Opinion: Why equality in IR matters

Jun 28, 2021
If IROs can expect to field more questions about their company’s corporate culture and DE&I initiatives, the community should reflect the change that investor groups are encouraging

When I was growing up, I thought the least-prejudiced thing I could do was to ignore race, ethnicity and gender. Everyone is equal, I was told by the teachers at my predominantly white school. It’s a hopeful, lazy and convenient way of viewing the world. As I grew up, I learned that my life and relationships are richer for recognizing what makes me different from someone else, and understanding how those differences shape the way we experience the world. 

This week, IR Magazine will hold its Equality in IR Forum, at which we’ll discuss the efforts to make the investment community more diverse, how that places pressure on public companies to discuss diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) as part of their IR stories and how the IR community itself can be more diverse.

When we send out marketing emails for this event, the feedback is overwhelmingly – but not exclusively – positive. Among the supportive messages, there are always one or two emails from white men – it’s always white men – who are offended by the idea of an event about equality. The gist is that they’re not offended by the idea of equality, but that these events aren’t necessary because we live in a world where people are rewarded based on merit.

Try telling that to the black IR professional who told me last year that he has been mistaken for catering staff at several different investment conferences. Or to the senior women in IR who are paid less than their male counterparts, as IR Magazine’s research has regularly demonstrated. I’m sure the people who have had to work harder than their peers to prove themselves to their line managers, management, investors and analysts feel differently.

Even so, the question of what equality in IR really means is still quite hard to answer. The average IR team size is 2.8 people, according to our most recent Global Practice Report. If a team is all white, all male or homogenous in some other way, there’s not a lot of wriggle room to force change.

But when I think about the community as a whole – as represented by attendance at our forums and association conferences – it isn’t representative of society with regards to race, religion or sexuality. Which is not to say that IR is any less representative than other functional roles within public companies or in the capital markets as a whole. We’re part-way through a significant shift in who can hold leadership positions within corporations, and there’s still plenty of work to do in order to match the messaging around diversity to reality.

Why does any of this matter for IR specifically, then? Beyond the inherent benefits that diversity of perspectives brings, perhaps we can look to this year’s proxy season for guidance. Investor groups are holding public companies – including Bank of America, BlackRock, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, State Street and Wells Fargo – accountable for their messaging on racial equity, calling for racial equity audits and reports into corporate culture. This follows years of engagement on gender diversity at board and executive level. If IR professionals can expect to field more questions about their company’s corporate culture and DE&I initiatives, it should follow that the community reflects the change that investor groups are encouraging.

This year, we’re running a week-long series of articles under the banner of Equality in IR to coincide with our event. These articles will cover:

We hope you’re able to attend the Equality in IR Forum on Wednesday and that you get something out of this series of articles. Please feel free to get in touch with questions, comments, suggestions or article ideas.

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