Fear that ‘diversity washing’ could limit progress

Julia Streets, moderator and Mark Wade, Allianz Global Investors

Mark Wade, head of credit research at Allianz Global Investors, has accused the financial services industry of ‘diversity washing’, during a debate about inclusivity held at the Leaders in Fixed Income Summit this week.

During an All Star Panel which aimed to ‘tackle the diversity issue head on’, Wade said financial services companies were not doing enough to change the make-up of their senior management teams.

“There is a lot of talk in our industry about green washing when it comes to environmental social and governance investing, but you could say there is some diversity washing too. There is a lot of rhetoric about how nice it is when a woman is appointed [in a senior role] but that means we are still looking at the gender and not the person,” he said.

Wade added that asset managers had not done enough to change company cultures meaning women in junior roles often found it hard to relate to counterparts who had reached the top.

“I have spent part of my time talking to women in different regions and roles, and there was often no degree of relatability between them and those women who were winning the top jobs. They didn’t feel that there was enough change in the culture.”

He added: “If I asked whether they felt their probability of reaching [senior management] had improved over the five years, they said at best it was marginal but more probably it was flat.”

Wade said that the challenging economic environment had led many asset managers were reducing their head count, meaning the only way to ensure to improve diversity was to ‘have fewer people of a certain type’ on the payroll.

However, Wade argued that it was difficult for asset managers to justify changes to their senior teams.

“[Asset managers] need is to overhaul the way we operate on day to day basis and reshape some of the long-standing legacy structures. Yet, If I talk to a client the first question I am asked is ‘has there been any turnover in staff?’ Clients want people to work at the same desk for 70 years with no change. There are some structural weaknesses in our business that are preventing change,” Wade said.

Amanda Pullinger (l) 100 Women in Finance, and Alison Hollinghead (r), MAN Group

Fellow panellist Amanda Pullinger, CEO of 100 Women in Finance, warned that unless asset management businesses started to make significant efforts to be more inclusive, they risked losing out to their tech competitors in the battle for talent.

“[Asset managers] are perceived by the next generation – male or female – as an industry that is self-serving; making rich people richer.  We are fighting the technology industry for this talent and we have to do a much better job at communicating how we make a positive difference to the lives of ordinary people,” Pullinger said.

Pullinger said 100 Women in Finance was launching an initiative called maths for girls that would see female portfolio managers go into schools to promote the industry.

However, Wade questioned whether the focus should be so heavily weighted to maths, arguing that asset managers needed to encourage people from different backgrounds with a range of skillsets.

“I really don’t need my A-level or degree in maths,” Wade said. “If you are in research it helps to be able to do sums in your head, but marketing, sales and compliance roles don’t need maths. We need to broaden [diversity strategies] out to think about the skillsets required to help the business outperform.”

©The DESK 2019