For over two decades, our work in the investment industry has allowed us to build wonderful relationships with exceptional people. However, we recognize much more progress on diversity is needed. The future success of the industry, which continues to be starved for top talent, will require the creation of a welcoming and inclusive culture in the workplace.
One key building block to inclusivity is eliminating or mitigating unconscious bias, which ultimately leads to unfair treatment of colleagues. Unconscious bias, or implicit bias, is often defined as prejudice or unsupported judgments in favor of or against an idea, person, or group.
What does bias in the investment industry look like? Here are a few recent, real-life illustrations from our industry colleagues:
- A female CEO was in an all-male meeting when one executive who didn’t know her asked if she could get him a cup of coffee.
- An impeccably dressed executive of color was attending a conference at a hotel and was misidentified by a guest as a hotel worker.
- A female distribution executive was told she wouldn’t be the right fit for the promotion because she had a family and the new role involved a lot of travel.
- A diversity wholesaler wasn’t asked to play an integral role in a firm’s diversity initiatives, which were being led by a team of middle-aged white men.
- The sole female executive on her firm’s leadership team was repeatedly expected to be the note-taker during committee meetings.
Not only are these illustrations surprising to hear in a supposedly modern world, but this behavior sets back the cause of diversity in our industry and inhibits talented people from making a difference.
What to Do
To change the current dynamic, five simple steps need to be implemented to initiate change and create a more equitable workplace.
- Don’t assume. The examples above are based on outdated assumptions. They mistakenly reflect the fact that someone should have a particular skillset, role or responsibility because of their gender or color. To uncover bias, it’s useful to think about your own upbringing and have others on your team do the same. Examine your workplace assumptions about how things are or should be based on your firm’s legacy and history.
- Prioritize self-awareness. Make a weekly goal to observe and record situations involving unconscious bias. If you have stereotyped someone, record what you have done. Then, actively reflect on how to initiate positive change going forward.
- Speak up. If you witness bias by a colleague, take the individual aside and politely share your observations. Diplomatically suggest that this behavior is no longer acceptable. Alternatively, if you are in a room full of men who expect a female colleague to take notes, instead of calling out the bias, offer to take the notes yourself.
- Measure the diversity of your company, team, or colleagues. Because of the limitations of our own upbringings, we may not perceive bias. If you don’t have a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, ethnicities, or genders in your company or department, commit to change going forward.
- Recruitment strategies must address unconscious bias. One of the best ways to address unconscious bias is in the hiring process – before it is an issue. Educate your in-house recruiters or prioritize your executive search partners to ensure they understand unconscious bias and the importance of diversity and inclusion.
So, how does a woman become CEO if her colleagues assume she’s best suited for administrative tasks? How does a diversity sales professional make it to the leadership ranks if the individual isn’t asked to contribute to the conversation about diversifying the company’s sales teams? How can we assume that women can’t or won’t travel because they have a young family when we don’t assume the same for men?
Mitigating unconscious bias in the workplace is crucial. You may be unintentionally impeding the success of others, hampering an individual’s opportunity for career advancement, or inhibiting the investment industry from attracting a more diverse workforce. Let’s test the waters and commit to change!