Advancing Diversity and Inclusion in Smaller and Mid-Size Companies

Is it possible to move diversity and inclusion (D&I) forward within mid-size or smaller organizations?  Not only is the answer, “yes,” but I would argue it’s one of the most important initiatives you can actively work on to enhance a firm’s culture while positively affecting its bottom-line.

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Within four years, Mesirow Financial has demonstrated significant progress advancing our diversity and inclusion efforts. Key drivers that have enabled our progress include:

  • Easier access to senior leadership
  • Ability to be more agile
  • Creating opportunities for employee recognition
  • Realizing that size does not determine impact or commitment

Easier Access to Senior Leadership
You can’t move D&I forward without senior leadership commitment. The senior leadership team at Mesirow does not only consist of strong advocates internally and externally for improving our D&I footprint, but also become active members in our efforts. For example, we recently launched 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. Our President and CEO, Dominick Mondi, was heavily involved in the design and launch of this endeavor. This program is a direct reflection of Mesirow’s commitment and dedication to the inclusion of all people. As with other D&I 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. 

Last June, we launched a two-year rotational analyst program in our Investment Management division. 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. While the program has been deemed a tremendous success, we have made slight tweaks and adjustments along the way. Our smaller company size has served as an advantage, allowing us to respond quickly and implement changes 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.

Executive Chairman Richard Price presents PrideConnect with a Norman Award

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 the critical mass. His response was, “never underestimate the ability of a small number of committed, energetic and organized individuals to get things done.” Last year, we launched PrideConnect, our newest ERG.

The hardworking, dedicated committee of six 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 and proudly stand among only 571 companies across the country that have earned that score. This is an admirable accomplishment for a smaller-sized firm.

It is true:  Size doesn’t matter. When leadership is committed to the work and employees understand the value of stepping up and getting involved, the needle moves forward for everyone.

Impacting change at smaller firms comes with challenges, but also unique opportunities. While companies continue to grow as a more diverse and inclusive organization, easier access to senior leadership, the ability to respond and adjust quickly to new programs and initiatives, creating opportunities for employee recognition and having the right people lead the work, are advantages that enable Mesirow to move D&I forward in instrumental ways.

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