Asset Managers Group Kicks Off D&I Initiative

The Diversity Project, modeled after a similar UK effort, is meant to close some very wide gender and ethnicity gaps.

To better address diversity and inclusion in its industry, an association representing asset managers has launched a new initiative to pinpoint issues and create solutions.

The Diversity Project was launched earlier this month by NICSA, a trade association that represents banks, investment firms, and related companies. It’s modeled after a UK initiative of the same name that was created in 2016 to address inequality in the industry and make it more appealing to a wider range of workers, particularly college graduates.

NICSA was approached earlier this year by the UK Diversity Project about the idea of using its model in North America. NICSA President and CEO Jim Fitzpatrick said he was eager to do so, though the initiatives operate independently. “We will collaborate and share ideas and best practices between each other, but we’re independent,” he said. “They’ve certainly been the catalyst for us to organize our own efforts in a more thematic way around diversity and inclusion.”

The need for such an initiative is acute: One 2017 study showed that only 1.1 percent of assets under management in the United States are handled by women- or minority-owned firms, while another showed that 80 percent or more of leadership roles at firms are held by white staffers [PDF].

The Diversity Project plans to address such gaps by creating two groups. One, a CEO Advisory Council composed of CEOs of the project’s member firms, will identify particular issues and propose solutions, while an Executive Steering Committee will handle implementation of the council’s strategy. Much of the work on the project will be handled by volunteers from within member firms, leaving NICSA itself to mainly handle coordination duties, Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick says the group’s mandate is to be action-oriented and identify specific steps its member firms can take to address diversity and inclusion. (For instance, the UK Diversity Project recently released a set of goals [PDF] to create task forces, events, and studies around gender, neurodiversity, ethnicity, early-career status, and more.)  “Our goal isn’t just to bring people together to talk about diversity and sharing best practices,” he said. “We expect to be initiative-oriented with the goal of helping the industry broadly become more diverse and inclusive in the future.”

The Diversity Project has 14 charter member firms, and Fitzpatrick said he expects that number to grow as the groups get to work. “We hope to have 25 participating firms by the end of the year and 50 by the end of next year,” he said. “Based on the response that I’ve had in all the conversations with firms, I think both are achievable.”

And because there’s so much work to be done, there’s no set endpoint for the initiative. “This is an ongoing, long-term enterprise,” Fitzpatrick said. “The way that we’ve positioned it with our member firms, and other firms that are not members of NICSA, is that this is in effect a sub-association under the NICSA umbrella. We’re just leveraging the platform that we’ve built and the membership that we have.”

(coldsnowstorm/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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