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Digging for diversity in U.K.’s social investment landscape

ImpactAlpha, January 18 – Boards and leadership teams at social investment firms in the U.K. are overly white, male and “Oxbridge”-educated. And the imbalance may be getting worse, according to Diversity Forum, a Connect Fund-backed group formed to drive diversity among social investors in the UK. How can the sector drive gender and minority inclusion without leadership that is itself gender and racially diverse?

“From the pure competition of the free market, selecting other than on grounds of the best person to do the job, is not efficient,” says Danyal Sattar of Big Issue Invest. “From an equal rights perspective, how can we deliver social change if we look like part of the problem?” It’s a matter of equity in more ways than one. Firms with more inclusive leadership may be more likely to deliver competitive returns as well.

  • Falling back. Representation from female board directors at U.K.-based social investment firms fell five percentage points from 2017 to 33%. Less than one in five Black, Asian and minority ethnic, or BAME, employees say they are in senior leadership or executives roles. Social investment sector executives are ten times more likely than the population to have attended Oxford or Cambridge.
  • Valuing lived experience. “If you overlook lived experience and focus only on professional and academic achievements, you might tend to select candidates from similar backgrounds and with similar skills,” says the Diversity Forum’s roundup of inclusive workplace practices.

“Wider societal discrimination can be to our advantage,” Sattar says. “If the rest of commerce do not want the brightest and the best, we’ll have them.”

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