Given potentially fewer resources, it possible to move diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) forward within mid-size or smaller organizations? Not only is the answer "yes," we believe it's one of the most critical initiatives a firm can undertake to enhance culture while positively impacting the bottom line.
Diversity, equity and inclusion is a key focus at Mesirow, and the firm continues to advance initiatives and efforts on this front.
Key drivers that have enabled our progress include:
Access to senior leadership
Ability to be more agile
Opportunities for employee recognition
Recognizing that organizational size does not determine impact or commitment
Access to Senior Leadership
An organization can’t move DEI forward without senior leadership commitment. At Mesirow, senior leadership comprises strong advocates who are willing to make their voices heard both internally and externally as we continue to enhance our DEI footprint and are active participants in our efforts. One example is the Mesirow Opportunity and Inclusion Program. The program is an extension of our existing internship partnership with the Anixter Center and aims to provide additional employment opportunities at Mesirow for adult-age individuals with disabilities. Dominick Mondi, President, Mesirow and CEO, Capital Markets, was heavily involved in the design and launch of this endeavor, which is a direct reflection of Mesirow’s commitment and dedication to the inclusion of all people. As with other DEI initiatives at Mesirow, this program would not have come to fruition without the strong engagement of senior leadership, an inherent benefit of working for a smaller firm.
Ability to be More Agile
As an independent firm, Mesirow is highly entrepreneurial and collaborative. When embedding diversity and inclusion into our culture, this combination allows us to experiment more often and adjust as necessary.
Several years ago, we launched a two-year rotational analyst program in our Investment Management division and are now expanding this across additional Mesirow business lines. The program is aimed at serving as an entry-point for diverse college graduates looking to pursue a career in financial services. The program consists of four six-month rotations across our alternative direct, multi-manager and traditional investment management businesses. Upon completion of the program, (dependent on business needs and analysts’ performance), analysts have an opportunity to be placed directly into one of our businesses to continue their careers at Mesirow. In this instance, our smaller company size served as an advantage, enabling us to respond quickly and implement adjustments to the Program nimbly and without delay.
Creating Opportunities for Employee Recognition
A key driver to ensuring an inclusive environment is employee engagement. To honor our founder, Norman Mesirow, every summer we present the “Norman Awards,” celebrating and recognizing employees who are making positive contributions to our business, clients, workplace and community.
The awards are presented during our annual summer employee outing. Taking time to recognize and honor individual contributions in a public way motivates employee performance and engagement.
It boosts morale and reinforces the vital role that employees at all levels play in the success of our firm. The awards become a physical and meaningful reminder that each of us brings unique skills and talents contributing to the growth of our business as a whole. The awards also keep us connected to the values upon which Mesirow was founded.
Realizing That Size Doesn’t Matter
Three years ago, Mesirow hosted an event with Out & Equal Chicagoland and other finance-focused companies, on the subject of driving impact in organizations that lack critical mass. After the event, I was speaking with one of the organizers who asked me if we had an LGBTQ-focused employee resource group (ERG). I admitted to him that I was skeptical of creating a group while lacking critical mass. His response was, “never underestimate the ability of a small number of committed, energetic and organized individuals to get things done.” Several months later, we launched PrideConnect.
The hardworking, dedicated committee of six behind PrideConnect has managed to produce more educational resources and programs related to LGBTQ issues and awareness, as well as drum up enthusiasm and support among employees, than I had thought possible. We now have a list of allies and supporters that continues to grow. Most importantly, we recently received a score of 100 percent on the Human Right’s Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index for the second consecutive year and proudly stand among only 571 companies -- of all sizes -- across the country that have earned that score.
Our experience over the past several years has demonstrated that, when leadership is committed to the work and employees understand the value of their engagement, the needle moves forward for all.
Impacting change at smaller firms comes with challenges, but also unique opportunities. While companies continue to grow as a more diverse and inclusive organization, access to senior leadership, the ability to quickly modify and enhance ongoing programs and initiatives, creating opportunities for employee recognition and having the right people lead the work, are advantages that have enabled Mesirow to move DEI forward in instrumental ways.