After studying economics and law at Durham University, Linda Russheim began her career in marketing with Mercer and went on to spend twelve years with the firm, latterly as Global Head of Marketing for Mercer Investment Consulting, before starting her own marketing and communications business in 2013. She has worked with a range of financial services clients and became involved with the Diversity Project soon after the launch of the initiative in 2016. Today she is marketing lead and on the Steering Committee for the Diversity Project, an initiative that accelerates progress towards an inclusive culture and achieving diversity across the investment profession. Last year she was appointed a Trustee for the Diversity Project Charity, which launched in 2018 with the aim of helping other charities adversely affected by the disbandment of The President’s Club. Linda was kind enough to share an update on the Diversity Project’s activities with us over coffee in the City of London in early 2020.

HK: Linda, we since we last spoke to Jane Welsh back in 2018, a lot has happened when it comes to the work and impact of the Diversity Project.  Could you bring us up to date?

LR: It has been an exciting time at the Diversity Project over the last couple of years, and I’m pleased to say we have some real momentum. We now have almost 70 members from across the savings and investment industry, plus three newly created ‘Chapters’, namely the US, Scotland, and Wealth and Asset Management, which spans the industry in the UK and across Europe. We also have a total pf seventeen workstreams full of enthusiastic people that are passionate about their particular aspects of D&I and want to make a real difference. Lots of our workstream leads have actually been featured in the press and have won awards. The website has also grown and now houses lots of useful and practical information for members and people interested in our work. We have a great social media following too and are now on our sixth e-newsletter. Most importantly, we are also having a real impact on the way that firms do business.  A good example is the way that Citywire has revised some of its assessment criteria for rating funds to encourage more diversity. They specifically cited the work of the Diversity Project in their press release on this change.

HK: This is great to hear. Can you outline some of the highlights of the initiative’s recent output across those workstreams to give a picture of what is being achieved out there?

LR: Certainly – I can list a few of the key outcomes, as follows:

– Diversity Project standards and scorecards, taking the commitments made by our member organisations to the next level

– Multiple guides and treatises developed and published, with titles including ‘Time to Get Serious: if Diversity is a Business Imperative, Treat It Like One’, ‘Addressing Barriers to Diversity in Portfolio Management’, ‘Smart Working: Practical Recommendations’ and ‘Early Career Attraction’, among many others

– An array of events including International Women’s Day, National Inclusion Week and the 2019 / 2020 Mentoring Scheme launch with Moving Ahead; we have also hosted a Smart Working breakfast and launched a survey on this topic with Timewise

– We’ve also run events aimed at particular groups including #TalkaboutBlack at Mansion House, a Disability Roundtable discussing the challenges disabled people face in the workplace, an InterInvest Breakfast event “attracting and retaining LGBTQ+ talent”, and a Neurodiversity event – “Diverse Minds as Work”

– We have also launched a partnership with an organisation called upReach aimed at attracting new talent to the industry, and a cross-business ‘Returners’ programme with Women Returners, which is a massive topic at the moment as many women look to return to the workplace after having children.

HK: That’s quite an array of activities and events. It must have an incredibly busy and satisfying couple of years. Taking a step back and looking at things from a conceptual standpoint, ‘diversity’ is a big and meaningful word. It means different things to people, and it displays itself in various ways within organisations. How would you define ‘diversity’ in today’s modern workplace?

LR: Diversity in modern and most applicable and useful parlance today is all about embracing cognitive diversity. For me, it’s about having talented and dedicated individuals combining with different perspectives. In my experience, keeping the conversation at a cognitive diversity-level resonates with more people who then buy into the concept and its benefits. I also don’t think you can talk about diversity without talking about inclusion, which is perhaps less widely discussed but a fundamental aspect of the conversation.

HK: From your point of view, how successful has the savings and investment industry been at embracing diversity and inclusion and making positive changes?

LR: All companies should treat diversity as a business imperative and whilst the investment industry has broadly embraced the concepts and taken steps forward, there is still clearly more to be done in terms of long-term, sustainable change that will bring the real benefits of diversity into play. Gender pay reporting has in fact brought this issue in particular into sharp focus, yet of the five sectors reporting the biggest gender pay gaps in 2018, only investment management failed to record an overall improvement. Sound bites and voicing good intentions are positive steps, but this data raises questions about whether the industry is really taking diversity seriously as a ‘quantitative’ issue. Additionally, even though progress is demonstrably slow, there are signs of ‘diversity fatigue’. According to a report on diversity by PwC, in association with the Diversity Project, investment business CEOs may be convinced of the need to act, but many investment professionals perceive the issue to be more about political correctness than a driver of investment performance, or of the long-term success of their firm. On the whole, we are seeing widespread collaboration, high-level commitment and a new sense of urgency. There’s always more to do, although the hope is that at some point the Diversity Project will have served its purpose, diversity will be entrenched into industry-wide business-as-usual processes. At that point our work will be done!

HK: That’s interesting to hear. The field of diversity science would almost certainly be able to address some of the concerns of investment professionals. Some of the recent findings, outlined in Matthew Syed’s book, ‘Rebel Ideas’, for example, are quite striking. The Diversity Project’s recent conference focused on ‘Time to Deliver’ – what was the thinking behind that theme and what findings emerged from the event?

LR: This year we had about 330 attendees to our annual industry-wide event, and a good mix of professionals, from CEOs to new joiners, as well as a good gender mix. Historically there has been a higher percentage of female attendees but the balance was more evenly split this time around. We had great sessions on ‘Cultural Transformation’ and ‘Addressing Barriers to Progression of Diverse Talent in Investment Management’. Also, at our strategy day in November, we talked about shared solutions, collective ownership, individual accountability and outcome-oriented action in 2020. I am pleased to say that member firms are really playing a very active role in driving these events and shaping the agenda so another theme that is definitely emerging of late is ‘engagement’.

HK: As mentioned, the case for cognitive diversity in organisations is increasingly hard to debate. Whatever the next ten years hold, it is likely to be characterised by a great deal of change, as well as a great many challenges and opportunities. Do you believe that the success of an organisation will depend on its ability to adopt meaningful practices around diversity?

LR: Yes, undoubtedly, and the time to act on this is right now, if progress hasn’t already been made. I think that the disruptions we have seen in other industries are arriving or on the way to our industry and that makes the business case for a more diverse and inclusive savings and investment industry even stronger. We need to see cultural changes within organisations that have been slow to adopt truly inclusive workplaces. The evidence is increasingly clear that this will help create better outcomes for customers, provide greater opportunities for diverse talent and create increasingly resilient, better governed, and more successful organisations.

HK: We couldn’t agree more, and it will be hugely interested to watch how the field of diversity continues to evolve and influence business practices. Thank you, Linda, for giving us such a detailed update.