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Why Diversity Isn't Always All-Inclusive - Stephen Doyle has an important message for the proponents of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

“The good news is that you didn’t have a stroke. The bad news is it looks like you might have Parkinson’s Disease.” These were the words uttered by my neurologist almost five years ago. Since that day (which is forever etched in my memory), I have learnt that my neurologist was correct. I did in fact have Parkinson’s Disease (PD) and, thanks to the great support of my wife, family, friends, neurologists, physical therapists and many more care professionals, I have finally got to the stage where I can say confidently that I am Living With Parkinson’s.

To the layperson, that might seem to be a play on words. However, to those that have been affected by this degenerative disease, it is often a long process from diagnosis to accepting the condition and managing your symptoms so that you can lead a somewhat normal life. By way of example, Michael J Fox, the American actor who is a fellow sufferer, once said that it took him seven years to learn to accept his condition. I initially thought this was a long time to be feeling sorry for yourself but, having lived through the last five years, I am starting to understand his comment.

So what is Parkinson’s Disease and why should you care? Parkinson’s is a progressive disease of the nervous system marked by tremor, rigidity, and slowness of movement. Although it was likely identified earlier, the first clear definition of the disease came from James Parkinson in 1817. As the Scottish comedian Billy Connolly (another sufferer) said “I have Parkinson’s Disease. I wish he’d kept it for himself!”

The reason we should care is that PD is widely recognised as the fastest growing neurological disorder in the world today and, according to Parkinson’s U.K., it is expected that 1 in 37 of us alive today will get the disease in our lifetime. Over 10 million people worldwide suffer from PD. The challenge with Parkinson’s is that there is no known cure and each person’s experience of the disease is different, with specific symptoms individual to each case. Traditionally seen as a disease that hits when you are older, it can also affect you when you are younger. I was 46 when first diagnosed.

The additional challenge with Parkinson’s is that it can be uncomfortable to watch a patient’s jerky movements or tremors. Of course, I’ve learned that this is nothing compared to the discomfort of the sufferer. People with PD may try to hide the disease in the early stages as I did for the first few years but eventually the tremor takes hold to the extent it can’t be hidden.

I mention all of this as background to the theme of this article and to declare a selfish interest in the outcome. Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) is a major theme in the business world today. Whilst many companies have done a great job to correct imbalances of gender and race within the workforce, how many firms have clear strategies about hiring more disabled people? In my case, I have worked for over 28 years in servicing the needs of asset managers and asset owners across the major European jurisdictions. Too young to retire but, having parted ways with my former employer, I am constantly reminded by friends that I “don’t tick the right box” and yet I feel that I do.

I have setup a consultancy – Willoughby Financial Consulting – to assist asset managers and asset owners, securing my first client in 2021. I believe I bring a unique perspective to understanding the needs of asset owners and asset managers, having spent many years supporting them in operational and then relationship and sales roles. I have particular expertise in fund distribution and middle-office outsourcing that could be very beneficial to fund boards as a non-executive director. Yet neither Irish Funds, ALFI Luxembourg nor the Investment Association in the U.K. track data on the number of board positions filled by disabled people.

I say this not as a criticism but as a wake-up call to employers that diversity means more than ethnicity and gender. To be fully inclusive, firms need to hire more disabled people, who can bring an additional perspective to business life. Investment companies are being encouraged by regulators to apply greater stewardship on the companies they are investing in. I’m sure it is not lost on these same investment firms that their own investors will seek strong policies on diversity and inclusion from their boards.

In summing up, I believe it is great that diversity has become an important consideration in hiring a workforce. I would just argue that this diversity should be inclusive of all types of people to the benefit of the companies and society in general.

This article was written by Stephen Doyle, a stalwart of the investor services industry, and first published by Scrip Issue. Shared with Permission. (c) 2022 Stephen Doyle