Author: Maha Khan Phillips
Day two of CFA UK’s virtual conference saw panellists explore a range of themes, from increased industry engagement on diversity, equality and inclusion, the importance of building levels of participation from the neurodiverse community into the workforce, and the origins and lessons learnt from the Diversity Project’s ‘Fish Out of Water’ campaign.
Day two of CFA UK’s virtual conference, Inclusion at the Heart of ESG, kicked off with some key data from Olivia Maguire, CFA, chair of the CFA UK Inclusion and Diversity Committee, and short-term fixed income portfolio manager at J.P. Morgan Asset Management.
Maguire revealed the results of CFA UK’s 2021 Inclusion and Diversity Survey, highlighting the fact that engagement with the survey itself had increased year on year, and that the issue was growing in importance and gaining traction across the investment industry. Respondents increasingly felt that their firms were adequately supporting diversity measures. They had also seen their firms pivot towards Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DE&I) in greater numbers, offering increased training in the area, for example.
While respondents still felt that ethnicity, social and economic diversity, gender and mental wellbeing were key issues - in line with previous years - they also highlighted that both neurodiversity and physical disabilities were areas that have not had enough focus.
“While progress is being made in all areas of inclusion and diversity, there does remain a huge amount to do,” said Maguire. “We should all engage, understand, appreciate, and lean into other cultures, groups, and everybody around us. This is important today, especially with recent events, and will be even more important in the future,” she said.
Neurodiversity and economics
Maguire’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion entitled Neurodiversity and economics. The session was moderated by Marilyn Swinney, CFA, managing director, head of institutional sales for UK and Ireland at Principal Global Investors. She cited data from the World Bank’s Human Capital Index, which revealed that the Covid-19 pandemic had put a decade’s worth of progress in building human capital at risk, and invited panellists to talk about empowering neurodiverse communities to bring about increased labour participation and economic inclusion.
Kit Juckes, head of foreign exchange strategy at Societe Generale, highlighted the need for both a bottom up and a top down approach to bringing neurodiverse people into the labour force, while Amanda Roestorf, head of research at Autistica, talked about how there was a great deal of misperception about neurodiversity, with many people making assumptions that autism, ADHD, and other neurodiverse conditions were childhood conditions to could be grown out of. The current rate of employment for autistic people stands at around 29%, she said, which was ‘astonishingly poor’. One of Autistica’s goals is to see the employment rate of autistic people double by 2030.
Nazia Habib, founder and research centre director of the Centre for Resilience and Sustainable Development (CRSD), spoke about stereotyping, and the fact that many neurodiverse people were being stereotyped at work, being pigeonholed into unattractive or poorly paid roles. “It leads me to challenge organisations to think more critically about what is the real career progression and growth strategy before we even put someone in that employment space, and say we have scored a number.”
All three panellists warned about the dangers of tokenism in the space, and about the need for greater and more insightful data collection. Habib also highlighted the need to bring neurodiverse people into the discussion so that they could make their own decisions about their futures.
For her part, Roestorf cited the adage ‘the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the next best time is today’, and called for new thinking. “Now is the time for change, it’s about embracing complexity, not shining away from it because it is messy or inconvenient. Today is about thought leadership, it’s about championing truly inclusive practice and moving the ideal on meaningful inclusion progress,” she said.
Taking action to make the industry more inclusive
In the final session of the day, panellists discussed The Diversity Projects ‘Fish Out of Water’ campaign, launched in September 2021 to highlight the challenges faced by individuals in the investment industry who have often felt awkward or alone, or like outsiders at work, whether because of race or ethnicity or other differences. The panellists, many of whom were ambassadors for The Diversity Project and had spearheaded the campaign, talked about their own experiences of feeling like ‘fish out of water’. The panel was moderated by Elena Koycheva, CFA, ESG institutional portfolio manager at BlueBay Asset Management.
Monica Gogna, UK head of financial regulation at EY Law, talked about the tremendous feedback and understanding the industry had shown towards the campaign, while Kelly Tran, CFA, managing director UK and Ireland institutional sales at MFS Investment Management, discussed the origins and scope of the campaign and some of the lessons learnt.
Lin Yue, executive director, Goldman Sachs Asset Management, talked about her own experience of moving from mainland China to work with British clients through while working for an American company, and her introduction to the concept of ‘Friday night drinks’ with the boss, something that on one hand has the potential to be a thoughtful act of inclusivity, while also discluding others who were unable to take part.
Darren Johnson, global chief operating officer at Impax Asset Management discussed his early struggle with Imposter Syndrome, how he queried whether he was good enough to be at a conference or event when the only other people he would see there that looked like him would be the servers. He also spoke about how he grew to realise that his different socio-economic background and race could be a powerful thing, something to be embraced.
Govinder Heer, head of marketing and internal communication at Cardano Advisory, then highlighted some of the biggest themes that had been drawn out from the campaign, and talked about some of the video testimonials that had resonated with her most. “The fact that we are still doing these videos shows that excitement for these stories is still there,” she said.
Dimple Mistry, head of human resources Europe for GIC, then discussed the important role played by allies, highlighting her own experience of attending an event at 10 Downing Street, and her sense of not feeling like she belonged, until another individual saw her and brought her into a conversation with a group of people. “Ally ship and noticing people is so important. If you see someone who looks a bit on their own, just bring them in, create a gap in your circle,” she said.
The session ended with two break out rooms, where the issues were explored in greater depth.