PLSA IC 24: Pensions industry told to start ‘walking the walk’ on DE&I

The pensions industry has been “talking the talk for far too long” on diversity, equality and inclusion (DE&I), and the time has come and gone to start taking more meaningful action, London Borough of Sutton and Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames head of pensions and investment, Andrien Meyers, has argued.

Addressing the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association’s Investment Conference 2024, Meyers noted that while there has been a lot of initiatives and policies in the background, the time had come to start “walking the walk”.

“My ask is to challenge ourselves, but we can’t do that ourselves, we need the industry to come together, from the regulator to fund managers to asset owners, it should be a collaborative approach,” he added.

Also on the panel was BlackRock managing director, head of UK institutional client business, Gavin Lewis, who argued that if the industry was going to make progress on DE&I, it would need to start quantifying the risks of inequality in a similar way that it would for interest rate risk, inflation risk, etc.

“For pension trustees, there is an imposition of every risk in a portfolio that we understand. But for some reason, we don’t quantify inequality as a risk,” he continued.

“In the context of pensions, it’s been difficult because, whereas a pension trustee group can translate different risks into their portfolio and asset class returns and strategies, for some reason, DE&I still seem outside.

“It’s easy to be cynical, but I do think there has been progress. Companies have made DE&I commitments, hired DE&I individuals, set targets and racial equity pledges, so I think it’s fair to say there’s been some progress.

“The challenge that we have is: How do we define what real progress is? If you look at board representation and you move away from that and go to, for example, the C Suite and the pipeline of C Suites, representation is still very, very poor.”

The Pensions Regulator chair, Sarah Smart, said that changes to recruitment processes in the pensions industry could have a positive impact on retraining a diverse workforce.

“I’ve sat on boards with so many people who have loads of notches on their belt but really aren’t very good at their job. We have to start recruiting differently and really opening our minds,” Smart stated.

“The trustee meetings lasted for eight hours and had 200 pages. Let’s face it, that’s what trustee meetings still look like. We have to change our working practices to get the diverse people we want on our board to stay there.”

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