What does one do when confronted by inequality? Initially, my reaction was denial. I had been working in investor relations for more than 20 years and, truthfully, given my level of success, I should have probably left the field. I could not find mentors and gradually had to expand my skillset and take jobs that were below my experience level and eventually start my own firm.
Still, there was something that kept me engaged. It was not until I was faced with the shocking events of last summer and the widespread protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd that I could come to grips with how inequality had shaped my career in investor relations. At the time, I wrote a guest article for IR Magazine in which I outlined my experience. ‘I need to see more than statements and gestures. I need – and IR needs – a sustained commitment to a genuine change in hiring practices that we can see in the make-up of account teams, corporate leadership, management and board members throughout this field,’ I wrote.
After the publication of the above article, I was part of IR Magazine’s first Equality in IR Forum, which focused on diversity and inclusion. I had meetings with various groups and people in the industry who seemed to be interested in expanding minority participation in investor relations, which at this point hovers between six percent and 10 percent.
But I still felt impotent. The barriers still felt institutional. I was concerned that when the spotlight moved on, the conversation would be forgotten and the opportunities offered to me and other people of color would either vanish or continue to be way below the level our experience merited.
So what was a Hispanic kid from Queens who accidentally wandered into IR to do to create positive change? I continued to advocate for change to be made at the highest levels, but I also channeled my effort into making sure that enough immigrant and minority kids became aware of how much more rewarding a career in IR can be than one in, say, trading or investment banking.
And how would I go about that? I found out that there were not any undergraduate investor relations courses being taught in the US. As a graduate of Baruch College, I knew a large part of its student body consists of immigrants and people of color, so I approached the folks at the alumni relations office, who put me in touch with the folks in the finance department.
Believe it or not, the pitch mentioned above worked! This past spring, I was given the responsibility of educating 35+ minds on the rigors of investor relations. These kids were amazing and I am a much better person for having the privilege of helping them along their life’s journey. There were two cases that stood out: one was a black student who had family and health issues related to Covid-19, was unemployed and still managed to hand in all his assignments on time. The other student was truly homeless and did not know where he was going to sleep most nights but still managed to get an A on all his assignments.
I am happy to note that, in addition to learning how to write press releases, listen to conference calls, gain a better understanding of financial statements and pick up the jargon of Wall Street, these students were exposed to experts in the fields of ESG, financial reporting, sell-side research, IR technology, shareholder activism, transaction communication and assorted other subjects an IR professional needs to know.
To support our students throughout their career, we also created the Baruch in Investor Relations Alumni Network, which now has more than 150 people. So if you need a young professional who has a baseline idea and skills that are needed in this profession, reach out to me or the Baruch College Alumni office. We would be happy to help you and in turn help grow diversity in IR.
I am happy to report that IR 101 was picked up for the fall 2021 semester. I truly wish to thank all the people who understood the importance of this mission and who lent me their talents so that I did not embarrass myself – and, more importantly, made these budding professionals better prepared to succeed.
Elric Martinez is the founder of EJM Investor Relations