Institutional investors are driving efforts to improve gender diversity within the alternative investments space, but there are still major challenges in recruiting, retaining and advancing women within such organizations, according to a report by KPMG.

From a pool of nearly 900 participants in the alternative investments sector, most men (76 per cent) and women (84 per cent) agreed achieving gender diversity is a business imperative. However, more women (65 per cent) than men (45 per cent) said they believe the industry isn’t doing enough to advance women. However, three-quarters (75 per cent) of participants noted they plan to prioritize this goal in the coming year compared to 60 per cent who said the same last year.

Read: Editorial: We are woman: A call for gender diversity, pay equity and workplace mentorship 

Including the male voice in the survey was a key development for the 2019 report, which has been released annually since 2011, says Kelly Rau, an audit partner in alternative investments at KPMG and a co-author of the report.

“I think we’ve all known and always known that some of the top male leaders in our industry need to be involved . . . in order to continue to have more women at the table. But this is the first year we actually surveyed men.”

The survey also found the number of firms planning to require diversity statistics from potential investments rose from 16 per cent to 37 per cent over the last year. Nearly half (42 per cent) said they plan to require firms in their portfolios to improve gender diversity compared to 11 per cent in 2018.

“Some of the funds are getting pressure from institutional investors because the institutional investors are getting pressure from their underlying folks who are saying, ‘We are a teachers’ retirement system and most of our constituents are women so let’s start looking at this,'” says Rau. “As well, the investors from pension plans and endowments, they’re starting to have requests for diversity statistics.”

Read: Women in Canada‚Äôs pension, benefits industry discuss careers, pay equity and mentorship

Among survey participants, 75 per cent said they’ll be asking about a firm’s diversity efforts when meeting with an investment team, up from 60 per cent in 2018.

The survey also highlighted the diversity initiatives some firms are taking internally, including providing flexible working schedules (49 per cent) and providing parental or adoption leave (55 per cent).

The KPMG report highlighted specific, effective practices for firms looking to improve their efforts on gender diversity. When hiring, for example, firms should establish a diverse pool of candidates and set a goal to consider a certain percentage of candidates from different demographics. As well, job postings should be gender neutral and free of potential bias, in addition to ensuring human resources take a standardized approach to the evaluation process for all candidates.

Read: Cambridge Associates adds investment director to focus on women, minority asset managers

When it comes to retention and advancement, creating an inclusive culture can be especially important, the report noted. Part of achieving this means frequent messaging on the importance of diversity from higher-ups, holding managers accountable for meeting diversity goals, as well as supporting affinity groups and other methods to help women feel more included, it suggested.

Flexibility around parenthood is also key, with the report recommending firms provide 16 weeks of paid parental leave, as well as support and coaching and flexible work arrangements wherever possible.

Active mentorship is also a major component of helping women advance in the field, the report found, including ensuring women have access to executive leaders and mentorship programs with more senior women.

Read: CIBC launches women in leadership bond aimed at institutional investors

Copyright © 2019 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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