Retirement Plan Providers Amplifying Diversity and Inclusion Efforts

Concrete steps providers are taking to increase equity within the workforce are examples plan sponsors can follow.

Over the past several weeks, major companies, including retirement plan providers, have publicly condemned racism, fueled by a growing support for the Black Lives Matter movement and a widespread denunciation of systemic and institutional inequalities.

Organizations have pledged to donate to anti-discrimination groups and to support Black businesses, and many have taken to social media to post messages in solidarity. But that’s not all companies can, and should, do.

Instituting diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives with programs tailored to hire, retain and promote Black and brown workers is a start, says Connie Lindsey, executive vice president and head of corporate social responsibility and global diversity, equity and inclusion at Northern Trust.

She says plan sponsors must consider accountability, culture and training and development when implementing D&I strategies. Lindsey says employers need to hold their leadership and teams accountable and keep senior managers and executives engaged for the long-term, not just for the moment or when the world is watching.

Second, employers should understand the culture of the organization, she adds, and examine how this culture is influenced by the individuals who work there—by the team’s race, ethnicity, gender, age and more. She says plan sponsors should ask, “What does this culture do, and how does it either advance or preclude success for people of color and Black people?”

Lastly, she says plan sponsors should reflect on the training and development efforts embedded into company standards and examine whether a change is overdue. Development can mean identifying talent and talent pipelines, Lindsey adds, to ensure open positions and promotions are filled in an equitable way.

“Equity suggests that to achieve the kind of success in inclusive cultures that we strive for, the structural and institutional ways of promotion, hiring and retention training can do that,” she explains.

At Northern Trust, the corporate social responsibility team created a dashboard for top executives that’s designed to track the company’s development in diversity and inclusion efforts, as well as to establish next-step goals. “It’s really how we’re tracking measurable efforts and a chief component to the success in our strategies,” Lindsey adds.

Additionally, Northern Trust makes investments in community development financial institutions (CDFIs) to address societal needs such as affordable housing. The company also established its Perform, Refine, Engage and Progress (PREP) platform to support Black and Hispanic entry-level workers and help them reach promotions and career advancements, along with a global enterprise talent leadership initiative and six-month career development program for Black and non-white people of color at the mid-career level.

TIAA developed a program that was driven specifically to address the disparate effects of COVID-19 among the Black and brown communities, through its business resource group for Black and Caribbean professionals called Empowered. “The program opened eyes to the disproportionate impact and affection in major cities, and compared it to the overall population,” says Corie Pauling, chief diversity and inclusion officer at TIAA.

Lindsey notes that speaking about these topics encourages workers to have discussions outside of the workplace, as every organization has the ability to influence its workforce. “We were actually opening their eyes to make it their personal responsibility to talk to their families, friends, communities and on social media about this to influence the types of precaution and safety measures that enable the community to hopefully get us past this,” she notes. “You should never underestimate the power of an organization to use its workforce as ambassadors for the broader message.”

Aside from workforce strategies, it’s imperative to note what products and services are being delivered, and how plan sponsors, financial providers and advisers can include unique and diverse perspectives in their offerings, Lindsey says.

One way plan sponsors can add perspectives of different demographics to decisions about their retirement programs is to make sure committee membership represents the diversity in the workforce.

Pauling notes that D&I is crucial for all organizations, and that they should understand the distinctions and gaps in varying life experiences. If companies cannot identify and anticipate the distinctions, employees and clients will believe that the company can’t or won’t serve their needs, especially when it comes to retirement, Pauling says.

“Just like our employees expect us to speak out on social issues and not have a corporate veil where we don’t acknowledge what’s going on outside our doors, similarly, clients expect to hear from folks with which they engage,” she continues. “And they appreciate that level of care and outreach proactively.”