There have been great strides on the march toward greater diversity, equity, and inclusion over the past few decades. Thinking back to when I started my career 35 years ago, a lot of people got their first investment job because their father was friends with someone in the industry. In my case, I was a first-generation university graduate without that kind of network, who had no idea what she wanted to do after graduation. But I realized I liked math while majoring in chemistry at university, went to business school, and then applied for a job as a credit analyst at Sun Life. At the time, I was one of very few women in investing.
It’s certainly different starting your career in asset management today. We’re seeing more women and other underrepresented groups enter the industry, which is a positive improvement. But we still have a long way to go to overcome nepotism, unconscious bias, and the systemic issues that limit people from those underrepresented groups from getting an equitable shot at opportunities.
As a first step, increasing representation means engaging with women and other underrepresented groups at a young age when they are making decisions about where to go to college and what to study, particularly those who might not have exposure to the investment world. Organizations like Invest in Girls and Bottom Line reach a broader range of up-and-coming talent and share the possibilities of working in asset management.
Second, making hiring processes more transparent and fairer helps to increase access. At SLC Management, we’ve implemented best practices to improve diversity of the candidate pool, use diverse hiring panels, structure interviews with competency-based questions and are in the process of training all employees involved in hiring on how to evaluate candidates in a more systematic and un-biased way.
And third, as an industry we need to be supporting the development of individuals throughout their careers to increase representation in mid to senior level positions. If asset managers only hire people who have a certain number of years’ experience in the industry, that naturally excludes those who wouldn’t have gotten a foot in the door 15 years ago. The lack of diversity at senior levels can be demoralizing for a lot of people working their way up, and I think that understandably causes some of them to drop out. Why should they believe in their own chances to succeed, when there are so few leaders that reflect their experiences?
Overcoming that barrier means hiring from a more diverse pool of candidates with experience outside of asset management, in addition to giving employees from underrepresented groups a more equitable shot at promotions. The latter can be achieved by reviewing internal promotion and development practices through a diversity lens to accelerate the development of high-potential diverse employees. External programs like McKinsey Black Leadership Academy can also help to develop and engage talent with resources that might not be available internally.
In some ways, the pandemic has been a great equalizer on that front. Evaluation of performance is no longer based on presenteeism, or your physicality in an office, which often creates unfair advantages for those who conform with the dominant, established culture. Instead, it’s much clearer who is productive, collaborative, and creative through the outcomes of their work, without those unconscious biases getting in our way. On video conferences, for instance, everyone has their equal amount of space – from the CEO to the intern – and that encourages people to speak who may otherwise have been crowded out in-person because we can pass the baton more easily.
The flexibility of working from home also opens up opportunities to people who otherwise may have been held back in their careers, particularly women who have children mid-career or college graduates whose families live outside of cities. It is hugely empowering for anyone who may have felt sidelined, one way or another, in a corporate office environment. Structurally, there still needs to be support around this – for instance, by offering paid family leave to help new parents better care for their child without compromising their job security. Given this, we launched a new Paid Family and Medical Leave Program in the U.S., which offers 24 weeks of paid leave for caregiving or bonding with a new child and 26+ weeks of paid medical leave for an illness or injury.
Accountability is critical for tackling these issues over the long-term. At SLC Management, we’ve increased representation of employees from under-represented groups to 17% of those who are managing directors or more senior, targeting 20% by 2025. Over the same time frame, we want to increase representation of women in these roles from 23% to 40%. But to get there, we need to see greater engagement from people who are not traditional advocates of these causes – too often the responsibility for DE&I in an organization falls to the same voices. With further engagement I remain hopeful that the asset management industry will continue to become more diverse, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
The information in this paper is not intended to provide specific financial, tax, investment, insurance, legal or accounting advice and should not be relied upon and does not constitute a specific offer to buy and/or sell securities, insurance or investment services. Investors should consult with their professional advisors before acting upon any information contained in this paper.
SLC Management is the brand name for the institutional asset management business of Sun Life Financial Inc. (“Sun Life”) under which Sun Life Capital Management (U.S.) LLC in the United States, and Sun Life Capital Management (Canada) Inc. in Canada operate. Sun Life Capital Management (Canada) Inc. is a Canadian registered portfolio manager, investment fund manager, exempt market dealer and in Ontario, a commodity trading manager. Sun Life Capital Management (U.S.) LLC is registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as an investment adviser and is also a Commodity Trading Advisor and Commodity Pool Operator registered with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission under the Commodity Exchange Act and Members of the National Futures Association.
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