“A vocal, frustrated employee is one who genuinely cares”

Martin Parkes, Managing Director at BlackRock, Co-Head of EU Public Policy, and Global Co-Chair of the LGBTQ+ OUT & Allies network offers an insightful glimpse into his role and the business implications of diversity and inclusion. Parkes was a featured speaker at the 2023 OPEN Conference.

Can you share BlackRock's overall diversity and inclusion strategy and how it aligns with the company's mission and values?

Our diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy has three pillars. One is developing talent. It's about allowing people to come into the company, integrating them, and helping them develop great careers.

Second, it's about supporting our clients. We're an asset manager. We manage other people's money. We act as a fiduciary and need to respond to our client's needs. Our clients are increasingly interested in what we're doing around and how we engage in diversity, equity, and inclusion. And then, our third pillar is being actively engaged in the communities in which we operate through our philanthropic programs

Can you share some specific programs that you have at BlackRock?

Every employee gets 16 hours a year to volunteer for the charity of their choice. Employee networks can then propose charities to our social impact team for specific grants. Additionally, the network also has the ability to choose a multinational organization for a specific grant.

One of the charities I've been personally involved with is an organization in the UK called "Just Like Us", which provides LGBTQ+ training and awareness in half of UK schools. It's very rewarding because the UK went through a period where it was forbidden to talk about LGBTQ+ identity in schools, leading to a generation of people who felt left out. This initiative aims to address that.

Any program requires the support of people, and sometimes it's quite challenging to motivate people towards positive actions. How do you engage them? 

What's crucial is aligning organizational objectives with employee objectives. If left solely to individual employees, they might feel overwhelmed by the vastness of a large organization. They need to sense a strong leadership tone – to know that managers and leaders throughout the firm care about creating an inclusive environment that supports all employees. This relates to promotions, remuneration, and employee retention rates.

That's a commendable approach, but it's vital to measure its impact. The way to incentivize people is by establishing feedback loops. We can acknowledge progress by determining where we are and how far we've come. We might note that our representation levels for a particular community have increased or that we've received specific feedback from our employees. A vocal, frustrated employee is one who genuinely cares. Expressing dissatisfaction isn't the failure; the true failure is in not addressing those concerns. We regularly conduct quarterly employee sentiment surveys. We make it a point to respond, saying, “You've communicated this concern to us, many have echoed it, and we've taken action. So, continue sharing any issues you encounter. Please be detailed, and we'll do our utmost to address them.”

What other metrics can you discuss when considering diversity and inclusion in the workplace? How can it be quantified? 

Different countries have various measures, which makes it a bit complicated. The methods for data collection differ from one country to another, especially when analyzing diverse criteria or ethnic backgrounds. For instance, the way data is gathered and interpreted in the US differs from the UK. However, collecting and publishing this data is influential. The UK has introduced gender pay gap reporting, while the US emphasizes racial equity reporting. We also disclose the percentage of our employees who identify as LGBTQ.

The first time you release such data, it might seem merely informational. However, its real value emerges when you track these metrics over time – during the second, third, fourth, and fifth reporting periods, and so on. You can then evaluate if the numbers are stagnant or evolving. Take LGBTQ data as an example. It's intriguing to see national censuses starting to pose related questions. The most recent UK census, for instance, prompted individuals to reveal their LGBTQ status. This offers a benchmark: are we hiring in alignment with the nation's demographics? It provides a clear direction for future aspirations. Instead of working with arbitrary targets, we have a tangible baseline to compare against.

Martin Parkes speaks at the OPEN Conference 2023, in Budapest.
No items found.

How does BlackRock integrate its commitment to diversity and inclusion into the recruitment process?

Recruitment is absolutely crucial. We prioritize it highly. There's a resistance against, for instance, having only male shortlists. Thus, managers are encouraged to compile diverse candidate lists. Hiring managers are naturally driven to find the best candidates, which means broadening their search parameters. We've extensively collaborated with our HR team on social mobility, prompting questions like, “Do we exclusively target top-tier universities?” and “Do we consider students from disadvantaged backgrounds?” A student coming from more challenging circumstances who surpasses their school's average grade demonstrates exceptional performance. These individuals are often driven and add significant value to our teams.

From my perspective as a hiring manager, discussions about the company's culture make up at least half of the conversations during the recruitment process. Prospective hires want a deep understanding of our culture. They seek concrete examples of our support for an inclusive environment rather than vague assurances.

Has the interest in corporate culture, especially concerning diversity, been a recent development?

The shift has been profound over the last six to seven years. Reflecting on the early stages of my career, it would've been unimaginable for me to inquire about a potential employer's diversity policy. I recall simply wanting to know if a company was a pleasant place to work. Back then, we lacked the metrics, data, and language to discuss diversity in depth. Today, discussions around this topic are far more nuanced.

Can you provide some instances of how diversity and inclusion impact the business side of BlackRock? 

A growing trend among large institutional investors is their keen interest in understanding how we foster diversity and inclusion within our organization. These discussions can range from 30 minutes to as long as 90 minutes. We have a dedicated team responsible for addressing these inquiries and engaging in detailed conversations with clients about our initiatives. This has elevated the importance of diversity and inclusion as a business priority. After all, no one wants to miss out on a potential opportunity or new project due to shortcomings in their diversity and inclusion policies.

You serve as the global co-chair of Alton Alley, BlackRock's LGBTQ Network. Who participates in this network, and what impacts have you realized during your tenure?

The network was established over 15 years ago, with its roots in San Francisco, New York, and later, London. As our business expanded, we've been proactive within the network, reaching out to our newly established offices and motivating individuals to initiate their own local networks and chapters. We believe that this initiative shouldn't be limited to just a few major global cities but should be embraced universally. However, it's worth noting that the effectiveness and engagement capacity of a network in an office with thousands differ from one with just a few hundred employees.

Our goal has been to cultivate a sense of community, ensuring that even those in smaller offices feel connected to the broader group. We also focus on talent retention, support, and particularly sponsorship. While mentorship – offering guidance on issues – is valuable, sponsorship takes it a step further. Imagine having three or four individuals who act as your personal board of directors, assisting you in advancing your career. This is a potent tool. I've often collaborated with colleagues who express uncertainty about their next career move. I invest significant time connecting them with individuals who can genuinely help boost their professional growth. Our aim is to elevate to leadership positions, ensuring there are visible senior LGBTQ leaders.

This is crucial for us. Junior staff needs to see role models, to understand that their efforts are worthwhile and beneficial for their careers. They need to see that there are senior individuals like them – I can readily point out numerous managing directors who are openly engaged. Such representation not only creates opportunities but also invigorates our workforce.

No items found.
No items found.
No items found.
No items found.
No items found.
No items found.
No items found.