Take radical action to boost diversity, panel urges

The diversity in finance roundtable at Global ABS on Wednesday struck a dismal tone in noting that not a great deal has changed with regard to the representation of women and minorities since the market began having these conversations, leading the panel to urge more novel approaches to addressing the problem.

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“There is an innate sense that this is the right thing to do, and yet we keep having these conversations,” said moderator Ori Chandler, managing director at INvolve, referring to a poll of the audience that showed most respondents “just know” that equal representation matters, rather than it matters because there is a business case for it.  

The problems are not just at the C-suite level, where women are greatly underrepresented, but also in middle management, where employees vying for managing director or partner-track attorneys feel like having conversations around the importance of diversity could hurt derail their career progress.

Tuvia Borok, executive director and senior legal counsel at Goldman Sachs and founder of the P3 Network, said that ideas of what constitutes a career path must also change, and that the industry’s concept of commitment to a job is outdated.

“The industry needs to stop thinking of people’s careers as a linear progression. If someone were to plateau and pause whether to have a family or for some other reason, we think that person is no longer committed and off the promotion track, and that is wrong thinking,” Borok said.

But the question of what is to be done after years of having this same conversation does not have an easy answer. The speakers acknowledged that hiring quotas are controversial, and forcing people to adopt a particular approach may not be the best solution. They suggested rather that diversity targets and adjustments to executive remuneration to be reflective of hiring practices could be a more tenable option.

Another approach would be to address unconscious biases. One way this could be achieved is through “reverse mentoring”, with a junior level executive coaches a manager through the ins and outs of being a woman or a minority in the workplace.

“This lets somebody of whatever diversity strand be the mentor to middle management and senior management, so that person has someone they can talk to about questions they’re afraid to ask,” Borok said.

Reverse mentoring would be a way for women to easily transitioning back into the workforce after maternity leave, said Sally Gilding, senior consultant and non-executive director at Ocorian. Gilding headed up such a program while working at Deutsche Bank, stating that the most positive response often came from male managers with female employees returning to work.

Despite the measures pitched by the speakers, the audience was glum on the prospects for improving the statistics any time soon. A full third of respondents to a poll said that they never expect to see gender parity in the workforce, while another 25% said it would take 25 more years.