The Carlyle Group is teaming up with the Milken Institute to make asset management more diverse

October 14, 2021, 2:30 PM UTC

The asset management industry, like the rest of the finance world, is a far cry from being considered diverse. But amid the broader push for diversity, equity, and inclusion across industries, private equity giant Carlyle Group and the Milken Institute, a nonpartisan and nonprofit think tank, are teaming up to address the issue from the roots.

The Milken Institute’s Center for Financial Markets is launching a program to improve diversity and “promote an inclusive culture” in asset management firms for women and Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC), the institute and Carlyle announced Thursday. Carlyle is a strategic partner and underwriter in the initiative.

Dubbed the DEI in Asset Management Program, the initiative will include an advisory council of industry leaders, roundtable discussions, and “issue-specific” research, focusing on “identifying and addressing impediments to investing in asset management firms with diverse founders and providing more diverse candidates with opportunities to join top financial institutions,” Blair C. Smith, senior director of the Center for Financial Markets, said in a news release.

That effort will include looking into developing a curriculum for undergraduate BIPOC students to prepare them for roles in the asset management business and build a more diverse pipeline, as well as convening industry leaders to push for public policy and industry standards related to diversity objectives. “We are committed to using our spheres of influence to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion and, in turn, build better businesses,” said Kewsong Lee, CEO of Carlyle, in the news release.

“The purpose is both creating opportunity and addressing the fiduciary responsibility to maximize returns,” Richard Ditizio, president and chief operating officer of the Milken Institute, told Fortune via email. “Our plan is to determine and promote action-oriented recommendations to investment firms, academia, and other institutions that will lead to measurable DEI outcomes in the asset management industry,” from the ground floor to the C-suite.

As for Carlyle, “We really see ourselves as the seed funders for this,” Kara Helander, the firm’s head of diversity, equity, and inclusion, told Fortune. At this point Carlyle’s financial support will extend into 2022, but Helander indicated the firm knows progress is “not going to happen overnight” and is “committed to focusing on this issue.” Carlyle declined to provide specifics about the size of its funding commitment.

While the private equity firm is the first to back the program, “clearly there will be more to help shape the agenda and the work that the initiative undertakes,” likely including those in academia and research as well as others in the asset management industry, Helander said.

Part of that agenda is creating a “baseline measurement” of current industry standards, as well as researching metrics to track outcomes, which Helander believes is key, considering “one of the things that the whole industry struggles with is, what is a uniform set of standards or metrics that we’re going to track?” For this program, Milken’s Ditizio describes it as “setting the bar for success at commercial demand for—and an equitable supply of—diverse professionals, and expanded underwriting for emerging asset managers.” The institute is still analyzing studies and conducting research to understand “what metrics might help achieve those goals,” he said. 

Carlyle itself has recently been upping its diversity efforts, including a goal to have 30% diverse board members on its portfolio companies globally, ESG-linked credit facilities in the U.S. and Europe, and tying employee compensation to diversity goals. But as of May, only 3% of the firm’s senior employees in the U.S. were Black, and only 4% identified as Hispanic or Latinx, per an Insider report the company confirmed. In response to the statistic, Helander told Fortune that “we’re making progress internally” and that the firm is “continuing to put emphasis on that,” but there was “no major shift” in those figures in the past “three or four” months. Carlyle’s own board, meanwhile, remains largely white and male.

But across the industry, Helander is optimistic about what she’s seeing in terms of willingness to work on diversity.

“Our portfolio company management teams are coming to us for advice and guidance around this because they want to do this well,” she added. “And I’m encouraged by that.”

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