Industry figures defend DEI after blog raises questions over trustee diversity

Article by Barry Parr on trustee diversity sparks call to work harder on understanding

Professional Pensions
clock • 4 min read
Industry figures defend DEI after blog raises questions over trustee diversity

We all must “work harder” to understand the issues faced by those we don’t naturally represent from our lived experience and boost diversity, industry figures say.

The comments follow an article (since unpublished - PP apology here) by professional trustee Barry Parr who argued there were a range of factors that may have more impact on members than the age, gender or ethnicity of trustees.

The article generated some strong responses. In a LinkedIn post responding to Parr's column, Bravura Solutions principal business consultant Jonathan Hawkins said he was "raging" over yet another post that "wholly misunderstands and misrepresents the point and purpose of diversity and inclusion".

He said the use of the word 'woke' in such an article was "typical" of a "generation who have no understanding of the future direction of society and the world".

Hawkins added it might be possible to take the view that it is existing trustees and received wisdom that have got us to a position where "we don't deliver anywhere near what we should to the end consumers".

He argued: "We have under-representation in all manner of areas of our pensions system; we don't deliver to end consumers in a way they understand; we still have too many 'boys club' mentalities in spite of requests for diversity; investments in oil and other 'bad' industries are mainstream and greenwashing is on the rise; costs and charges are too high for too little; communications are poor and/or confusing; self-service and online tools are (generally) shocking and poorly designed and delivered. We could even look at the liability-driven investment issues - the list goes on where the current system has been far from stellar."

Hawkins concluded: "On behalf of my personal under-represented groups (and probably the groups I am not a member of) as well as those under 45, if you 'don't get' the need for diverse and inclusive talent and voices within pensions management and trustee boards, then I strongly urge you to make way for newer generations of trustees and advisers who will relish diversity of background and opinion and build and lift up those who look to the future to ensure that members are truly represented and looked after over the next 40+ years."

Working harder to consider the views of others

Aon senior partner Lynda Whitney also felt Parr's article needed a response.

In a separate LinkedIn post, Whitney said: "Allyship requires us to work harder to understand the issues of those we don't naturally represent from our lived experience.

"Taking one of Barry's examples I haven't been divorced so I have to work harder to think about what someone going through divorce needs to know about pensions. I have lived with dementia in the family, so it may be a bit more immediately natural for me to think about the issues of how those people make decisions and then formal powers of attorney and how they would fit in a process."

She added: "You want the best candidate for a role, but as a team you are stronger if people have a range of lived experiences and inclusion that allows them to speak up and naturally apply those experience to pensions work."

Aon partner and head of collective defined contribution (CDC) Chintan Gandhi agreed. In his response to the article, he said: "My background & lived experiences mean I have friends who've been through divorce and pension sharing (v. complicated when both DC and public-sector defined benefit is in scope), a close friend who has recovered from cancer, and sadly a colleague who didn't (devastating not least for their young family). But I do need to work harder to consider the perspectives of those who I have no reference points to relate to, and that's where diversity comes in.

"Diversity brings both different & relevant experiences and lived experience to the table. Inclusion allows everyone to have a voice and share the benefits of their experiences & perspective. Equity is ensuring we give everyone the support they need to have an equal chance to thrive/succeed."

Gandhi added: "On the latter, we shouldn't shy away from turning to those from different backgrounds, giving them the support they need to get up to speed so that they can valuably contribute in a role such as a pension scheme trustee. I for one have really valued & am grateful for all the support many colleagues, industry peers, friends & family have given me over my 15yrs in pensions: I am sure without that I wouldn't be doing what I do today."

Read more

View Professional Pensions' diversity hub here: https://www.professionalpensions.com/tag/diversity

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