We’ve all heard that change starts at the top, but many leaders aren’t sure how to approach urgent issues centered on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). During its recent Fearless Leadership Symposium, Nicsa brought together a panel of forward-thinking C-suite executives who helped demystify the process of integrating DE&I into organizational culture.
The session, moderated by Jun Li, Co-Leader of the Americas Wealth & Asset Management Sector at EY, also featured executives from Amundi, BMO Asset Management, and Janus Henderson Group.
“At EY, diversity, equity, and inclusiveness are core to who we are and how we work,” Li said. “We would like to say this is part of our DNA. Our firm's leadership at the highest level has signed a formal statement to demonstrate our commitment to leading inclusively.”
“Most recently, I've been personally involved with our own efforts on the recent anti-Asian violence,” Li continued. “This takes a lot of commitment, but this is a topic that I'm personally very passionate about. Ultimately, I think we have all good intentions and want to do the right thing, but at this point of the journey, we know that’s more complicated than it sounds.”
A PIVOTAL YEAR FOR CHANGE
Kristi Mitchem, Chief Executive Officer at BMO Asset Management, said that the events of 2020 highlighted the extent of racial disparities in the U.S. — and the urgency with which the industry must address the problem.
“In order to be successful over the course of the next three to five years in this industry, we're going to have to meaningfully change the complexion of our organizations at every level,” Mitchem said. “Our clients are going to demand it of us, and I think their stakeholders are also going to be increasingly cognizant of diversity issues. We need to be fearless in the way that we tackle the lack of diversity in financial services.”
Lisa Jones, Head of the Americas, President and Chief Executive Officer at Amundi, said leaders who are embracing remote and hybrid workplace frameworks have the opportunity to simultaneously create more inclusive environments.
“This will help prevent women, in particular, from getting off the career track when life gets too busy with young families,” Jones said. “I get concerned, though, that you have to be seen to be heard. We have to think carefully about how to reach future leaders who may not be as visible in a hybrid work model.”
IT TAKES A VILLAGE: DRIVING OUT BIAS FROM ALL ANGLES
Dick Weil, Chief Executive Officer, Janus Henderson Group, said that all leaders — regardless of race or sex —must play a role in cultivating welcoming and respectful environments where anyone can succeed.
“I think it's important to say that as white men, yes, we've benefited from the system, and we have to recognize that and be part of the solution,” Weil said. “I'm happy to stand up for my part of the conversation. It will drive success for our companies, it's morally the right thing to do, and it also makes for a workplace that's more fun and more interesting.”
Mitchem said the pandemic helped leaders from all backgrounds stretch their imaginations around the art of the possible, citing the success of remote work as an example.
“Now think about your pie being expanded dramatically from a geographic and flexibility perspective to recruit and retain the very best talent in the industry,” she said. “I think that's exciting in terms of diversity.”
Jones spoke to how leaders can use education and training to bring employees along with them on the DE&I journey.
“I’m sure we’ve all been through unconscious bias training; at Amundi, we’re using education to take our employees one step further,” she said. “We recently kicked off mandatory diversity and inclusion training with the Neuroleadership Institute. We wanted to bring training that was really science-based to our highly analytical team to break through barriers of thought.”
The leaders all agreed that the current environment is ripe for cultural change — and said it’s crucial not to squander the opportunity.
“The crisis this past year has been ugly in lots of ways, but as it has also put our cultural values into focus,” Weil said. “We want to make the most of this moment, advancing much further down the road toward becoming a truly diverse and truly welcoming firm.”
Note: Although the observations contained in this work represent the best thoughts of the individuals comprising the Nicsa panel, they do not necessarily reflect the views of Nicsa or any of its member organizations. Matters addressed in this work may touch upon legal or regulatory matters, however nothing herein is intended to be or should be construed as legal advice. You should contact your own counsel in order to obtain legal advice regarding these or any other matters.