How failing to recruit and retain a diverse workforce may lose you the next big mandate, a contribution from Chelsea Bruno and Meera Savjani on behalf of Women in Fund Finance.
Although hard to believe, there are still some who do not understand the value of diversity. Despite countless studies providing strong evidence that the most successful companies are those that employ a diverse group of individuals, many maintain homogenous workforces with no intention of diversifying. Although this approach has long gone unchallenged, there is now a growing consciousness within many corporate cultures which is driving companies to hold their external counter parts and service providers accountable for failing to address the issue.
It comes as no surprise that some of the more “traditional” industries such as law and finance have been slower to progress in building diverse talent pools, and the clients of these firms have started to notice. In January 2019, more than 170 general counsels and corporate legal officers in the United States signed an open letter to big law firms which criticised these firms for the lack of diversity at the partner level. The letter, which was signed by companies such as Heineken, Vox Media, and S&P Global Ratings, stated that going forward these companies (many of which operate globally) would prioritise their legal spend on those firms that commit to diversity and inclusion.
The letter went on to state “we applaud those firms that have worked hard to hire, retain and promote to partnership outstanding and highly accomplished lawyers who are diverse in race, colour, age, gender orientation, sexual orientation, national origin, and religion and without regard to disabilities”1. Although the letter does not set out how these firms plan to measure such level of commitment, it’s clear that these firms are serious about holding their legal counterparts accountable, and when taking a closer look, it’s clear that emphasis on diversity does not stop at these 170 corporations.
Across the Atlantic, industry groups in the UK are also pushing to hold big corporates accountable for failing to make meaningful progress when it comes to diversity. As reported by the Guardian in May 2019, the Investment Association (IA), a trade body which represents UK investment managers who in aggregate manage over £7.7tn in AUM, has confronted 94 publicly listed companies for failing to make sufficient progress on gender diversity. The IA has written to each of these companies and raised concerns about the lack of gender diversity in leadership positions. A list of companies which received the highest level of warning from the IA was recently published in the Guardian and confirmed by IA2 , and although some of these companies have responded with statements emphasising efforts to address such issues, it’s clear that shareholders and potential investors will be looking for measurable progress going forward.
In line with such expectations, some investors are taking accountability into their own hands, as evidenced by a change implemented by ILPA (the Institutional Limited Partner Association), the global industry body that represents the interest of private equity limited partners. ILPA recently expanded its standard due diligence questionnaire (DDQ) to include a section related to diversity and inclusion, and requires firms fill in a template which aims to measure and report the gender and ethnic diversity of teams by seniority and role. It also includes a section of questions designed to help investors understand a firm’s policies and procedures in areas such as hiring, promotions, family leave, mentoring, and harassment and discrimination. When asked about the updated DDQ, CEO of ILPA Steve Nelson stated “ILPA believes that diversity and inclusion is a strength that all stakeholders within the private equity ecosystem should embrace and promote in meaningful ways,” said Nelson.
“The due diligence questionnaire expansion and Code of Conduct guidance represent an opportunity for general partners (GPs) and limited partners (LPs) to have conversations about these important issues, in the spirit of a stronger and ever improving workplace for everyone. We look forward to advancing these ideals which serve as the foundation for a healthy, prosperous industry.”3 As with the other industry groups discussed herein, ILPA is sending a clear message that diversity is no longer an optional. Changes such as the updated DDQ make it increasingly difficult for firms to completely ignore the topic, and although the potential consequences are meaningful in all industries, the cyclicality of fundraising in private equity means the risk associated with failing to adapt could be both severe and expensive.
While few would doubt that the conversation around diversity and inclusion has evolved significantly over the past two decades, many are now suggesting that the time has come for the conversation to expand into action. Although just a few examples are discussed herein, it's almost for certain that there will be more letters and questionnaires to come. With the rise of such accountability, the cost of failing to adapt may soon weigh heavy on firms and maintaining the status quo of a homogenous workforce may come to feel like a burden in itself. Thus, firms must ask themselves whether the status quo is worth the missed opportunity that will result.
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Although hard to believe, there are still some who do not understand the value of diversity.