ICYMI, There are Limits to Diversity

Are we all in this together or are we just being taken for a ride?

The suspicion that we’re being asked to do something hard, while others take it easy, can run deep. It is more common during high levels of inequality and uncertainty, of course, and more easily exploited by those who would divide through misinformation. But if we don’t all take our fair share of responsibility will we resolve shared, urgent challenges?

Accusations of hypocrisy were evident this week, with asset managers among those in the firing line. Coverage of Tuesday’s announcement by the Investment Association of member priorities for the coming AGM season soon focused on measures to encourage greater ethnic and gender diversity on the board of UK plc.

First, The Times Financial Editor Patrick Hosking, then Chuka Umunna, the ex-MP recently hired by JP Morgan, noted the apparent discrepancy between the IA’s recommendations to FTSE 350 firms and their own recruitment policies, on the basis of its current all-white board and executive committee.

We’re all for holding asset managers to account at ESG Investor, but finger-pointing can generate more heat than light about the underlying barriers to equal opportunities and letting talent flourish at all levels. And we can’t delay our support for collective change until our own house is 100% in order, not least because events will always get in the way (after all, ESG Investor is still awaiting its solar panel installation).

Events inevitably disrupt plans, best-laid or half-hearted, and none more than Covid-19. From reporting gender pay gaps to challenging boards at AGMs, the pandemic has forced us to adapt and allowed us to delay.

Our response to the pandemic is widely seen as a dress-rehearsal for the challenge of tackling climate change. If we can work together and apply science, we can overcome both fear and greed. So it was encouraging to see the World Health Organisation’s Covax scheme bringing vaccines to Ghana this week, as well as the support of 150 institutional investors for a programme to deliver “equitable access to COVID-19 tools”.

Governments’ responses to the pandemic have been far from perfect and lessons must be learned if we are to tackle climate and other environmental risks effectively. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen further signalled that multilateralism is back in vogue with the re-establishment of the G-20 sustainable finance group, offering greater hope for collective action.

Today, however, United Nations Special Envoy for Climate Mark Carney also stands accused of hypocrisy for claiming Brookfield Asset Management, the firm he joined last August, is net-zero across its portfolio, despite investments in coal and oil sands.

Diverse perspectives will continue to result in diversity in recommended courses and tactics, as reflected in the ongoing debate on coordination across taxonomies for sustainable finance. But, as noted by Adam Matthews of the Church of England Pensions Board in this week’s ESG Interview, “collective agreement” on what we mean by transition will increase our chances of achieving it.

The practical information hub for asset owners looking to invest successfully and sustainably for the long term. As best practice evolves, we will share the news, insights and data to guide asset owners on their individual journey to ESG integration.

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