How the pandemic highlights diversity challenges in financial services

Speakers at Women in Asset Management summit say diversity and inclusion efforts can begin anywhere.


If there is an upside to the global pandemic and the resulting lockdowns that have forced people to work from home, it might be that the situation has highlighted imbalances when it comes to gender roles and responsibilities.

With everyone suddenly thrust into a blend of work and home, it has become more apparent to some that there are stereotypical duties and roles that are ingrained. Seeing that during times when there might not be a good reason for them to exist could be a step toward eliminating such patterns.

That was among the takeaways Tuesday during a session at the Women in Asset Management virtual summit, hosted by InvestmentNews.

“Covid has had a very positive influence where maybe some of our male counterparts have seen what it’s like to take care of a household,” said Cara Williams, global segment leader for family offices, financial intermediaries and multinational clients at Mercer.

Making her point, Williams said that her company offered all employees the opportunity to take sabbaticals over the past year if needed to help with family and household responsibilities, and that 75% of the people taking the time off were women.

Fellow panelist Sara Bratton Hughes, head of sustainability for North America at Schroders, said her company has addressed the diversity and inclusion issue first and foremost through transparency.

“We have been on a long journey with diversity and inclusion, and as someone based in the U.S., I get asked about it a lot,” she said. “As a public company, we disclose our gender pay gap.”

Hughes added that Schroders “has made so much progress” on the gender pay issue that the company has shifted its focus to “other forms of diversity, including ethnic and people with disabilities.”

“We have committed to publishing our ethnic pay gap,” she added. “We have this great top-down and bottom-up commitment, so it creates this great tension.”

Tatjana Greil Castro, co-head of public markets at Muzinich & Co., said her company “has always been quite inclusive but in a more informal way.”

“We started a year ago to measure it, by asking questions to employees and implementing a recruitment policy to make sure we’re casting a net as wide as we should,” she said.

Castro said that when she joined Muzinich 14 year ago she had a young son, and has since had three more children, emphasizing how her job was not diminished by her desire to raise a family.

“For women, you always feel a bit guilty” about taking time off to have children, she said. “It’s extremely important to feel included and that you can strive. This is a workplace where you don’t have to worry about starting a family.”

Castro said that as a portfolio manager, it is not always easy to gauge diversity and inclusion efforts inside a company. “It is very difficult to get clean data you can use because it’s still very nascent,” she said.

In terms of internal efforts, Hughes said the key is to not just focus on diversity at the senior level.

“We know that more diverse companies perform better, but you can’t just focus on the concept of high-quality jobs,” she said. “You can’t just focus on the women at the top.”