Asset management was not my first career choice. I started my working life as a lawyer in the US, where I grew up. I have always been an advocate, whether that was taking part on the school debating team or being the opinion editor of the student newspaper. Law was a natural fit.

I practised law for a few years and also worked on Capitol Hill. But Washington DC is a bit like a fishbowl and I wanted to work globally.

I decided to take a risk and find international experience, which led me to apply to the London Business School. It was a great experience and a very diverse class, with about 25 different countries represented.

Not long after finishing business school I moved back to the US to work for [pharmaceutical company] Pfizer in a corporate responsibility role. But I relocated back to the UK a few years later with my husband after we had our children.

Asset management did not cross my mind at all as a sector to work in until I was contacted by a headhunter about an asset management firm that wanted someone with a corporate sustainability background to help with their engagement from an investor perspective.

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When I began engaging with companies on the issue of boardroom diversity from a professional standpoint, I often wondered why they were not looking at ethnic diversity. The response was always to deal with gender first and ethnicity could come later. I always found that frustrating.

As an American in the UK, I have noticed that in this country there is some discomfort talking about race. Now we are talking about ethnicity more and looking at the barriers experienced by different ethnic groups.

I’m very encouraged with the attention that ethnic diversity has received. It’s unfortunate a lot of it was brought on by the murder of George Floyd in the US. But it was a turning point.

I’m a Black American. My experience will be very different to a Black British person’s. There are only so many ways you can cut the demographics, but we do need to look closer at different ethnic groups.

I’m glad the term Black and minority ethnic — BAME — isn’t being used as much, as it’s important to look at different ethnic groups and the individual challenges they have. It’s an area where we need more progress.

I’ve heard lots of stories and seen examples of people from ethnic backgrounds leaving or considering leaving the sector due to the lack of progression available to them. There are points in your career where you have to make decisions about the likelihood of being successful and progressing.

You have to see people in the jobs you aspire to get to in order to know you can also get there. I have been places where I’ve thought there is nobody who looks like me anywhere near the roles I wanted to get to.

It’s important that ethnic minorities speak up about challenges and they feel heard, validated and comfortable to share them. It’s important to highlight positive experiences, because it will motivate people from ethnic backgrounds to stay within this sector.

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I’m entering the third decade of my career and there have been some very difficult situations. I’ve had to take some risks to get to where I am, but I’m now at a place where I can be myself at work and I feel included.

There are several people at my job, including my manager, with whom I can speak openly about race without making them feel awkward. I feel that our business provides a supportive environment and values the differences individuals from all backgrounds can bring. And I now have the opportunity to encourage other businesses to be more inclusive, through my role actively engaging with the companies we invest in.

Financial services is one of the sectors where we see fewer ethnic minorities in senior roles.

In the US, companies are required to collect ethnic diversity information and are required to use visual identity if a person chooses not to disclose. In the UK, even if you don’t have the hard data you can still look around, so there is no excuse not to have an ambitious plan for progression and retention of ethnic minorities.

What you see in the UK, more so than the US, is so-called “colour blindness” — not seeing race as an issue in the workplace. But it’s important that we do see it. Because when we do see it, we can be more conscious when it doesn’t exist in parts of companies, leadership talent programmes or committees.

Kimberley Lewis is head of active ownership at Schroders. She is also an ambassador for Reboot, a nonprofit focused on ethnic diversity in financial services. 

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To contact the author of this story with feedback or news, email David Ricketts

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