Our industry has always aspired to be inclusive regarding ethnicity, sexuality and gender, but it is only in more recent years that active steps have really been taken to pursue that agenda.
"I had never been so aware of my male, pale and staleness until about five years ago, now I think about it all the time," was a rather poignant comment by Wellian Investment Solutions' chief investment officer, Richard Philbin.
Having joined the industry in 1994, Philbin said he has worked alongside a long list of highly impressive women throughout his career and approaching conversations from different perspectives has enriched his team's depth and quality of analysis.
"The eight years I worked with Anna [O'Donoghue, during their time at Architas] was absolutely brilliant. We bounced off each other so well. She would ask fund managers questions I would never think of and get different answers than if I tried to ask roughly the same sort of question."
He went on to question how much of that was down to the fabled 'Men being from Mars, Women from Venus' or simply being different people full stop.
Formal conversations around diversity and inclusion (D&I) would have rarely, if ever, taken place back in 1995.
The City and world of investment management was largely a man's world (and a white, straight, middle-class man's world, at that) - as it had been for more than 200 years, with nepotism featuring heavily and few questioning the status quo.
According to FE fundinfo data, of the 347 individual fund managers listed as operating across the whole of the IA universe (or its then-equivalent) in January 1995, 39 of them were women.
Notwithstanding the number of assumptions made over names - the Johns, Carls and Davids et al were assumed to be men while the various Kates, Sarahs and Susans were assumed to be women, Investment Week's analysis did not account for team approaches with unnamed managers.
Compare that with Morningstar data (they were unable to provide comparable figures back to 1995) revealing 72 female fund managers today; one might argue that is not particularly strong progress over a 25-year timeframe.
Gary Potter, co-head of multi-manager at BMO Global Asset Management, cast his mind back to 1995.
"I think it has always been an aspiration that our industry needs to have greater participation from all different walks of life but whereas anyone with a sensible mind knows it was important, I think back then it probably was glossed over as an aspiration, without anyone taking active steps to pursue that agenda."
He praises the likes of Helena Morrissey and Nicola Horlick for their roles as "standard bearers" and helping push the conversation into other areas of social relevance.
There is recognition that seemingly women did seem to feature, albeit at two ends of the spectrum: in administrative or 'softer-skilled' roles, or they were running the show, Philbin said.
He also namechecked Horlick and Morrissey along with Nichola Pease - co-founder and chair of Investment20/20, ex-Mercury Asset Management director Carol Galley, former CEO of Alliance Trust Katherine Garrett-Cox and newly appointed CIO of Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM) Sonja Laud as among the C-suite women standing shoulder-to-shoulder with their male counterparts, but he conceded at fund manager level, they typically have a much smaller presence relative to men.
Jane Welsh, co-founder of the Diversity Project, is disappointed with the level of progress made over the past quarter of a century.
When she and chair Sarah Bates first launched the initiative back in 2016, it was done so in response to some reminiscing.
Having both started their investment careers in the early 1980s, working for a consultant and asset manager respectively, Welsh recalled: "We found ourselves looking around and wondered where all the women were.
"We both had a strong sense that when we started out, when the industry was much smaller than it is now, there was a higher proportion of senior women around and it got us to thinking why that might be.
"We have both been disappointed to not see the progress that you might have expected over that period."
As we know, today's dialogue is no longer just about male-to-female ratios but spans other often marginalised groups, or those not conforming to the shackles of the white, straight, upper-class male stereotype that had dominated the investment sector since day one.
Some 'differences' are visible, such as ethnicity or certain physical attributes, while others may be less outwardly apparent.
One issue with tackling diversity can occur with categorisation; it may make it 'neater' to group similar people together, but that invites assumptions that similarities may be stronger than they actually are, and is perhaps not entirely helpful if the underlying 'sub-groups' are quite different.
Meike Bliebenicht is lead product specialist in the multi-asset team at HSBC Global Asset Management, and recently was awarded Investment Week's Women in Investment 'Role Model of the Year' award.
She "is the proud owner of an ADHD brain" (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and makes the most of her neurodivergence by recognising the strengths it offers her.
Neurodiversity has come to refer to the way in which different people's brains are wired.
As well as ADHD, the term covers those with autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and Tourette Syndrome, among others.
Neurological differences are just differences, as is hair or eye colour, Bliebenicht said.
With regard to the workplace, a neurodiverse workforce will comprise people both with 'mainstream', or neurotypical, brains and those with 'non-mainstream' or neurodiverse brains.
Such differences affect around 10% of the population, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and often bring very distinct skills that are starting to be appreciated, she says, whereas 25 years ago might have been seen as conditions or disorders that needed 'fixing' or curing.
Estimates suggest roughly 75% of the population suffer with a fear of public speaking, yet for Bliebenicht, this is her sweet spot.
"I love being on stage," she said. "The bigger the stage, the better. It actually calms me down. The moment I get up from my chair and walk on stage to start presenting is one of the very few moments where my brain is actually calm."
She explained that often neurodiversity gets "mixed up" with conversations around cognitive diversity, disability and mental health, but she believes any conversation that helps raise awareness is welcome, regardless of the accuracy of the terminology being used.
Appropriateness of disclosure can present a challenge: some aspects of diversity are highly personal and individuals may not want them highlighting.
It might not affect professional performance but if it creates undue stress because the environment feels less than supportive, it might have negative effects.
Might a candidate require certain conditions for interview if they struggle with eye contact, for example, or need flexible working hours if rush hour congestion causes anxiety?
Is there a senior leader or ally in the business who 'looks like them' or might have trodden a similar path if they are nervous about coming out at work?
Perceived etiquette may be one reason for discussion not taking place more openly. One of the objectives of the #talkaboutblack campaign - an industry-wide initiative spun out of Diversity Project's ethnicity workstream - is to eradicate the discomfort of knowing what people should or should not, or will and will not, say.
Interestingly, even in the throes of research for this article, the number of permitted and forthcoming spokespeople was quite limited.
It begs the question, unless we hear from a greater number of voices talking about inclusion: do we risk a situation where we actually become increasingly exclusive?
Justin Onuekwusi, LGIM's head of retail multi-asset funds, cites four key reasons the asset management sector would benefit from greater D&I.
Greater diversity of thought leads to better decision-making and better performance; institutions should be representative of the customers and communities they serve; the changing economic, geopolitical and demographic landscape requires new perspectives to be successfully navigated; and that as a sector responsible for £7.7trn of assets and servicing 75% of UK households in some degree or another, the sector ought to contribute positively to society and reduce inequality.
An ambassador for Diversity Project's #talkaboutblack campaign - designed to identify and address the "kinks in the hose" that often prevent more black people from entering, and succeeding in, the profession and ultimately developing "a pipeline of black leaders in the asset management industry" - Onuekwusi said there is a significant under-representation versus other ethnic minorities.
Deconstructing the "unhelpful" BAME (Black Asian Mixed Ethnic) acronym was one of the starting points behind the initiative, he explained.
For example, he pointed out that 7.5% of the UK population identifies as Asian and 3.3% as black, compared with their comparable figures of 10% and 1% working in the fund management industry, respectively.
Grouping BAME individuals together into a homogenous group denies the underlying cultural groups to address their shared differences.
For instance, the stereotypes and language used to refer to a black person in the workplace are often very different than someone of Asian heritage, which he said is also often wrapped up in social mobility.
The four "kinks" #talkaboutblack refers to are pipeline, entry, career progression and breaking the aforementioned taboo.
With just 13 black portfolio managers, three heads of distribution and two black professionals in C-suite positions across the asset management space in 2019, clearly more work is due.
These imbalances are clear and far-reaching. LGBT Great, an organisation focused on the global investment industry working to develop all aspects of LGBT+ workplace equality and inclusion, believes the sector is missing out on the "cognitive and experiential richness" diversity can bring to its organisations.
An estimated 76% of the industry workforce is white, able-bodied, middle-upper class heterosexual men, yet this group comprises less than 20% of the total talent pool, especially in cities such as London and New York.
Matt Cameron, managing director of LGBT Great, points out that with five generations commonly working together in many financial services organisations, the need for empathetic and inclusive leaders is vital, with most 20-year-olds being taken aback that an LGBT+ network would even be needed in the first place.
He added many LGBT+ people typically demonstrate healthy levels of emotional intelligence, resilience, adaptability and individuality, for instance, presenting the HR rationale as abundantly clear, with the business case not far behind.
Credit Suisse tested a hypothesis of the financial advantage of companies demonstrating better LGBT inclusion and support, and found from 2010 to 2016 the 270 companies comprising their bespoke index, LGBT 270, outperformed the MSCI All Companies World index (ACWI) by 3% a year, while beating a comparable custom basket of companies in North America, Europe and Australia by 140bps annually.
Further, their return on equity and cash flow returns on investment were 10%-21% higher than the ACWI.
Credit Suisse's analyst note adds: "As usual in this field of research, we can only draw associations, not causality. Do better companies have better LGBT policies and attract more LGBT employees or do LGBT employees make companies better? Probably both."
Cameron points out while programmes of support for LGBT+ communities and their allies are becoming more commonplace, he would like to see more united efforts, particularly within global companies, where networks can become fairly inward-looking and fail to share their efforts between regions.
With companies both publicly acknowledging the problem and working together to address it, steps may be small and slow, but at least they are heading in the right direction.
Importance of inclusion
Andrew Formica, chief executive at Jupiter Asset Management and co-founder of Investment20/20, said a major headwind to change is that asset management is a sector that rewards tenure, consistency and track record.
"One thing we need to be cognisant of is given the low turnover in the industry the effects will take a long time to be seen. Significant shifts in the short term are hard to see happen when turnover in most firms is around 10%-15% per annum."
He added what he hopes to see is evolution to the point where it is no longer even a discussion.
"In the future, as companies continue to adapt, change and improve, it will result in inclusive policies, processes and work environments. Diverse talent will be recruited and developed as a result."
To the earlier point about breadth of voice, Formica said while most firms are now actively embracing the 'D' in D&I, the 'I' needs more work.
"The issue is that they spend less time focusing on the 'inclusion' part of the puzzle. Companies can bring in people who think differently and bring a different perspective, but if they put them in the corner and do not allow them to contribute, then they quash the benefit of diversity.
"Inclusion is just as important as diversity. Probably more important, because it allows diversity to grow."