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Women unite to cut into hedge funds' male thicket

February 6, 2002

NEW YORK, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Gentlemen, take note: Women are banding together to make fresh inroads into the clubby and predominantly male preserve of the hedge fund industry.

Lawyers, accountants and traders - yes, women who do everything from raising to managing money at New York area hedge funds - have formed an association to help each other dig deeper into a secretive industry long dominated by men.

The women are joining forces at a time the $500 billion hedge fund industry is booming and thousands of funds are being launched to meet demand from institutions like pension funds that want to tap into funds once reserved for rich investors.

Hedge funds, which sell stocks short and use borrowed money to boost returns, have outperformed money-losing mutual funds for the last two years. But for the right to use these techniques, hedge funds are prohibited from advertising. Such restrictions merely reinforce the culture of an industry where who you know is crucial to getting referrals for business.

With a wink to regulations that cap the number of investors in a hedge fund at 100, the new group calls itself "100 Women in Hedge Funds."

They underestimated themselves. Twice that number signed up for the group's first event - a discussion of how to work with the media.

The only men in sight were two coat checkers and one public relations executive who gave tips on coping with the industry's growing popularity and the press corps' probing questions.

The group now hopes to fill a void in a community where women have long complained about being excluded from the so-called old-boy networks that still provide introductions to jobs and investors.

And as roughly 160 women streamed into Morgan Stanley's executive dining room, hugging friends and exchanging cards, the group's success underscored some industry shortcomings.

"It is disconcerting to see that there is so much demand for this kind of event," said group organizer Dana Hall, managing director at Lighthouse Partners, a hedge fund of funds group.

Some attendees were skeptical about the group's aims at first, saying they did not want to segregate themselves with other women in what is clearly still a man's world.

"Frankly, I'm treating this like every other industry function where there is a chance to network," one executive said while standing in line to check in.

"Let's face it, we are all successful here because there were men along the way who gave us a shot, and in some cases, helped us. But if I can now help someone else, I'm there," another chimed in.

But this group distinguishes itself from other industry associations where a balanced checkbook is all that's needed to pay the dues. Here, women have to pay with their talents.

"Membership dues are to commit to at least one thing that you are good at," according to a statement written by Hall and fellow organizers Carol Kim, vice president at hedge fund Continuity Capital, and Sarah Dyer, director of marketing at hedge fund Trident Investment Management.

The next order of business is to build a Web site.

Throughout the evening the clusters of women crowding around the fruit and cheese plates were reminded to volunteer for something.

"We will have to collect those 'what I'm good at' slips and 'what I want to do' slips and our future programs will be dictated by that, Hall said.

Growth, the organizers said, will also come by word of mouth.

"When I heard about this, I immediately sent an e-mail to about 60 women I know in the industry," said Suzanne Currie, a partner at hedge fund Ardsley Partners.

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