Nicholas Ashburn, SVP & head of responsible investing, PNC Institutional Asset Management
Contrary to widespread opinion, there is little evidence to suggest that more diversity on company boards results in better performance. But asking this very question is unhelpful and unnecessary when considering diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) within a company.
That was what Nicholas Ashburn, SVP & Head of Responsible Investing, PNC Institutional Asset Management, told delegates at the Captive Insurance Companies Association (CICA), taking place in Tucson this week (March 6-8).
Introducing himself as a “gay man, a husband and a father” he was the keynote speaker in a session called ‘Beyond Intentions – Taking Action on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I)’.
He started by noting that jargon around DE&I abounds – starting by defining what diversity means to your organization is critical. The concept of DE&I in a corporate environment may seem nebulous, but the lived experiences of your employees, clients and investors are clearhe argued.
Ashburn argued that a commitment to DE&I is no longer aspirational for companies – it’s become table stakes in today’s environment. Covering everything from leave policies to pay equity, from productivity to profit, he encouraged companies to take actionable steps designed to define, discuss, and implement supportive DE&I policies & practices.
He admitted during the talk that individuals and companies can suffer from DE&I fatigue, such as the extent of such policies in companies now. But he argued that seeking a business to justify aspects of this, especially diversity, is unhelpful.
“By asking for the business case, effectively, you are asking people to justify their presence. But where are the studies seeking the business case for white men on boards? The truth is, the evidence shows there is no improvement in business performance, but there is no downside either. So why does this matter? Why are we asking that? Asking someone to justify their presence can be very harmful.”
He concluded by suggesting a range of things that companies can do to enhance the DE&I regime within and to create an organisational climate free of discrimination and harassment. He also encouraged businesses to measure their success on such policies through employee engagement surveys. “But it is also hard work – it is not a check the box exercise,” he said.
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