Keep pressure on improving culture post-pandemic

The Women in Asset Management Summit Transatlantic Edition included talks on remote working, mental health and leadership

The Women in Asset Management Summit Transatlantic Edition brought different perspectives from senior players in the industry united in their aim to make the sector better reflect the society we live in.

The first speaking event of the day was the morning fireside chat about the asset management landscape for this year, moderated by ESG Clarity editorial panellist Bev Shah, founder and CEO of City Hive, a D&I-focused corporate culture organisation. The speakers were Sally Bridgeland, chair, Impax Asset Management, and Aisling Doherty, senior fixed income portfolio manager, Mercer Global Investments.

Doherty talked about the impact of Covid-19 on the industry, which she said hit harder and faster than the global financial crisis of 2008. She added that the shift to remote working had been an easy one for her organisation, where remote working technology has enabled international teams to become closer.

Bridgeland said her remote working experience during the pandemic was also positive and added it was the shock response needed to shift working styles. She also said remote working had been “quite an equaliser” for employees, where it no longer mattered “what order you are around the table”.

She added that remote working has helped employees develop a closer relationship with their clients, where conversations have progressed on ESG and women’s representation in the sector.

Doherty added that to recruit from a more diverse talent pool in terms of race and gender, organisations needed to do more work to engage with potential recruits at university and senior school stages.

Culture from top to bottom

Then followed a panel discussion entitled “Everyone has a part to play – culture from top to bottom,” which was moderated by Stephanie Hamod, the founder of sustainability consultancy Pathikah. Speakers were Hani Nabeel, chief behavioural scientist at iPsychTec, a human resource consulting firm, and Tali Shlomo, a human resources director, and diversity and inclusion leader.

Nabeel started the conversation by referencing the gender pay gap and its role in unpacking company culture. He said how “inclusion is about behaviour” and can’t be understood unless behaviours are examined.

The conversation moved to gender pay gap legislation, where Hamod referenced Iceland’s landmark decision to make gender pay gap equity a legal right. Hamod, who is based in France, also spoke about the country’s pay gap reporting obligations enshrined in law.

The speakers agreed Covid-19 had stalled reporting efforts in many countries, while Shlomo said that in the UK case, taking a holistic and organic approach with data collection is the way forward.

Guidance, influence and empathy

This session was followed by a fireside chat entitled “Guidance, influence and empathy – leadership in 2021,” hosted by Meike Bliebenicht, global product director, multi-asset at investment service, AllianceBernstein. The speakers were Heidi Ridley, co-founder and CEO, Radiant ESG consulting, and Darren Johnson, chief operating officer – listed equities, executive director, Impax Asset Management.

Continuing the day’s theme of the unexpected benefits of remote working, Johnson said that he’s seen leaders show more empathy and vulnerability during the pandemic. He added it had enabled staff to see this softer side to leaders, which may not have been obvious in the office environment.

He added he’s also witnessed a lot of “compassionate leadership”, which is improving workplace inclusion as employers increasingly check in on and staff and create a feeling that everyone is united by working through Covid-19.

Johnson steered the conversation to situational leadership and how effective leaders adapt their styles to changing landscapes, which is crucial during the pandemic. Bliebenicht added how employers should be “open and understanding” to employees who face different circumstances, such as juggling work with childcare and reminding themselves that some people will be working within different timeframes.

Ridley supported Johnson’s comments and said that effective leaders during the pandemic and after it should be able to exert their influence over stakeholders and the industry at large, which requires “soft skills, nuance, diplomacy conviction and humility”.

ESG and D&I

The afternoon’s first fireside chat was “ESG and D&I Best Practices” and was hosted by Cara Williams, global segment leader: family offices, financial intermediaries and multinational clients-wealth, Mercer. Speakers were Tatjana Greil Castro, co-head of public markets – portfolio manager global credit strategies at investment firm Muzinich & Co and Sarah Bratton Hughes, head of sustainability, North America, Schroders.

Bratton Hughes said “as a firm, we were the first asset manager to tie our cost of capital to sustainability and diversity goals. So I think first and foremost, it’s about maximising, and it has always been about our fiduciary duty, which is maximising returns on behalf of our clients.”

She went on to say how due diligence cannot be underestimated when honing ESG policies and how sharing, and not just telling people about the “data and tools” being used to achieve it, is key.

Williams then talked about measurement with a focus on women’s representation in the industry. Continuing another popular theme of the day, which was the many responsibilities many working women have, including caregiving, she said firms had to work harder to encourage a work/life balance; otherwise, they will lose the female talent they have worked so hard to recruit to appear inclusive.

Breaking down taboos

Then came an engaging afternoon presentation on “Breaking down the persistent social taboo of Mental Health,” delivered by Oli Shakir-Khalil, investment director, emerging market debt, Fidelity International.

He began by talking about the impact of poor mental health on the UK economy, including the NHS, and on businesses. He then referenced the taboo around employees being open about their mental health at work which has been exacerbated by Covid-19, where many face additional pressures such as caregiving in addition to potential feelings of isolation when working remotely.

He wanted to remind employers that not everyone is facing this new normal from “an equal place” and advised leaders to regularly check in with people who might be struggling.

The potential effectiveness of taking absences for mental health, or what is known as ‘mental health days,’ was also mentioned, but encouragement must come from “top-down”, he said, where leaders through reiteration may help to convince those who need it to take a day off.

A panel discussion entitled” Intersectionality – considering all the elements that make us who we are,” followed, hosted by Jon Terry, a ‘people challenges’ consultant. Speakers included Kathryn Mohan McDonald, co-founder, and head of investments and sustainability, Radiant ESG, Marie Fromaget, ESG analyst, AXA Investment Managers, and Mariam Akanbi, senior legal counsel, ARCH Emerging Markets Partners Limited.

Topics that were discussed included the need to diversify the diversity discussion in the asset management industry and move beyond gender to other forms of required diversity.

The complicated nature of data collection across organisations was a much talked about subject, where variances across different locations, such as countries that prohibit data publishing and those that do not force companies to disclose their representation figures make seeing the D&I problem a tricky one from a macro-perspective.

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Natasha Turner

Natasha was global editor at ESG Clarity, part of Mark Allen Financial, and a financial journalist for seven years. She has been shortlisted for Story of the Year and Investment Journalist of the Year...