“The opportunity of my career” is how Amy Hepburn describes her role as Chief Executive Officer of the Investor Leadership Network, which she joined in 2020. The ILN, set up during the Canadian presidency of the G7 in 2018, brings together 14 of the world’s biggest investment institutions to develop initiatives on climate change, inclusion and diversity and sustainable infrastructure.
A central element of the ILN’s mission, therefore, is to address one of the most obvious issues facing the investment industry – the relative scarcity of women at all levels and especially at the top of financial organizations. During a 20-year career that has spanned the public sector, NGOs and academia, Hepburn has worked extensively on gender equality. She was a delegate on the first G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council and teaches on subjects including gender equality and human rights at Duke and George Washington universities.
‘The pre-eminent platform for inclusion’
The ILN is the pre-eminent platform for inclusion in the investment world,” she says, “both to advance the cause of diversity within our members’ organizations and to learn from each other in the process about what works and the toolkit we need to achieve this.
This is the ILN’s immediate goal. Beyond it, however, lies the ultimate aim of enabling the investment industry to become a credible advocate for inclusion and diversity in companies it owns across the wider commercial world.
To achieve that, it must first become more inclusive and diverse itself. “The investment industry has so much power and ability to influence society that it has been the missing piece of the equation,” she says. “Without it, success will be much more difficult to achieve. The investment industry can have such a big influence on so many companies – the entire private sector.
“Influencing the investment industry at the very highest tip of power is the opportunity to truly change the way the game is played.”
The intersectional approach
Hepburn argues that it is critical not to consider gender, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation in isolation. Instead, the ILN takes an “intersectional” approach that aims to make questions of inclusion and diversity part of a larger conversation about what helps to create successful organizations. Having focused at the outset on gender equality in its member organizations, the ILN has broadened its now developing programs on ethnic origin and sexual orientation as well.
Successful organizations benefit from drawing on the widest possible range of talent and opinions. There’s plenty of research showing that more diverse teams are more successful.
If organizations are to realize the advantages of having a diverse workforce, however, they must become places where people of all sorts from all walks of life feel fully accepted and able to be themselves. Where gender equality is concerned, she argues, this means creating a culture in which woman can see themselves not just joining the industry but staying and building a successful career.
“There’s a lot of research out there that says that it’s difficult for women to be what they do not see,” she says. “Women have to be able to visualize themselves in those organizations and that’s difficult. There are not many examples of women at senior levels in investment, so there is still a long way to go.” The ILN, she stresses, is not interested in “checking boxes”. It is looking not just at bringing more women into the investment industry but asking, “How do they flourish? How do they succeed? How do they get promoted? How do they really and truly have opportunities for leadership?”
Bringing your whole self to work
An important part of the answer to these questions is contained in one of Hepburn’s mantras, which is that you can have diversity without inclusion, but you cannot have inclusion without diversity. Organizations can hire a wider cross-section of people and become notionally “diverse”, but unless their culture welcomes everyone fully as individuals and values their differences, it will not be inclusive and people will not stay. “You can’t have an inclusive environment where people are afraid not only to bring their whole selves to work but also have open and honest conversations,” she argues.
Across its inclusion and diversity agenda, the ILN’s members are learning from each other and trying to create a better set of tools to measure and replicate success. “There is no organization out there, there is no investment body out there that is perfect,” Hepburn says. “We’re all on this journey and the journey is really focusing on how we are making progress, how we are helping each other to succeed.”
On a personal level, she has a forthright message for young women – including her own daughters – who may be considering careers in investment and other industries where they have historically been a minority.
‘The investment industry needs you’
“Don’t ask for permission to succeed. You don’t need permission to be successful. Your talent, your drive: that is your permission. You must be resolute in your conviction and your right to succeed, and you have to be absolutely relentless about your determination to be there. The investment industry needs you; it needs your leadership; it needs your creativity, and it needs you sitting at the table in positions of power. So seize your opportunity to be there and your right to be there.”
For the organizations that may one day hire these women, Hepburn’s message is equally direct: “You can either decide to lead this or you will end up following others. But ignoring it is not an option. The train has departed. We at the ILN have decided that we want to lead this change.”
We have an incredible opportunity here to change the state of play when it comes to inclusion and diversity. That is the opportunity the ILN presents by bringing together this collective of powerful investment voices.