The "taboo" lack of ethnic diversity in the investment industry must be discussed more openly, according to a panel of senior asset management figures, who warned the number of black people in the industry as a whole - let alone in client-facing or c-suite roles - is "chronically" small.
Not only this, they pointed out black people already in the asset management industry find it more difficult to progress to senior roles than their peers, yet management teams remain unaware of the implications of such imbalances.
The panellists, L&G Investment Management's Justin Onuekwusi, Willis Towers Watson's Marisa Hall and Impax Asset Management's Darren Johnson, are heavily involved in the #talkaboutblack campaign; a cross-company initiative launched by The Diversity Project which, so far, has more than 1,000 members across the investment management industry.
The aim of #talkaboutblack, according to Onuekwusi, is to openly discuss race-related issues and challenges within the industry, in order to raise awareness, but also to create solutions for people of colour who are enduring challenges in the workplace.
"[The Diversity Project was founded] for two key reasons: Firstly, to better represent the people who trust us to manage their money, and also because diverse teams create better outcomes.
"You can therefore link that back to investment and say that, therefore, you will probably get better outcomes for the investor," the head of retail multi-asset funds said.
"The diversity project is split into a number of different work streams. Some of those streams are underrepresented parties within asset management such as gender, LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender], and ethnicity.
"It's in that ethnicity work stream that #talkaboutblack was really formed.
"In terms of the 1,000 members, these are people who have signed up and said they want to support the movement and regularly attend our events.
"It is worth noting that it is not just black people who have joined; this is multi-ethnic. The steering committee comprises seven to eight people, all of whom are driving the strategy of #talkaboutblack on a day-to-day basis."
One aspect of ethnic diversity within asset management that is not frequently discussed, according to Johnson, is that, out of the BAME [Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic] community, it is black British, African or Caribbean people who are most-poorly represented relative to UK demographics.
He said this is highlighted in Mercer's recent Diversity and Inclusion Report, which found Asian and mixed race communities were roughly equally represented within the asset management industry compared to the general UK population, whereas black people account for 3% to 3.5% of the UK population, yet only 1% of investment management employees are black.
"If you unpack that 1%, and how many are in client-facing areas versus non client-facing roles, such a chronically small minority are in front office or client-facing roles. The majority of that 1% are in support roles," Johnson explained.
"In terms of c-suite employees, our research suggests the problem continues. From the 1% that we know of and the very small proportion of that which is client-facing, there is probably a handful at the absolute most from this.
"It is chronically small and that is something else we want to address. We want to equip people of all ethnicities to step up to those leadership roles."