Recent months have shed immense light on the challenges that people of colour and those of different races and ethnicities experience in their daily lives. To many, it is a watershed moment. However, as we, at The Diversity Project’s race and ethnicity group, sat down to discuss whether we are moving in the right direction and what is next, we realised fairly quickly that some of the discussion emanating from the corporate world seemed very distant from our lived experiences. Somehow people’s daily experiences were being meshed into ‘corporate speak’ and were either not heard or lost in translation.
This is why The Diversity Project is launching its ‘The fish out of water’ campaign. The campaign’s aim is to ensure there is a direct and open forum in which people within our industry can share their authentic everyday experiences in a manner that feels safe and without judgement by anyone.
Our aim is not to chastise or point fingers at anyone but to encourage deeper awareness and understanding of how common it is that people of different race and ethnicities can feel displaced or out of kilter within the workplace – when, at the same time, on the outside, it appears that nothing is wrong.
It is looking at the differences people experience not through the lens of rigid legal definitions on race and ethnicity but trying to engage in a discussion as to how individuals can often feel lonely and exposed in the workplace without the traditionally more ‘direct’ forms of prejudice being present.
Storytelling has always been an integral part of history and helping people to better understand each other’s perspectives. Therefore, taking inspiration from the power of human storytelling, through modern means – Instagram stories and TikTok videos – our campaign asks people within the industry to share their own stories of real everyday experiences, when they themselves have felt like a ‘fish out of water’.
Our aim in doing this is to encourage people to share their experiences in the workplace and see that by doing so, this is demonstrating strength of leadership and is not a weakness. We truly believe a strong leader should champion being empathetic and acknowledge vulnerability, particularly in a world where mental health and wellbeing is increasingly of focus.
The response so far to our request has been phenomenal. People from all parts of our industry have been willing to share their stories, acknowledging that this is a unique way to better communicate and explain their own experiences while also providing a safe forum to reassure and give practical guidance to others who might relate.
The stories shared are as varied as one can imagine. Included are individuals whose background and experiences also often intersect with other forms of diversity – be it in the form of their socio-economic background or neurodiversity.
You will find reflections of how one person felt as a new graduate coming from a foreign country and entering the industry, to a junior fund manager, being a lone woman of colour, surrounded by men in investment meetings and deciding to take ‘being different’ head on and truly stand out.
We have also received a brave thought-provoking story by a Muslim of Pakistani heritage who has struggled with ‘imposter syndrome’ during attendance at after work drinks which left him feeling like an outsider and challenged against his own cultural norms.
We want to deepen the quality of discussions on race and ethnicity in the workplace and to raise awareness of such nuances so that we can move our conversation forward from generic mission statements to real and tangible actions for change.
We know that as an industry, we are fast moving towards clear expectations from regulators, asset owners and employees that we will foster, nurture and expect a better culture of inclusion within investment firms. It will also be expected that the eco-system of firms supporting us (including tax, accounting, law and consulting firms) do so the same.
Yet, by highlighting people’s experiences we want to acknowledge that simply creating targets for a diverse workforce is not enough.
The hard task is ensuring that there is actual inclusion when these people join, and progress through, the workplace. This is the only way we will ensure we retain talent in the long term.
On a more personal level, as mothers with young children, we want to ensure that we leave our children and future generations with a legacy of a workplace that is inherently more open, accepting and inclusive to people of all races and ethnicity.
Monica Gogna and Kelly Tran are ambassadors for The Diversity Project and co-heads of the awareness workstream for the race & ethnicity group at The Diversity Project
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