Dan Houlihan is the head of asset servicing for Americas at Northern Trust and also serves as the chairman of NICSA, an asset management industry group. In that role, he’s helped launch the US brand of The Diversity Project, an industry initiative to improve representation. We sat down with Dan to talk diversity, communications in the financial industry.
Q. How did you get involved in The Diversity Project?
A. Northern Trust is actively involved in the UK branch of the Diversity Project and they’ve gained quite a bit of momentum in just a few years. A colleague of mine suggested that we approach NICSA to serve as the platform on which we could launch a similar initiative in North America.
Q. Why have you chosen this model – why get executives involved?
A. Successful business leaders understand that we will drive innovation and performance most effectively when we embed diversity and inclusion into the day to day fabric of running our business. Importantly, we have to recognize this not a “diversity and inclusion initiative”, but a business imperative.
Q. What will The Diversity Project do in the States?
A. We will begin by working to address the perception that financial services is not a diverse industry. Secondly, The Diversity Project will serve as a platform for member firms to share best practices as it relates to their own diversity & inclusion initiatives. Partnering business leaders with diversity and inclusion specialists is key.
Q. When talking to other organizations, what has been helpful in getting them to join?
A. The industry collaboration component of this is particularly compelling. As an example, our collective ability to affect the perception of financial services in higher education should – over time – increase the diversity of the talent pool available, which will benefit us all.
Q. You were a big proponent of talking about the Project and being public from the beginning. Why did you take this approach?
A. I have been a champion of this issue for a long time based on my belief that diverse organizations are higher performing, more creative and more interesting places to work.
Q. What’s the response been since the launch of The Diversity Project?
A. Overwhelmingly positive. This has been a “top of the house” challenge for some time, but we have a unique opportunity to address it collectively as an industry and firms are excited to participate.
Q. Some companies worry that because they aren’t incredibly diverse, they should not be talking about issues of diversity. What do you say to them?
A. I say they should not shy away. They should absolutely participate – this is a challenge that impacts us all. None of us are perfect, and that underscores the need for this now.
Q. Why you are interested in diversity?
A. I find it disappointing that there is the perception that this industry is run by white males. In reality, based on my experience over the past 30 years, financial services represents an incredibly diverse opportunity set for people of all backgrounds.
Q. What role will communications have in setting the future of the Diversity Project?
A. Communication and continued education is important at all levels, including across the industry and within companies. It is absolutely critical that we communicate the realities, establish a baseline and take concrete, measurable action to drive positive change.
This interview was conducted by Cognito Vice President Jon Brubaker at the NICSA Conference in Boston.