Fighting racism is on the private markets agenda; let’s keep it there

The leaders of some of the most prominent firms have spoken out about discrimination.

The business of private markets investment is yet again being overshadowed by wider societal events.

The 25 May killing of George Floyd, an African American man who died in police custody in Minneapolis, set off a wave of racial protests across the US. Since then, demonstrations have also been held in countries around the globe – including the UK, Germany, South Africa and New Zealand – in solidarity with the US Black Lives Matter movement.

In response to these events, the leadership of many of the largest private markets managers, including Blackstone, KKR, TPG, Vista Equity Partners and The Carlyle Group, issued statements this week taking a stand against racism and discrimination.

We have experienced emotions ranging from disbelief, anger, sadness, helplessness, shame, as we are sure many of our readers have too.

There are concrete steps that private markets firms – and their investors – can do to promote diversity and inclusion: the recruitment and advancement of minority employees at their organisations and through partnering or investing with minority and women-owned firms. Many firms and investors have already started these journeys, but there is a long way to go.

As with other complex and deep-rooted societal issues, there are no quick fixes. There is also a risk that, once the fires are put out, the urgency to make necessary changes will dissipate. We’ll just move on to the next tragedy.

A recurring theme in the firms’ statements is conversation and the importance of dialogue. KKR is launching an initiative “to get to know our colleagues in a three-dimensional way, understanding their stories, their experiences and their backgrounds”. Carlyle’s leaders challenge their staff to reach out and expand their understanding of their colleagues’ experience.

On this topic, we understand that we have a role to play. Part of our challenge is to engage with our audiences and understand how their organisations are feeling the effects of – and addressing – the issue of discrimination. Our attempts to do so have been met with resistance at times; it is not something private funds firms and their LPs have felt compelled to speak out on, reflecting perhaps the topic’s innate sensitivity. This may be about to change, given current events.

In their note to staff, TPG’s co-chiefs write: “This will be uncomfortable for many of us, but it matters. We are dealing with a set of societal practices, structures and behaviours which are shamefully, painfully wrong. We can learn to get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

We too will do our best to help keep the conversation going, as uncomfortable as it may be.

Write to the authors at toby.m@peimedia.com and evelyn.l@peimedia.com.