Starting a journey to include diverse voices in in the private equity industry can be challenging, but panelists at Mergers & Acquisitions’ PE Leaders in DEI Speak event earlier today shared best practices on how to navigate the process. “You need to build trust before you can build change,” said Roark Capital head of diversity and social responsibility Allison Hill. Hill reached out to firm stakeholders at every level to craft a mission statement with buy-in from the top to the bottom of her firm, allocating accountability along the way.

Such employee outreach is critical to help “understand the gaps” between DEI goals and current practice, while inviting employees to be part of the process, Alvarez & Marsal managing director Vivian Santora said. The process could otherwise feel accusatory, so it is important to bring in voices and explain that both input and expectations are welcome.

Toward that end, inclusion efforts don’t need to be branded as such to achieve targets. Including more robust diversity targets or lessons into “leadership trainings” or other ongoing education efforts that typify advancement are one way to build a firmwide culture that links gender and cultural competency with leadership.

Similarly, acknowledging that cultural differences permeate the work environment can go a long way in creating an equal playing field. Some job candidates will have grown up socialized to know the difference between a long and a short position over dinner table conversation, while others might feel less comfortable socializing over a game of golf, says Corrie Menary, a partner at Kirtland Capital Partners.

Leadership buy-in and belief are other critical components of crafting DEI goals into culture, the panelists agreed, and efforts are already bearing fruit. It’s welcome news for a private equity industry increasingly focused on quantifying progress toward a more inclusive workplace, and the financial returns that accompany it.

For more, read Introducing the 2021 Private Equity Leaders in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

-Brandon Zero