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Thursday, June 17, 2021

On DE&I, Fundsters Suggest Listening Up

Reported by Andrew Lusk

"What will your 'corporate culture' look like next year?" A trio of senior fundsters and an industry recruiter tackled that question this afternoon during a session, "Evolution of Corporate Culture" on day two of Nicsa's inaugural diversity, equity, and inclusion-centered conference: the 2021 virtual Fearless Leadership Symposium.

Susan Ruth "Sue" Thompson
State Street Global Advisors
Head of Americas ETF Distribution for SPDR ETFs
"Subconscious biases and micro-messaging are something we are all guilty of, in a way," says George Wilbanks, managing partner at Wilbanks Partners, who also moderated the session, Evolution of Corporate Culture. "Those affect the people around us who might have a different worldview, a different set of basic life lessons and assumptions."

Sue Thompson, head of SPDR ETF distribution in the Americas at State Street Global Advisors (SSGA), says, "One of the things that we often say in distribution is that you have two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion."

"There's nothing more important than, and there's no substitute for, listening," she continues. "And I mean really listening; ask people how they're feeling, and ask them, 'How can I be a better ally to you?' I encourage companies to adopt unconscious, or subconscious bias training, which ultimately needs to be followed up on with honest conversations."

Thompson notes that the State Street team has curated a list of ten successful tactics to combat racism and inequality within their firm, including increased representation of underrepresented groups, especially Black and Latinx candidates, as well as maintaining programs committed to developing internal talent. Asset stewardship, increased representation on boards, and moments of quiet reflection also make the list.

J. Womack, managing director in investment products and services at SEI, adds, "Companies can miss the mark in following through. Part of the reason they start with gender and race is because that's where they have the most complete set of data. It's easy to start there, but where [companies] can fall short is in measuring and putting together initiatives."

"We need to focus on inclusion broadly," Womack adds. "Companies really need to try and create space for their employees to be authentic and feel that they can totally commit and bring their whole selves to work. You'll get more engagement, increased loyalty, and lower turnover."

Later in the session, Wilbanks asks Womack if DE&I is, "essentially, merging with a firm's branding," to which Womack replies, "In many ways yes, and I think, as corporations, we talk about values [often] but want to actually internalize what it means to be authentic."

Paul Zettl, head of global marketing and chief marketing officer at Cohen and Steers, notes that the team at his last firm, T. Rowe Price, set up LGBTQ+ working groups as a part of a business resource group initiative in 2017, which, he says, followed a mission of "creating an environment where anyone can bring their authentic selves to work."

"T. Rowe also had a smart framework for its BRGs, one which really allowed us to think about the commercial, career, community, and cultural aspects of [our identities]."

Zettl says BRGs can also serve as guiding councils on research initiatives, allyship programs, and outreach to underrepresented clients. "Creating that safe place where any question can be asked is ... crucial." 

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