In the first article of the series, acting editor Lauren Mason speaks to LGIM’s head of retail multi-asset funds Justin Onuekwusi about the importance of the campaign, and the three phrases he has chosen to best portray his identity
"It started as a blog written by Gavin [Lewis] that repeated the phrase "I am" in relation to statistics and stereotypes. I read it and immediately associated, almost line-for-line, my lived experience and all of the things that I have felt. It was a powerful moment," explained LGIM's head of retail multi-asset funds Justin Onuekwusi.
"Gavin, Darren [Johnson] and I had a discussion over the course of the weekend and that is when we put #IAM into action. On LinkedIn, my first post about the campaign got almost 300,000 views. I was blown away by the impact it had on so many people, and how many people participated."
The concept of the campaign is for black members of the asset management community, and allies, to hold a sign with three key attributes describing themselves in order to "rewrite their own narratives".
Below, the fund manager discusses his own contribution to the campaign and why he chose his three key characteristics.
#IAM… A Father
"This one is really important to me. I grew up in a single parent household with my younger brother in Manchester and I did not have many male role models around. So, throughout my life - even as a young boy - I always said that if and when I get to be a father I will do the best job that I possibly can.
"That said, I had a great role model in my mum - she is my inspiration. We went through hard times, and through them all, she taught me a number of things. Firstly, she taught me the importance of education, because that is something that can positively impact your social mobility and that nobody can take away from you.
"Secondly, she taught me the merits of hard work. I think people confuse hard work with focusing on technical skills - how to build spreadsheets or investment models, for example. But you have to work hard at other things too, particularly if you are further down the social mobility spectrum. You have to work extremely hard to form bonds and build relationships, which is always more difficult when you are different. Networking is forming meaningful connections, not just handing out 5,000 business cards which is what I thought it was before I heeded my mum's advice.
"The third big lesson I learned from her is resilience. Now that I am a father myself - even though I am not a single parent - I have a new appreciation of how hard it must have been to be the sole parent; how mentally and emotionally exhausting it must be.
"You must have resilience to instil all-important values into your children, particularly when you are in a less lucrative environment and when there are lots of distractions outside of the home.
"Over the years I have seen my mum struggle, and she has always bounced back in a way that I hoped has rubbed off on me and made me who I am today."
#IAM… A Listener
"Since I first started in the industry 20 years ago, I always wanted to help people - which I thought I could do through resilience and determination. But over time, I have realised in order to help you have to empathise, and you can only really do that by listening. But really listening, is a skill in itself and one that I am still working on.
"Having been a mentor for a number of years, I recently launched a mentoring circle, which is sponsored by #TalkAboutBlack, called ‘The M Circle'.
"That has really allowed me to hear the voices of the people starting in our industries and to understand the challenges and difficulties they are going through. Once you can listen you can empathise, and only then can you offer them the advice that is necessary to navigate some of these challenges.
"This also rings true as a manager. When you manage people, it is easy to adopt a certain thought process and do things in a particular way. But one thing I have realised since becoming a better listener is that everybody is different and you can manage individuals in different ways, based on their needs. Being a good listener is incredibly important from a human, and business, perspective."
#IAM… Determined to create change
"Being a fund manager is a great job to have and I feel very privileged. But I want to take it a step further by really driving industry change, and creating an inclusive industry with a level playing field that everybody wants to work in.
"We have spoken about diversity a lot recently. But we need to take it a step further and talk about inclusion and, beyond that still, belonging. Everybody adapts to corporate culture when they are in the workplace, but the more different you are, the more new behaviours you have to adopt.
"This is really important to remember because it is the reason why people struggle to feel like they belong in our organisations; because they are having to change themselves so much - whether it is their mannerisms, or whether it is changing the way they would react in certain situations. Effectively, this entails being less authentic, and eventually that takes its toll on people.
"Businesses are now starting to recognise this, and it goes beyond the individuals changing their behaviour. Now, senior people in the same corporate culture, with fewer authenticity struggles, need to adjust their behaviour as well. They need to be more inclusive and encourage a feeling of belonging. If they do not, we are still going to be in this situation in 20 years' time, where we still only have 12 black fund managers in the UK and two black people in sales roles and C-suite roles.
"Only 10% of fund managers are women. These are horrendous statistics. If we are going to change that, corporate culture has to change. And that is actually one big benefit of the pandemic - it has proven that corporate culture can change and adapt to different situations. It has taken a crisis to show this, and I hope culture does not snap back to what it once was."