Taking action for change: Yolanda Beattie on increasing diversity in the investment industry

Thursday 10th August 2017

Yolanda Beattie

With Mercer's 2016 study indicating that 30% of female investment managers are less likely to be promoted over their male counterparts, Yolanda Beattie, Mercer’s diversity & inclusion practice leader, decided to take some action for change. With the support of some of Australia’s biggest funds, Yolanda and her team at Mercer have developed the Industry Employee Value Proposition Project with plans to roll out an inclusive career framework across the industry. Yolanda tells us about some of the disturbing findings of the initial research, talks about the benefits that can be gained from the new project, and calls for more organisations to get involved.

Q&A with Yolanda Beattie

Can you give us a brief overview of the research and what the impetus was for Mercer to undertake this study?

The research is about understanding the current state of diversity in the investment management profession and the barriers that we need to overcome in order to improve and explore solutions to disrupt the status quo. We looked at diversity across a range of visible diversity elements, such as gender, age, cultural background, as well as looking at some invisible elements such as socio-economic background, qualifications, career paths and thinking preferences.

The impetus to undertake the research came off the back of conversations that I was having with people in the industry who sit on the investor working group for the 30% Club. These leaders made a few interesting points around the challenge of engaging portfolio managers on the issue of advocating for more women on boards, given the lack of diversity that exists within their own teams.

There were comments about not being able to attract enough women into the industry when organisations were putting job ads out and that triggered a curiosity bell for me. I was fascinated to know more. I pulled together an industry wide group to fund some research and look into some collective action for what is an industry problem that can’t be solved by individuals or companies alone.

What were some of the most surprising/interesting findings?

What’s interesting is getting clarity on the numbers and knowing the facts around the issue. The gender piece is arguably the most significant part of the issue because women make up the largest segment of under-represented talent which makes this the biggest missed opportunity for the industry.

The cold, hard facts were that women are up to 30% less likely to be promoted through the pipeline and that they leave their organisations up to 50% more than men do. Having hard numbers that prove that this is an issue shows us that it’s not only important to attract people to these roles, but we also really need to get companies to focus on doing a better job at promoting women through the ranks and supporting them to stay on with the organisation.

The other thing that really hit home was the abundance of male role models available to young men who were thinking about entering the industry. That was a really common story that we heard amongst aspiring male investment managers whereas the women kind of just stumbled in. It’s not surprising but I think it really shows that the industry needs to take a much more proactive role in promoting itself to the next generation.

"The cold, hard facts were that women are up to 30% less likely to be promoted through the pipeline and that they leave their organisations up to 50% more than men do."

Can you tell us more about the website that you’re developing? How will this benefit the industry?

The website is one component of how the research will likely be executed but the big thing is around developing an Employee Value Proposition (EVP) and a career framework for the industry that can then be promoted to diverse talent. The EVP will look at the different ways you can work in investment management, what you’re contributing to society and the economy, the different career levels and types of roles etc. The initial focus is around managing money but then there will be opportunity to expand into other areas of investments like asset consulting and institutional sales, if we get value out of it and the industry wants to continue working collectively on the diversity question.

I think that it’s inevitable that this information will come to be housed on a website but the piece of work to be done beforehand is thinking through how we can package this industry up and help it to sell itself better and look into that long term issue of building a pipeline of diverse talent.

How do you now plan to address some of the issues that arose from the research?

What I said above focusses on the industry wide initiatives but there are also a number of very clear company specific initiatives that need to tackle issues, particularly employee retention. The industry brainstormed and agreed that creating more trust and transparency around hiring, promotions and pay decisions was a priority. Women thought that the number one reason that there was a lack of diversity in the industry was because there was a bias at a decision making level.

It’s also important to invest in people management and leadership ability to really include and value difference and, in particular, support women through the child bearing years. It’s a critical time in their lives, managing both a career and family commitments, and so it’s very important that they are supported by their organisation.

Also, it’s important to build long term talent pools so we’re not just fishing from the same pond of people that come via the typical route of a Masters of Finance and the likes.

"Women thought that the number one reason that there was a lack of diversity in the industry was because there was a bias at a decision making level."

One of the people that you surveyed likened the Investment Management profession to the film Wolf of Wall Street. How do you change public perception of this profession in order to pique the interest of those that don’t fit in with the Hollywood stereotypes that we see?

I think that’s where the Industry and Employee Value Project is really important. You’re never going to be able to compete against the power of Hollywood and the impact that has on creating impressions but you can be much more systematic in communicating that message out to students who are considering their next career move. Story telling is really important and having diverse people in the industry talk about the impact that they have on the world - the purpose that they’re motivated by - is fundamental.

You’ve been in your current role with Mercer for about a year and a half now, what drew you towards a career in the diversity and inclusion space?

My background is in corporate communications and marketing/corporate affairs roles in financial services and before joining Mercer I worked at the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, leading their strategy and engagement team.

Going into that role, I wasn’t originally motivated by making an impact on issues of gender and diversity, I was more interested in public policy but that experience piqued my interest and my passion in making a difference in this area for a couple of reasons. It’s a really fascinating blend of social justice imperatives with an enormous economic advantage. It’s a huge waste of resources which I can see the cost of when workplaces aren’t getting it right. I’m fascinated by the psychology behind the way that people think in the workplace and how you can use the leaders within organisations to motivate their people to be their best selves and bring out the best in others. It’s turned into both a career and a really deep passion of mine.

In your opinion, how can an organisation best support its under-represented talent in order to encourage job retention?

My view is that it needs to come from both perspectives of looking at how you fix a system that unintentionally excludes under-represented talent. You can do this through elements such as flexible working, additional leave to manage child care and family commitments, supporting men to be active fathers and also investing in leaders and managers who know how to bring the best out of diverse talent. That becomes particularly important for people that have out of work obligations. Having a great manager that can help you to have a fantastic, thriving career while also managing your family life is incredibly important for primary carers to be able to fulfil their career ambitions and add value to their workplace.

You have gained a lot of support from the industry so far, are there still opportunities for the industry to get involved?

Yes! The Industry Employee Value Proposition Project is still looking for partners. We need five additional partners before we can get the project up and running. It won’t happen unless we can get it fully funded. Our current five partners are AustralianSuper, Future Fund, Cbus and HESTA plus Mercer. We’ve got the asset owners lined up and ready to go, so now we’re looking for some asset managers to work alongside us and drive the project to drive the change.

If you’d like to be involved in the project you can contact Yolanda on Yolanda.Beattie@mercer.com.

Click here to read the full Mercer Industry Employee Value Proposition Project report.

For more information on this subject you can listen to Rachel Alembakis of the Sustainability Report interview Yolanda Beattie.

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