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Yale’s Swensen Tells Money Managers to Step Up Diversity Hiring. Expect Other Investors to Follow. | Barron’s


“Our goal is a level of diversity in investment management firms that reflects the diversity in the world in which we live,” Swensen wrote in the Oct. 2 letter, posted Oct. 23 on the Yale Investments Office website. “Genuine diversity remains elusive, giving investors like Yale and your firm an opportunity to drive change.”

He wrote that “success will be measured by hiring, training, mentoring, and retaining women and minorities for positions on the investment teams at Yale and in your firm.”

Yale’s endowment is one of the largest in the U.S., and Swensen has pioneered the heavy use of alternative investments by university endowments rather than traditional stocks and bonds. He has generated big gains for the endowment, which he has led since 1985.

Many college endowments—which now have combined assets of about $600 billion—have emulated Swensen’s investing approach for years and are now likely to adopt diversity policies or step up their continuing efforts.

“It’s a sign of the times, and it’s long overdue,” said Martin Whittaker, CEO of JUST Capital, a nonprofit that tracks corporations on stakeholder performance issues. “There’s no doubt in my mind that others will follow. This will have a cascading effect.”

Yale’s position on diversity mirrors that of many businesses and corporations—“that we can and must do better as a society” on racial and gender equality, Whittaker said.

The Wall Street Journal earlier reported Swensen’s letter. He told the Journal in an interview that the Black Lives Matter movement has had a galvanizing effect on him and his team, which led to discussions about how to address the lack of diversity in the investing world.

The endowment won’t mandate specific targets for the 70 U.S. money managers Yale invests with, but Swensen said the university could pull its money from firms that show little progress, according to the Journal.

Yale spells out how it could work “to implement its ethical investment policies.”

“In addition to attempting moral suasion, Yale might be able to avoid certain investments through ‘excuse’ provisions, which are part of some private-equity funds, or work with the manager to liquidate the relevant position,” according to the policy on its website. “As a last resort, the university could disassociate from the investment manager by selling the fund interest to a secondary buyer.”

In his letter, Swensen noted that “we are not asking about firm ownership as a factor in measuring diversity. Ownership per se does not necessarily relate to having a diverse investment team and does not directly measure progress toward the goal we hope to achieve.”

He advocated hiring and training people early in their careers in order to expand the number of diverse investment management professionals. “Why not hire directly from college campuses?” he wrote. “Colleges and universities are richly diverse.”

Swensen has long been known for hiring and teaching protegees—including women—who now run their own investment funds. “I wouldn’t be sitting in this seat without such a great mentor as David,” said Paula Volent, chief investment officer of Bowdoin College’s endowment and a Swensen protegee. Volent, one of Barron’s100 Women in U.S. Finance, runs the $1.7 billion fund at the small liberal-arts college in Brunswick, Maine, and is known for beating many bigger college funds, including the Ivy League.

“This is not an easy fix,” Volent said. “It will take a while. David is a leader so I say good for him to get out in front of it.”

Swensen isn’t the first to tackle the inequality issue. Other endowments and nonprofits have been reviewing and instituting new policies.

In 2019, TIFF Investment Management, an outsourced chief investment office that serves nonprofit and endowed institutions, hired Neo Ivy Capital Management, a quantitative hedge fund founded by Renee Yao, in an effort to boost women and minority-owned investment managers, said TIFF CEO Kane Brenan.

Princeton University Investment, which manages the university’s $26 billion endowment and is led by Andrew Golden—also a Swensen protegee—has made diversity and inclusion a priority for years.

Five of the seven firms—the fund has fewer than 50 U.S.-based managers—Princeton has hired in the past two years would be measured as diverse, Golden wrote in a July letter to lawmakers.

“The focus on diversity is enmeshed in everything we do,” Golden said, from hiring money managers to the fund’s senior leadership to its trustees. “We are always asking the question, ‘Is this going to help advance this particular cause?’’’

Verger Capital Management in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which manages $1.8 billion for nonprofit clients, including Wake Forest University’s endowment, in 2018 started to survey its 89 money managers about their investment policies on ESG, or environmental, social, and governance issues.

Verger continues to research and measure the impact of its inquiry, and it looked at its own policies at the time, which resulted in an increase in pay for two women at the firm, said Jim Dunn, Verger’s CEO and chief investment officer. “It’s a continued effort,’’ he said. “We want to know how our managers think about these issues, and now it’s become a normal discussion.”

“It’s the responsibility of the institutional investor to handle these topics,” Dunn said. “David has a platform where he can affect change. He has the ability to move the needle.”

There is plenty of work left to do. In July, Reps. Emanuel Cleaver II (D., Mo.) and Joseph P. Kennedy III (D., Mass.) queried the 25 largest U.S. college endowments about their diverse-owned investment firms. In a statement, they cited a study showing that firms owned by women and minorities manage just 1.3% of the assets in the $69 trillion asset management industry.

The 25 universities, which included Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Notre Dame, “hold more than $200 billion in endowments and can change the face of asset management if they choose to do so,” Kennedy said in the statement.

In an Oct. 8 follow-up, the lawmakers cited some of the findings: Assets under management with diverse-owned firms ranged from 5.1% to 35%; many respondents don’t track investments with these firms, and only three responding universities detailed specific targets for future allocations.

The inquiry was “an important first step” in uncovering the disparities, Cleaver said in the statement. He said “there is certainly room for improvement,” and legislators will use the report to “help inform Congress on steps that need to be taken to facilitate greater diversity.”

The demand for greater diversity in the asset management industry is “a terrific sign of progress,” said Margaret Chen, global head of endowments and foundations at investment firm Cambridge Associates, which has about $36 billion in assets under management. “It’s top of mind for Cambridge Associates and many of our clients, and it will take a village to make sustained, meaningful progress on the diversity front.”

Write to Mary Romano at

This content was originally published here.

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