DEI: Are We Going Backwards?

By Nicsa Admin posted 19 days ago


Are our strides towards a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive industry being sustained or regressing? Nicsa’s Fearless Leadership Symposium tackled this hard-hitting question with an esteemed panel including Tommy Arnold, Principal, FSO Consulting Wealth & Asset Management, Ernst & Young LLP; Omar Aguilar, CEO and CIO, Schwab Asset Management; and Michelle Thompson-Dolberry, Chief DEI Officer, MFS.

The discussion on whether we are making progress in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) highlighted both positive strides and significant challenges. The conversation was centered around the pressing question: "Are we going backwards?" Here are the key points from the discussion:

1. Challenges and Setbacks

  • Complexity and Distractions: There is an increased complexity in addressing DEI issues due to political polarization and societal distractions, making it more challenging to advance DEI initiatives.
  • Legislation and Backlash: Recent legislative efforts have created legal and operational hurdles for DEI initiatives, leading some organizations to reassess and potentially scale back their efforts.

2. Global and Political Context

  • Elections and Societal Trends: It was noted that nearly half of the world’s population would be participating in elections in 2024. Recent trends in the European Union and the introduction of what can be perceived as anti-DEI laws in 28 U.S. states were highlighted as factors influencing public perception and policy around DEI.
  • Nationalism and Immigration: These issues are reshaping attitudes towards DEI, with rising nationalism and debates over immigration impacting how diversity is viewed and valued.

3. Perspectives from Leadership

  • Quantitative Analysis: One speaker used the concept of "regression to the mean" to explain the perceived setbacks in DEI progress. While acknowledging short-term regressions, the panel emphasized long-term gains and the need to push forward despite challenges.
  • Personal and Organizational Commitment: Leaders shared personal anecdotes and professional experiences to underscore the importance of continued commitment to DEI. They emphasized the need to cultivate an inclusive environment where all individuals feel valued and can bring their authentic selves to the workplace.

4. Focus on Inclusion and Engagement

  • Inclusion as a Priority: The need to prioritize inclusion was stressed, as it is fundamental to success. Ensuring that every employee feels a sense of belonging is crucial for the overall health of the organization.
  • Employee and Community Engagement: The discussion covered strategies such as internship programs for underrepresented groups and fostering a culture that emphasizes belonging and empowerment within both the workforce and the community.

5. The Role of Personal Authenticity

  • Authenticity in the Workplace: Allowing individuals to be their authentic selves at work was identified as a key factor in enhancing productivity and job satisfaction. Leaders shared how personal authenticity has positively impacted their own performance and the overall work environment.

6. Future Directions

  • Adapting to the Environment: Organizations need to continuously adapt their DEI strategies in response to changing political and societal contexts. This involves being risk-aware and ensuring that DEI initiatives are sustainable and legally compliant.
  • Long-term Goals and Immediate Actions: While long-term progress is important, simple everyday actions that foster an inclusive culture are equally critical.

The discussion concluded with a reaffirmation of the importance of DEI work, despite current challenges. Leaders emphasized the need to stay committed, adapt strategies as necessary, and continue fostering environments where diversity, equity and inclusion are not just goals, but realities.

The annual Fearless Leadership Symposium unites industry leaders to accelerate DEI in the Asset & Wealth Management Industry. The event is hosted by Nicsa’s Diversity Project North America.

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About Diversity Project North America

The Diversity Project North America is Nicsa’s cross-company initiative that champions DEI as a strategic business priority within the asset and wealth management industry.

Through education, advocacy, and idea sharing, we promote the acceptance of diversity in all forms, the elimination of barriers and biases, and the creation of equitable opportunities.

We advance better business results for our member firms and positive long-term impact for the clients we all serve by fostering an industry where diversity is achieved, equity is the standard, and inclusion is celebrated.