As I was doing The Whip last night in my living room, my son covered his eyes with his hand and walked out with a disgusted “that’s just wrong.” I yelled after him “I don’t need your permission to do The Whip…hey, are you listening to me…? Anybody can do The Whip if they want to. Anybody!”
So much has been written over the past couple of years about the lack of diversity in the investment business. We’ve tried the mentoring programs, we’ve highlighted the performance benefits, we’ve taken the negotiation courses, but for all of the hand-wringing, it feels like we have gotten nowhere. According to the CFA society, we have in fact gotten nowhere. Focusing just on women, there are currently a lower percentage of women applying to take the CFA exam than there were 20 years ago. Most of the people I know in the business say they can’t find the diverse applicants they want to hire. And women in particular seem to be avoiding the business because of the lack of visible, viable career paths – there’s no one who “looks like us,” so how can we possibly imagine an investment career?
Last night, as my progeny turned his back on my dancing, I had a moment of clarity around this problem. We are all, always, seeking to affiliate. We have fairly rigid ideas about who can do what. In the investment business, we have collectively allowed this urge to overwhelm our rational judgment. We have become increasingly balkanized in our own affiliation groups, somehow unable to step beyond these boundaries to make the choices we know will result in better businesses and better careers.
For those in charge of the hiring, that means you have to stop thinking about diversity as simply a willingness to accept those who show up. You actually have to go out and build the pipeline, develop the networks, and find a way to reach the people who currently are not reaching you. Stop thinking about this as an altruistic burden; it will be a profitable investment in your business.
And for those among us trying to break in or move up – they ain’t going to give it to us, you gotta take it. Stop waiting for permission, stop expecting to find affiliation. Move outside your comfort zone and pursue the investment business because it is exciting, intellectually challenging, ever changing and rewarding. Even if you don’t end up where you initially intend, the journey will be amazing.
Take that, my little teenager. Watch me whip.