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Diary of an Investor: Diversity counts

Recently we had to admit that the trustee board of the Wasserdicht Dutch pension fund isn’t very diverse. Of course, we fulfil the requirement to have one female trustee and one under the age of 40 and have for some time. But most of the other members, including our long-standing chairman Rolf, are male and grey and we have to admit that balance is difficult to achieve for an organisation like ours.

When a vacancy came up on our trustee board recently Rolf told us he was very keen to make sure the candidate was not white, male and over 55. ‘What we need is some diversity of faces and of thinking,’ he said at the latest meeting. ‘We can’t all be male, pale and stale.’ Of course, it is very obvious that Rolf is indeed male, white and over 55.

Rolf has appointed himself as a sort of unofficial diversity champion at Wasserdicht Pension Funds lately. Last month, he also he persuaded me to attend a half day conference on the subject of diversity in the financial sector. Racial and gender diversity were two of the main topics on the agenda. 

I admit I was slightly sceptical at the beginning, but by the end of the event I had signed up as a ‘Diversity Ally’ and committed myself to ‘Challenging my Organisation to Think Diverse’. The event was more stimulating than expected.

‘The bottom line is that our stakeholders are diverse group, so the people who serve their interests should reflect them,’ the chair of the conference told the audience. ‘And organisations with people who look different also think differently, which leads to better culture, better working and better outcomes for the people we serve.’

One prominent female asset management CEO gave a short speech about how her organisation has changed its recruitment process to make sure female and ethnic minority candidates are not unintentionally disadvantaged. Flexible working and career breaks are encouraged and the firm has committed itself to a ‘more inclusive working culture’.

A headhunter for senior executives in the financial sector gave a presentation on how their clients are changing their criteria to make sure that a wider range of people are put forward for senior roles. 

Then some young ethnic minority graduate trainees in asset management described their roles, while someone in charge of graduate recruitment described how the financial sector needs to reach out to a wider pool of candidates.

‘We need to talk about what we do in a way that appeals to a diverse group of millennials. The fact is, our story is a good one,’ she said. ‘We need to make sure they know it’.

The following week I ring Rolf and I ask about the recruitment process for the vacancy on the trustee board. ‘We’ve hit a bit of a problem,’ he admits. ‘We don’t have a diverse range of candidates because so far we only have one candidate. We’re going to have to rethink this process.’ 

Pieter Mullen is investment director at Wasserdicht Pension Funds

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