Diversity is good for business. It leads to higher returns and more innovation, as a growing body of research makes clear. But the financial services industry still has a long way to go. For example, a recent study of financial services companies by management consulting firm Oliver Wyman found that only 13 percent of executive committee members and 4 percent of CEOs were women.

The chances of women rising through the ranks are lower in financial services than in other industries, according to Oliver Wyman (See video below). "Women's probability of progression from middle to senior levels of management, relative to their male counterparts, is worse in financial services than in any other sector," says the report. "It is less than half as likely for a woman in financial services to progress from a middle- to a senior-level position as it is for a man."

The Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) has launched many initiatives to increase diversity in the middle market. For example, ACG Chicago and the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) teamed up recently to host the Minority Finance Forum, aimed at helping minority-owned businesses gain access to capital. Finding capital is the biggest challenge minority-owned businesses face, says Alejandra Castillo, director of the MBDA.

One middle-market law firm that stands out for embracing diversity with enthusiasm is Gibson Dunn & Crutcher. The firm's website includes detailed information on diversity issues, including work-life balance. The site also features videos with attorneys talking about diversity topics, including what it's like to be gay at the firm.

Diversity isn't always easy, but it's vital for success. As James Surowiecki, staff writer for The New Yorker, points out, "While diverse groups perform well, they can be harder to manage and more challenging to work in than homogeneous ones, precisely because diverse perspectives lead to more disagreement and conflict. So even when the results are better, people are less happy with the experience. To fix this, you have to consciously reshape how people deal with one another, and that entails some cultural disruption. But it's a price worth paying."

For more coverage on diversity in the M&A community, see Private Equity Perspective: The RLJ Rule for a look at the firm founded by Black Entertainment Television founder Robert L. Johnson in 2006.

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