Dismantling systemic racism in the workplace is an effort that will require a fundamental shift in workplace culture and governance. After all, racism and biases rear their persistent and ugly heads in many forms, including fewer job opportunities, lower salaries, and less career advancement.
One of the first steps in healing the wounds of racial injustice is a willingness to engage in open, honest, and sometimes uncomfortable conversations centered on inequalities in the workplace. Nicsa’s Diversity Project North America invited asset management industry participants to engage in such a dialogue during a recent event focusing on authentic allyship. Nicsa and Diversity Project North America members can access the replay here.
Steven Duncan, Senior Relationship Executive at BNY Mellon, moderated the conversation, which featured a range of perspectives on what it’s like to be a Black senior leader, mid-level manager, or newcomer in asset management.
Duncan kicked off the conversation with the definition of racism. Duncan told the audience. “Merriam-Webster is updating the definition to reflect racism’s systemic nature, rather than the beliefs that result from it. With the current definition, one could falsely argue that since they don’t hold that belief, racism doesn’t exist.”
India Gary-Martin, Principal at Leadership for Life, said that racism is a consequence of long-established systems that contribute to racial disparities.
“People will behave in accordance with the containers that are created for them — so if you create containers of racism and systemic oppression, that's how people will behave,” she said. Gary-Martin continued, “... racism is what systems perpetuate, as opposed to the individuals who live within them.”
Maurice Tsuro, Director of BlackRock’s Global Accounting and Product Services team, said he views racism through a multifaceted lens focused on both individuals and systems.
“You have the systems that have been put in place to limit the progression of a particular group of people, but there are also biases ... driven by the environment that one grew up in, and it plays a big part in how people treat each other, and it drives behavior,” said Tsuro.
What It Means to Be Black in the Asset Management Industry
Gary-Martin, a 25-year veteran of financial services, gave listeners insight into her experience as a Black woman in the industry.
“Frankly, navigating the barriers of race is exhausting — and it’s something that we’re actually taught from birth to do,” she said. “That’s why, if you want to create change, you should ask people what they’ve experienced in the workplace and industry – because you can’t solve for something you don’t understand.”
Jason Tyler, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Northern Trust, described his experience as both frustrating and exhilarating.
“Our industry is phenomenal,” he said. “You have a profession where you can build wealth for your family. You can test your academic strength versus others. The frustrating part is, it’s still not a fair playing field in terms of how jobs at the upper end are disseminated. There are companies [within the industry] that have absolutely no representation of Black people, women, and Latinos at the top of their management teams — and that's still tolerated.”
To that end, Tyler said prospective employees should be wary of firms that take a marketer’s approach to diversity and inclusion.
“Throw away the brochures organizations use to highlight diversity. Force firms to focus on what matters, which is what the leadership of the firm looks like,” he said. “That is something that can be easily measured in a quantitative manner.”
Gary-Martin agreed, adding that a lack of representation is a red flag for Black employees, no matter how much diverse messaging a firm disseminates: “When people don't see folks who look like them in leadership seats, they think, ‘There's no path for me.’”
Tsuro said that if he had to highlight one takeaway for listeners, it would be the importance of allyship.
“Don’t be a witness — be an ally,” he said. “Join any groups or networks you can to understand what people are going through right now — it will help you become more empathetic. We need your voices to help create change.”
Justine Phoenix, Head of Nicsa’s Diversity Project North America said the organization plans to continue this important dialogue through a series of discussions centered around allyship and actionable takeaways. To find out how to become involved in the Diversity Project, click here.