scorecardBridgewater's chief diversity officer explains how the hedge fund is using its new fellowship program to create a pipeline of diverse talent in finance
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Bridgewater's chief diversity officer explains how the hedge fund is using its new fellowship program to create a pipeline of diverse talent in finance

Shana Lebowitz   

Bridgewater's chief diversity officer explains how the hedge fund is using its new fellowship program to create a pipeline of diverse talent in finance
Finance4 min read

  • As Bridgewater's chief diversity officer, Alan Bowser wants to boost access to career opportunities.
  • Bowser helped design Bridgewater's Rising Fellows program to build a pipeline of diverse talent.
  • Forty-five first-year undergrads will learn financial-services fundamentals and meet senior execs.

Alan Bowser sees his latest career achievement as "a chance to pay it forward."

Bowser, the chief diversity officer at hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, told Insider he was able to build a successful career in financial services at least partly because of the mentorship and sponsorship he received.

Now, Bowser is helping spearhead Bridgewater's Rising Fellows program, a three-week virtual program geared toward first-year undergraduate students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in the financial-services industry, including LBGTQ+ individuals and people of color. Other large hedge funds, including BlackRock and London-based Man Group, have made similar efforts to cultivate diversity in their talent pool.

Bowser hopes Rising Fellows will identify candidates for positions at Bridgewater over the next several years. But that's not the ultimate goal. Bowser said the program would also help participants evaluate their career options more broadly, even if they don't ultimately pursue a path in financial services.

Given that many students and young professionals miss out on the kind of guidance he received, the program is a way to start filling that gap and help students "think in a better way about what they want to do with their life," Bowser said, adding: "It may or may not be financial services, but they'll be making that decision from a better foundation."

Just over 300 students applied, and between February 14 and March 4, about 45 of them learned the fundamentals of financial services, spent time on career development, and met some of Bridgewater's senior leadership. At the program's conclusion, the fellows were considered for roles at Bridgewater and at the firms of some Bridgewater clients and alumni. Each fellow received a $2,500 stipend.

Leading Bridgewater's efforts to expand career opportunities in financial services

Rising Fellows is part of Bridgewater's broader push to increase diversity within its own ranks and within financial services in general. The industry has long been majority white and male, especially at the top. And like many industries across corporate America, financial services has recently faced calls to reckon with the barriers that professionals who aren't cisgender white males can face.

A 2019 report from the Alternative Investment Management Association (coauthored by former Bridgewater co-CEO Eileen Murray) indicated that women made up about half the average hedge-fund firm's investor-relations and marketing teams — but just 10% of its investment staff. Women made up about 12% of senior staff at US hedge funds, the report found.

Recently some of the world's biggest hedge funds have launched programs to address these gaps. BlackRock created the Founders Scholarship in the US, which offers internships and scholarships to students from underrepresented backgrounds who have shown strong leadership capabilities. And Man Group runs the "Paving the Way" campaign to encourage diverse talent to apply for positions in the investment industry.

According to Bridgewater's website, 46% of its employees are white men. The hedge fund is 36% women and 27% minorities, which includes Black and African American, Hispanic and Latino, and Asian employees. Bowser, who is Black, said increasing diversity was part of building a true "idea meritocracy," the term Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio uses to describe an environment where people disagree thoughtfully and ultimately reach better outcomes than they could individually. "That's rooted in bringing lots of diverse perspectives together," Bowser said.

Bridgewater will evaluate the success of the Rising Fellows program based on factors such as student feedback and whether Bridgewater's clients are able to find candidates for their internship opportunities.

Bridgewater's other diversity and inclusion initiatives include a partnership with women's college Barnard to financially support studying economics, math, statistics, and computer science.

Helping ambitious students make informed career decisions

Bowser graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania nearly 40 years ago. Since then, he's built a successful career in financial services, moving from Citigroup to UBS to Bridgewater, where he was previously a cohead of the Americas region.

At the same time, Bowser has sought opportunities to cultivate diversity, equity, and inclusion across corporate America. He's on the board of the Black Hedge Fund Professionals Network and the Robert Toigo Foundation, which helps underrepresented talent advance into leadership positions.

Bowser is most interested in more evenly spreading career opportunities. Bowser said he was a good student at Wharton — but didn't know what a hedge fund was.

He attributes his subsequent career rise in part to the mentorship and sponsorship he received. In a 2020 interview with the Wharton professor Stephanie Creary, Bowser said a former corporate secretary of Citigroup gave him his first job in finance, where he learned how the business worked and forged relationships with senior executives. Eventually, Bowser was able to ascend the ranks at Citigroup and land a job at Bridgewater.

Bowser told Insider: "I want to be a part of the effort to make sure that kind of opportunity, that type of engagement, that type of advancement is spread out and is available to everybody — including people who have typically been less represented in this industry."