Nuveen: Deal teams must look outward

Investment teams must mirror the communities that their infrastructure is designed to serve, says managing director of the private infrastructure group at Nuveen, Isela Bahena

Isela Bahena

How diverse is infrastructure today?

It’s probably one of the more diverse sectors within financial services from a gender perspective, but there is still a long way to go. We see little or no diversity by gender or race in the senior ranks.

How has the conversation moved on in the last year?

Both the #MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter have thrust these issues into the spotlight. Investors are asking more challenging questions than they ever have before. We do see differences by geography, however, particularly with regard to race, where the conversation in the US is typically more advanced. For example, after the killing of George Floyd last May, our parent company, TIAA, issued a groundbreaking challenge to “Be the Change” – which was our call to action around social injustice that continues to resonate today.

What challenges does infra face in DE&I?

There needs to be a greater willingness among senior-level executives to mentor and sponsor a diverse set of associates from a much earlier stage. People tend to have a natural affinity for others who look just like them or remind them of their younger selves. But I would encourage colleagues to be more conscious about those that they seek to bring up through the ranks. Expand your perspective because that will open doors for more diverse talent.

Is a lack of candidates ever an excuse?

An extraordinary number of programmes have emerged over my 20-plus year career that are designed to build a pipeline of prospective candidates. When I hear people saying they can’t find diverse talent, I can only assume they’re looking in the wrong places. There are many early to mid-career talent organisations that bring together people with similar backgrounds or interests. Partnering with them can help companies proactively source, attract and hire highly skilled, diverse talent. Frankly, now it is easier than ever.

And what about fostering inclusion?

It needs to start at the top. Leadership needs to showcase how important this is to the firm and make it clear that fostering an inclusive environment is an expectation of managers at all levels. There are formal programmes that have a role to play. But just as important is the creation of a culture where everyone’s views and skillsets are welcomed and any sense of exclusion is not tolerated.

How successful do you feel you have been?

On the infrastructure team, we are extraordinarily diverse. We are small. There are only eight of us. But 40 percent are women – and 25 percent racially diverse – and it is something we talk about openly when we’re looking to hire along with the focus on inclusion, diversity and equity at Nuveen. The support and allyship of our senior management team has been critical to our success in this area. We’re proud of our DE&I efforts but recognise opportunities remain to strengthen gender and ethnicity representation.

Why is DE&I so important for infrastructure?

Infrastructure is essential to society, so it’s important that our decision-making is reflective of that societal mix. We have a wide spectrum of community stakeholders and it is vital all are treated fairly and that we do not inadvertently disadvantage a community we are proud to serve.