Reboot: Focus on diversity and merit not diversity alone

MFS IM's Kelly Tran explains why it's important not to alienate people in majority groups

In the latest episode of the Reboot video interview series, ESG Clarity’s global head of ESG insight Natalie Kenway speaks to Kelly Tran, managing director, UK & Ireland institutional sales at MFS Investment Management.

Tran discusses the challenges diverse employees still face, feeling like a ‘fish out of water’ and why it’s important not to alienate people in majority groups.

Please note ‘reboot.’ has rebranded to ‘Reboot’.

To see the full reboot. series run by ESG Clarity click here

The full transcript of the video is below:

NK: Welcome back to this video series in conjunction with Reboot, an initiative that allows us to hear from inspiring ethnic minorities making a mark in the corporate world.

We are sharing these stories to help control the narrative, alter perceptions and biases, and delete racial inequality in the workplace. So today I’m delighted to be interviewing Kelly Tran, managing irector for UK and Ireland’s institutional sales at MFS Investment Management.

Thank you so much for your time today, Kelly. With racial discrimination still an issue in financial services, either consciously or unconsciously, tell us about how were you able to get to where you are today?

KT: I am of Vietnamese origin. I am a first-generation immigrant to the UK and I’m currently a managing director in the institutional distribution team at MFC. Among the many different hats that I wear, I also co-chair the Race and Ethnicity Group at the Diversity Project, and I’m also an ambassador for Reboot.

To answer your question, Natalie, my journey so far has been long and challenging, but also it’s a very rewarding one. As a female ethnic minority in the financial industry, I have experienced many setbacks, many challenges along the way. But I think that I’ve also been so lucky that I have a very supportive husband and I have very good managers, colleagues and mentors that really helped me to get to where I am today.

I believe that everyone has to find their own path of success. But for me, it’s important to be positive, to work hard, to really have confidence and conviction in the values that you could bring to the table. And always remember that you don’t have to do it alone, having a supportive network professionally and personally is really, really important.

NK: And what do you see as the barriers to progression further? Are there any stand out challenges you have personally faced in the workplace?

KT: They are a combination of external barriers and internal barriers to progression for ethnic minority employees. Even though, as an industry, we have made a lot of progress on DTI in recent years, as of now the lack of ethnic representation in senior positions is still commonplace, and representation in senior leadership is important because for so many diverse employees, the feeling is if you can see it, then you can be it.

A lot of people find themselves stuck in the middle, and there can be a lot of reasons for that: a lack of role models, a lack of network and community, or a lack of coaching, mentoring and sponsorship opportunities available.

All of these external barriers can have an impact on a person’s internal barriers, such as a lack of confidence, as well as a sense of insecurity, loneliness and even isolation in the workplace because no one else looks like them or speaks like them.

We at the Diversity Project call this feeling a ‘fish out of water’ feeling. Personally, I have experienced all of the above to a different extent throughout my journey. But I also do know that we can overcome them with ambition, with hard work, and a lot of help from mentors, from allies and friends.

I do truly believe that if you experience these hurdles like I have described above, you don’t have to suffer alone; there are a lot of resources out there and willingness to help from our growing community, you just have to speak up and reach out.

NK: Fantastic advice there, thank you. As you mentioned, there’s been a little progress in the industry. If companies needed to take one key step to become more inclusive, what might that step be? What would you recommend?

KT: One important step is to have a clear plan of development, training and progression for the diverse employees, as well as all other employees. It’s all well and good if a firm can recruit more diverse employees into junior levels, but if those people face many barriers to progression, that at some point they feel like they can’t progress or they feel disengaged, then we as an industry will not get very far.

While trying to become more inclusive of diverse employees, I think that a company also needs to be mindful and strike the right balance so that we do not alienate everyone else. There is a concern out there that now that we are gaining traction on D&I, some people in the majority groups can feel that they are disadvantaged for not being diverse as a result.

This really raises the importance of bringing everyone along on this journey, and I think that allyship is a critical part of that. We need to remember that this is about levelling the playing field that was not level to begin with, and it’s about everyone getting equal opportunities to progress regardless of any personal attributes.

It’s always, always about diversity and merit, not diversity alone.

NK: Thank you for sharing your personal experiences and perspectives with us. We appreciate that and hope that the rest of the financial services industry is tuning in.

KT: Thank you so much, Natalie.

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Natalie Kenway

Natalie is global head of ESG insight for ESG Clarity and has been an investment journalist for 16 years. She won Editor of the Year at the Aviva Investors Sustainability Media Awards 2021, and was Winner...