Leadership Insights: Kelly Young discusses our organizational focus on Diversity and Inclusion
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Diversity is a subject that has grown in importance in recent years and is top of mind for Acadian clients, consultants, and employees alike. Having joined Acadian’s Executive Management Team 18 months ago, it’s also a topic of great personal importance to me. I’m proud of the work Acadian has done, and continues to do, in this area whilst recognizing that we, along with many firms in our industry, still have a long way to go. In addition to taking on the Chief Marketing Officer role in 2019, I also became a co-chair of Acadian’s Diversity and Inclusion Forum, along with three other members of the Executive Committee. This has given our leadership team an opportunity to take stock of where we stand as a firm in this effort.
Our Diversity and Inclusion program has the specific goal of increasing the number of women and minorities at the firm, especially in leadership positions. Acadian’s program includes a mix of tracking, training, awareness programming, recruitment tactics, community partnerships, and communication. After about 10 years of steady focus, women now represent a larger proportion of senior management, and people of color are more present throughout the firm. We have moved the needle a perceptible but ultimately small amount, and we are still far from having women equally represented at the top level or adequately reflecting the broad demographic mix of the communities and organizations we service and partner with.
We need to do better, and we are working hard to attract, develop, and retain a more diverse workforce. But there is no question that this is hard. The latest data on workplace diversity make it clear that traditional programs aren’t getting results. Looking at recent analysis from the benchmark McKinsey annual report on gender diversity, we see little traction being gained despite much active effort. And yet – the arc toward a more inclusive industry seems to us both necessary and inevitable. As a quantitative firm, we are convinced by evidence from many academic studies that show the benefits of diverse approaches to problem solving and the higher level of success achieved by companies with diverse leadership. We believe as a firm that we will generate better outcomes for our clients if we embrace diversity across a number of measures, including gender, race, culture, and even less physically apparent forms such as cognitive.
But how can we make change happen? Good intentions and discussion are important, but the focus on action is ultimately what will move the dial towards a more diverse and inclusive workplace where issues of representation and equitability are paramount. We are trying to focus on change from a number of angles:
A focus on the long view. With each new generation of employees, the gender and ethnic diversity of our firm improves. For example, while it can be challenging to find diverse candidates for the most senior STEM-related roles, we are seeing far more diversity in our entry-level hires and in our intern program. Meanwhile, we are working to support long-term change through our partnerships with Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center, which provides STEM enrichment to underserved youth, as well as Inversant, which empowers low-to-moderate income families to invest and succeed in higher education through knowledge sharing, resource support, community connections, and financial incentives.
An open, supportive culture. Building a diverse workforce will, we believe, enhance future success. A critical component of this is ensuring that Acadian offers an inclusive environment which embraces people’s strengths and differences. We have long been focused on creating a culture of inclusion that provides forums for different points of view, through informal events, such as our popular ‘TED’ lunches where employees watch and discuss a TED Talk designed to elicit a range of reactions, or through platforms such as our internal company blog, which is open to all employees who wish to submit content. This year, as issues of social justice have reemerged as a central and urgent dialogue in the U.S., we have seen a number of posts leading to productive conversations around the firm on race and identity.
Active partnerships to find talent. We recognize that we cannot be passive about our talent pool, and we actively partner with organizations that can help bring Acadian to the attention of talented people from a range of backgrounds. These include The Posse Foundation, GEM, SEO Career, MIT Office of Minority Education, and the Ngurra Jirrama Foundation in Australia. Acadian also has an active Women’s Forum to support and develop women at the firm. It’s a group I’ve been proud to a part of, either by hosting events or participating in some of the creative and exciting programming that the Women’s Forum Co-Chairs have developed.
I’d also note that as individuals, our informal ‘networks’ can prove to be an important resource in terms of finding diverse and talented people to join the Acadian team, and this is an area that, as a firm, we have afforded greater focus in the last 12 months. Recruitment in the asset management industry is driven overwhelmingly by informal recommendations, and tackling both the formal and informal sources of recruitment are key pieces in the diversity puzzle.
Senior management responsibility and accountability. Acadian’s Diversity and Inclusion Forum is led by four members of Acadian’s Executive Committee. This leadership structure reflects our recognition that responsibility for change must begin at the top of the organization. In addition, each EC member has diversity hiring as part of their formal written goals, which are assessed as part of their overall job performance in a given year.
Though we are encouraged by what we’ve seen from some of these burgeoning efforts, we still face obstacles. Even with the help of diversity partners and a defined strategy, it is hard to overcome the fact that our industry has a narrow demographic as well as the ‘human hurdles’ many organizations face. As we know well at Acadian, behavioral finance shows clear evidence of cognitive biases, and this applies to personal interactions as much as it does to investing. Humans are hyper-attuned to risk, and we have an unconscious preference for people and situations that feel familiar, but the first step toward overcoming this unconscious bias is to know that it exists. Training, communication, and awareness are all essential to subverting the easy path to “a good fit” and actively seeking the benefits of difference.
As a UK native, having spent much of my career in London—one of the world’s most diverse and international cities—I’ve seen firsthand the benefits of building a truly diverse team, creating better outcomes for clients, and nurturing an environment that enables people of all backgrounds to flourish. I’m excited by the progress that Acadian has made, even as we know there is a long way to go. But we are moving forward with energy and conviction, and conversations with our client and consultant partners are an essential part of the equation. The discussions and the work will continue, and we look forward to engaging with you in this regard.
- Gomper, Paul, and Silpa Kovvali. “The Other Diversity Dividend,” Harvard Business Review, July–August 2018 Issue: 72–77
Eswaran, Vijay. “The business case for diversity in the workplace is now overwhelming,” World Economic Forum, April 29, 2019.
Lamm, Alexa J., Catherine Shoulders, T. Grady Roberts, Tracy A. Irani, Lori J. Unruh Snyder, and Joel Brendemuhl. “The Influence of Cognitive Diversity on Group Problem Solving Strategy,” Journal of Agricultural Education, Volume 53, Number 1 (2012): 18–30
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