There aren’t many financial services chief executives today that don’t have ‘diversity and inclusion’ on their list of strategic priorities. Yet despite this focus, we have made very little progress across this industry to date. 

According to the Diversity Project, the proportion of female fund managers has hovered around 10% over the past four years, while 10% of the fund management industry identify as Asian and only 1% as Black.

The sad reality is that if you’re a woman, from a minority background, or didn’t go to a top university, a successful career in investment is more than likely still out of reach for you. 

Why? Because organizations are hard to change. We will naturally stick to what we know, who we know, how we’ve always done things, the most efficient methods, and what brings the quickest returns. 

However, if we want to build a more trusted industry, have more inclusive cultures, and engage diverse people in doing more meaningful work, something needs to change.

But as a leader, where do we find the inspiration to break the financial services out of its cycle? Each of us has to dig deep and ask ourselves why is this important. The answer will be different for each person. 

My own inspiration is the late Indian social reformer Pandurang Shastri Athavale, a Templeton prize winner credited with liberating millions of Indian people from poverty during his lifetime. Athavale, or Dadaji, as he is often known, is the person who has had the greatest influence on my life, career, and approach to leadership. 

Here are a few specific things that I think can make the biggest difference in converting talk into action and catalyzing the change to which we all aspire. 

Start by working on yourself.

Dadaji believed that each person is a microcosm of the world. Any problems, biases, and barriers we see in our organizations start within us. Therefore, any external change has to be accompanied by an internal change in our leaders and, ultimately, our people.  

At my company, our leadership team is continuously pushing to be more open than we feel comfortable. We share our mistakes; we strive to create psychological safety, invite honest feedback, foster a continuous learning culture, and embed personal growth and development into pay and bonus discussions. 

We have found that the most effective place to start is with your hiring managers – they are the multipliers. Yet often, they are not included in the debates around diversity. It shouldn’t be surprising then, that you might attract cynicism from them. In our experience, getting line managers to engage, support each other, commit to change, and take feedback is transformational.

Our organizations’ potential for change is limited by our leaders’ capacity and willingness to change themselves.

Build bridges with empathy

At the heart of Dadaji’s work is the idea that we must consider our privileges to be a responsibility — that helps build bridges for those left behind in society. 

At Redington, we bring in diverse talent and perspectives, then work hard to listen to those different voices and encourage people to challenge each other in meetings. We build empathy by mentoring people that are different from us, and at least once a quarter, we invite a different perspective from across the firm. 

This empathetic approach is invaluable in helping us diagnose where the problems lie, barriers, and how our processes, habits, or culture are getting in the way of nurturing diverse talent.

It’s all about experimentation.

To ensure that we are creating an inclusive environment that enables diversity to flourish, we need to be willing to experiment. And importantly, we need to be ready to accept that not everything we do will be successful. We need to talk about these mistakes and lessons openly, in a spirit of learning, and with a commitment to change.

In my experience, this change takes time, you’re never really done, and you often take two steps back to take one step forward. But it starts with person-to-person dialogue, one conversation at a time. It needs to remain a strategic priority. 

I am fortunate to learn from and work alongside a team of responsible, compassionate, and action-oriented leaders who want to lead better teams and create a better organization. Together, we struggle, fail, learn, and persevere each and every day.

So, as Dadaji often said: “Don’t be an armchair philosopher.” Take action, experiment, share your lessons, and drive lasting change now, not tomorrow. Your shareholders, employees, society, and future generations will thank you.