Showtime’s Billions is one of the best shows on television.
It blends excellent storytelling, great acting and writing, and a keen sense for its focal point, Axe Capital, a Connecticut hedge fund.
We don’t often see fund management on the small screen. But Billions has also brought something else unusual: Asia Kate Dillon’s portrayal of Taylor Mason.
Both the character and the person who plays them is non-binary, meaning they don’t identify as either male or female. What’s striking about this is not just the boundary-busting they’ve done, but also the speed with which their colleagues accept their identity, pronouns, and personhood. When Taylor comes out to their boss, the reaction is “You know, the difference in you is actually your advantage.”
So where is the real-life Taylor? I’d wager the answer is simple: hiding in plain sight.
There is tremendous pressure to keep what makes us different a secret in the workplace. NYU School of Law and Deloitte surveyed 3,129 professionals and found that 61% take action to cover up at least one element of their personality, whether that means straightening their hair to de-emphasize race, avoiding discussions about motherhood to appear more committed at work, or refraining from bringing a same-sex partner to a work function.
The authors also found:
“45 percent of straight White men — who have not been the focus of most inclusion efforts — reported covering. This finding seems particularly promising, given that a model of inclusion should, almost by definition, be one in which all individuals can see themselves.”
It’ll take more than saying it to make it so, but it’s a start. Why does that problem seem so hard, though? Being effective takes empathy no matter who you work with. But too often human beings are met with raised eyebrows instead of open arms when they find the courage to stop covering.
That’s too bad, and not just for the people left to go it alone. Monocultural firms can only scale so far. And when co-workers see a colleague separate from their employer because of a characteristic, the best-case scenario is that they just feel a little uneasy as a result. The worst is that such action allows bias to calcify into blindness or even bigotry.
When I came out to my colleagues as a transgender woman in October of last year, one of the things I said was, “If you can respect me as a human, seeing me as a woman is a matter of time.”
That time has come quickly, and my boldest hope is that it will come for you if you’d like it to. I know what it’s like to feel my dignity is contingent on keeping my immutable characteristics secret. It hurt the whole time I was trying, and I’ve never been gladder to give something up.
Everyone ought to be so lucky no matter what they don’t feel able to say. But how to help them out? For a start, here are five great links about diversity and inclusion in investment management:
- “Performance Isn’t Everything: Personal Characteristics and Career Outcomes of Mutual Fund Managers” (SSRN)
- There’s a brand new special report up at P&I (Pensions & Investments)
- “Diverse Asset Management Project Firm Assessment” (Harvard Business School and Bella Research Group)
- “Why Diversity Programs Fail” (Harvard Business Review)
- “Gay on Wall Street” (Institutional Investor)
On 20–21 September, CFA Institute will host Diversity & Inclusion 2018: Strategies for Success in San Francisco, the latest in its series of Women in Investment Management events. This event will feature provocative presentations and interactive discussions designed to better position and shape investment firms for the future and help everyone in the industry move ahead in their careers.
All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.