The drive to increase diversity within the asset management industry has seen a large number of firms devote a significant amount of time and resources to the issue in recent years.
Though the industry is working hard to change, many company workforces are far from where it should be when it comes to gender and ethnic representation. In some cases, firms continue to ask new recruits to conform to deeply ingrained stereotypes the industry is so familiar with.
This was one of the key issues debated by five panellists on Investment Week's Diversity Debates series which asked how the industry can challenge its long-held ‘pale, male and stale' stereotype and encourage new and more diverse talent to join the sector.
Panellist Justin Onuekwusi, head of multi-asset index funds at LGIM, is one of around only a dozen black fund managers in the City of London. He believes the issue of diversity (or lack thereof) is self-perpetuating, and is resulting in many new recruits bypassing senior roles in the sector. "I know individuals who have refused to apply for a [senior] role because they do not see people who look and sound like them in that role or at a firm. They ask themselves ‘do they belong at the companies they work at?' Do they feel a sense of belonging?"
Meanwhile, Rose St Louis, formerly of Zurich UK, commented even as an investment professional with over 20 years of experience in the industry she "consistently" sticks out as a black woman. For many ethnic minorities and women in the industry it is difficult to fathom where they fit in and find a role model they can look up and aspire to, she said.
"Consistently, someone like myself sticks out a mile, because [the industry] is typically white and male, so it's really difficult to understand where you fit in," St Louis told the panel. "When I look around the offices of organisations within the sector, we see that stereotype in force. And when we bring in new diverse talent - talent that has a creative and ‘new' way of thinking and which can help us be relevant to our customers - we shouldn't dilute that talent by asking employees to ‘institutionalise' themselves so that they simply echo the brand of the organisation."
Diversity [is] being invited to the dance, inclusion [is] being allowed to dance, and belonging [is] being able to dance in your own way
Justin Onuekwusi, LGIM
Laura Bampfylde, senior manager, product development at at HSBC Global Asset Management agreed, stating that if the industry truly wants to change the face of its workforce, it needs to become more adept at recognising skills within a wider pool of candidates. Too often, employers pick the same types of candidates - those with a specific degree from a Russell Group university for example. Yet there is no reason why an engineering graduate, or a mature candidate could not fill roles just as well.
"Investment firms need to have the facility to train individuals and bring in a wider pool of talent at all levels, from other departments or industries" she says, noting that many managers are under pressure to fill roles quickly rather than wait for the right candidate. "At the moment we waiting for [younger] employees with the inherent skill and knowledge [about diversity] to work their way up and start doing this. It could be a long wait before we see any sort of real change in the workforce."
Onuekwusi agrees: "There is a very famous analogy, about diversity being invited to the dance, inclusion being allowed to dance, and belonging being able to dance in your own way. Currently it seems a lot of young people, particularly diverse talent, can't be themselves at work. And we really have to address that."