisse and other industry sources.

Among CFA institute members, 69.5 percent of females and 42.5 percent of males responded that mixed gender teams of investment professionals lead to better investment performance results because of diverse viewpoints, while 11.5 percent of females and 26.6 percent said gender diversity doesn’t matter.

The percentages that believe gender diversity doesn’t matter are much higher among institutional investors (36.9 percent of females and 48.2 percent of males) and retail investors (44.5 percent of females and 46.6 percent of males), the report indicates. The investing public is less likely to have worked with women advisors or be aware of the gender-related performance data, says Bennett.

The report concludes university outreach should be pursued to build women’s awareness of investing as a career. More than 80 percent of CFA members make the decision to pursue a financial career while under the age of 26. Potential entrants to the field must be made aware of its flexibility and firms must be educated on the importance of flexibility in attracting a gender-diverse workforce, it also concludes.