Here’s How Managers Are Solving One Diversity Challenge

Some firms are taking creative steps to hire diverse talent and change the status quo in the industry.

Nathan Laine/Bloomberg

Nathan Laine/Bloomberg

In an asset management industry dominated by white men for decades, it’s no surprise that there aren’t as many women and underrepresented minorities with years of experience.

Some asset managers describe the imbalance as a systematic problem.

Ibrahim Husseini, founder of venture capital firm FullCycle, which invests mostly in engineering and technology companies in infrastructure-scale hardware, said the biggest diversity challenge isn’t recruiting or retaining staffers with diverse backgrounds.

“Our struggle has been weighing the balance between the percentage of candidates that [have] decades of experience, who are not traditionally diverse, versus diverse candidates with less experience,” he said.

“It’s a systematic long-term issue,” Husseini said, speaking on a panel addressing diversity at the SALT alternative investments conference in New York on Tuesday.

Most asset managers are working to become more diverse, both to attract the best talent and to meet demand from public pensions and endowments. But, even as more asset managers are reporting detailed demographic data about their staffs, recent surveys have shown that diversity in the industry has barely improved over the past few years.

FullCycle’s founder attributed the diversity challenge to the simple fact that most managers and entrepreneurs with diverse backgrounds are relatively new in their own industries. “It takes time [for them] to move through the system,” he said.

Some asset managers are taking creative steps to change the status quo and not have to wait. They’re expanding the platforms they use to recruit and their networks, including looking at a larger pool of universities, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities, to find job candidates, according to Courtney Birnbaum, director of sustainability at Corbin Capital. “If you are only looking at candidates from certain schools or certain financial institutions, you’re not going to cast a wide net with diverse candidates,” she said, commenting that the firm also adds more gender-neutral words to job descriptions. Speaking at the SALT conference, Birnbaum said intellectual curiosity, for example, is far more predictive of success than degrees from certain elite schools or experience at a handful of blue-chip firms.

Raised in Saudi Arabia by parents who are Palestinian refugees, Husseini remains a strong advocate for hiring minorities and investing in entrepreneurs with diverse backgrounds. But experience and diversity are challenges. “I don’t have a solution to it,” he said.