When I joined the asset management industry more than a decade ago, an industry stalwart at a networking event asked me, "Where did you school?".
I took it as a genuine welcome from an established face, telling them my state school background and previous jobs in pubs, shops and petrol stations. He listened patiently, nodded quizzically and wandered off. Cue sniggers.
While he was almost certainly asking the question without conscious malice, his question made clear his assumptions about who ‘belonged' in our industry.
Thankfully, things have changed radically. Now, such opinions feel out of step with a dynamic industry responsible for helping savers achieve their financial goals. The vast majority of people I talk to recognise that diversity is key to building a workforce that understands the people it serves, creates fresh solutions and remains relevant in an ever-changing world.
Social diversity is key. No-one should count themselves out of pursuing a career in asset management because of their upbringing.
However, it is clear our industry is not as diverse as it could be. A recent report by the Sutton Trust found that 61% of asset management leaders went to independent schools while only 11% went to comprehensive schools.
It is unusual to gather information on the background of new joiners. I question whether we should. After all, nobody wants to be defined by their age, gender, ethnicity or sexuality - and the same goes for social background.
Shake up the make-up of industry
We need to be cautious that we do not rush to categorise people in our efforts to be more diverse.
A further challenge is negotiating the language of social class. We struggle to find the words to describe privilege, or the lack of it, and to agree common understanding of what it means.
But while someone's social background may be harder to describe or measure than, say, their age or career history, it doesn't mean that we can't take action.
Part of that starts with how we recruit. Firstly, we should welcome applications from a diverse academic background and cast our net wider in the universities we visit in search of talent.
We still need the best and brightest, but these don't only exist in the South East of England. We need a change in mindset among recruiters and a commitment to look further afield for young people with talent and potential.
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