To honor Women’s History Month and, specifically, International Women’s Day, which is March 8, Kate McKinley, chief legal officer for Allspring Global Investments, spoke with René Picazo, head of the Wealth Client Group, about collectively valuing and celebrating difference; forging women’s equality; and taking action to rid the world of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.


 
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René Picazo: I’m René Picazo, head of the Wealth Client Group at Allspring Global Investments, and you’re listening to On the Trading Desk®. I’m thrilled to have Kate McKinley, Allspring’s chief legal officer, here with me today to honor Women’s History Month and, specifically, International Women’s Day here on March 8.

But before we start, I want to just have us get to know a fun fact about Kate. Anyone that knows me knows that I’m an incredible karaoke fanatic and so, Kate, start us off with a fun fact and then please just tell us about you before we get into the rest of our discussion.

Kate McKinley: Sure. Thanks, René. One thing that’s maybe a little bit interesting is I’ve registered myself to participate in an event called 29029 next fall. It’s an endurance event that’s hosted at Stratton Mountain in Vermont during which participants will have 36 hours to climb 29,029 feet, which is the vertical equivalent of Mount Everest. So I’m really looking forward to the challenge, but I’m definitely nervous, both making sure that I train appropriately and I don’t sustain any injuries while in training and then also that I’m able to finish the event. And, actually, everything that I’ve heard from people is that it is in fact more of a mental endurance event even than a physical one. What you have to do is you have to climb Stratton Mountain 17 times, so we’ll see. People in Boston are likely to see me hobbling around the office next fall.

René: Well, that’s incredible because I’ve actually heard of Everesting on a bike. And that’s actually one of my long-term goals to do that. I think that I’ve heard that on a bike if you can do it in a 24-hour period, that’s great. So I think you inspired me. I’ll see if I can do that this year. Maybe I can join you.

Kate: I love it! So I’m really excited to join you today to talk about the incredible women in our industry and some of the ways that Allspring’s approaching our own efforts to improve gender diversity. International Women’s Day was officially recognized in 1911, but it was predated by a National Women’s Day in New York City in 1909 and that was focused on women’s rights and it commemorated a protest by female garment workers back in 1857. So, clearly, this conversation isn’t even remotely new, but over 100 years later, it’s still incredibly relevant and necessary.

René: Well, this year’s International Women’s Day’s theme is break the bias, which is about collectively valuing and embracing difference, forging women’s equality, and taking action to rid the world of biased stereotypes and discrimination. How do you envision us doing that at Allspring going forward and what are the many ways we’re doing that already?

Kate: So from the top down, supporting women in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) efforts for everyone is an integral part of Allspring’s values and cultures. And we really want to make a long-term commitment to help elevating women’s representation in our industry at all levels and in all functions. We’re very proud to have women in leadership roles across functions in our organization, including in investments, distribution, marketing, risk, finance, and legal.

That said, we, like most of our peers, still have some work to do to have greater equal gender representation at the broader organizational level. Approximately 40% of our workforce identify as women in a recent voluntary self-identification survey, and we continue to be focused on improving this number, especially in our investment team roles.

Now that we’re a standalone firm, we really have the opportunity to be more granular and transparent with respect to these statistics as we can now truly try to hold ourselves accountable for making progress against our own DE&I goals, both in gender diversity as well as in other important areas like ethnic diversity. We’re also currently in the process of hiring a chief diversity officer, who will be responsible for leading these efforts for us.

And I think that the break the bias theme that you referenced for this year is certainly relevant. Unconscious bias is based on stereotypes and, as we’ve learned, these can be obvious and they can also be really subtle. I think one way to break down bias is through allyship and actively supporting people from underrepresented groups in the workplace and every single day.

Studies have shown that up to three in four women experience bias at work and those who do are not surprisingly more likely to leave their jobs. Yet, more often than not, people who observe instances of bias don’t speak up on behalf of the individual being impacted. My 10-year-old son Conor was with a good friend last year when she was bullied for being Asian. Since then, Conor’s been part of the club at school that his friend formed that they’ve named the Upstanders Club. And the purpose of the club is to bring students together to learn about and train themselves and others to stand up for someone else in the face of a difficult situation. We need to do the same for each other in the workplace.

As we transitioned to Allspring last year, a subset of our DE&I Council met with peer organizations who’ve launched successful allyship groups to gather best practices and we’re now in the process of launching our own program. More than 90% of the employees who filled out our survey recently have said that they want to or would consider joining a group like this. And, hopefully, if you invite me back on this podcast next year, I’ll be able to share some recaps of the amazing work I know this group is going to take on.

Our DE&I goals also are, of course, about doing what’s right, but as we think about why achievement of our goals will be compelling to investors, to the market, to our boards, studies have shown that companies with diverse leadership and a diverse employee base are generally more profitable and more likely to achieve long-term growth.

René: Well, it sounds like your son Conor’s an amazing boy. What you just described reminds me of a study that was done by the Center for Talent Innovation where they studied about a thousand different enterprises that are both in the financial area as well as innovation and tech area. And I think that they found that those firms that had the most inclusive workforce and policies and environments were tremendously more successful. I think it’s fairly logical, right? When you think about if you want the product, your assumption is that all of that company’s best ideas are coming to formulate whatever it is that they’re putting forward to you and if there’s a chokehold on ideas by only a certain group of people, then you’re not really getting the best of what that organization has to offer.

And I think that in the work that we’re doing, I’m delighted to hear and would be reminded about the great work the DE&I Council is doing in us as leaders and our commitment because we’re going to be able to really bring the best of what we have for Allspring forward. And, Kate, I was wondering if you could tell me just when you think about your own career, how have you been able to break the bias in your own career? And, in particular, can you share about an unexpected struggle that you had to address or overcome?

Kate: I feel like there’ve actually been a number of instances over the years. Some were small. Some were bigger. I worked in a law firm 20 years ago, and more often than not, I found myself in meetings comprised only of men. Clients often assumed I was the secretary, and during important conversations, they’d ask me to go get them water or a pen and they’d call me “sweetheart” or “darling” or “kiddo.” And afterwards, the men would all laugh about how funny it was going to be when the client saw the steep bill for my time and realized I was actually a lawyer. But no one ever clarified my role or stood up for me. And it never really occurred to me at the time that somebody probably should have instead of laughing about it.

I also had times when I was pregnant and when my kids were babies that I was passed over for big projects. And in some of those instances, I knew the individuals doing it really thought that they were looking out for me. They didn’t want me to feel overwhelmed, but they also didn’t give me the option to say on my own that I thought something would be too much.

This type of behavior, it not only undermines a woman’s credibility with her coworkers and with clients, it also undermines her confidence in herself. It certainly did for me, and it also made me angry, so I started to do certain things to try to change it. So back at the law firm, even though we are business casual, I started wearing suits every day to look like the male partners. And when my kids were babies, I started being really careful to never talk about how hard it could be to juggle everything and even to just get out the door some mornings without spit-up on my clothes or tears—sometimes my own tears. But I started doing things like that to try to fit in and look like the men.

René: It’s incredible how you have to sort of force yourself into finding ways to fit in. I think in the past I shared with you about my own background. So I’m the son of Mexican immigrants. I was the first to go to college and then work on Wall Street. And I remember, especially in those early days, when I wanted to desperately fit in but also struggled to be my authentic self. Does that resonate with you? Can you describe what it was like trying to continue to be your authentic self yet find the right way to fit in?

Kate: Yeah, it definitely resonates. I certainly wasn’t making it any easier for other working mothers when I pretended it was all easy, but it was the only thing at the time that felt within my control. In reality, every day, I still feel like I leave for work early or earlier than I want to and then I get home later than I want to, all at the same time.

But now, honestly, I try to be more of an upstander, both by standing up for others when I see them being stereotyped or disadvantaged or passed over, as well as just really trying to be more honest and authentic about the challenges that I face as a working mom and as a woman and also looking for meaningful ways to make it feel doable because it is doable. But acting and dressing like the men I worked with, it never felt right for me. I was never really myself and it could be exhausting.

One of my favorite quotes is from Dolly Parton. Love me some Dolly. And it’s “find out who you are and do it on purpose.” This is obviously easier said than done, but it’s something I try to remind myself of every single day now.

René: Well, Dolly Parton has an amazing amount of wisdom. I’m a huge fan, as well. When I think back to my own career, I can honestly say that there were just as immense pivotal moments—tipping points—where there was a senior leader who happened to take interest in my career or me, often seeing something in me that I hadn’t yet seen in myself that ended up propelling my career path in a whole new direction. I used to refer to these individuals as mentors, but now I really understand that they were truly sponsors who were at the table with authority to affect change in my career. Can you tell me, was there a person like that in your career that had a lasting impact on your own trajectory?

Kate: Yeah, I’ve been very fortunate to have had multiple sponsors over the course of my career, both men and women. Several years ago, I was offered a role outside of the legal department to serve as the chief operating officer of my old firm’s institutional client group.

And after thinking about it, even though I very much wanted the position, I was convinced that my experience on the legal side of things just wasn’t going to be enough. My background didn’t look anything like the person who I was going to be replacing. So I then spent a great deal of time laying out for my potential future boss all the ways in which I wasn’t sufficiently qualified for the role. Not the best interviewing strategy, in hindsight.

Fortunately for me, he didn’t listen to me and he hired me into the role anyway, and it was one of the best things that happened to me in my career. And one of the things that he said to me when I was pointing out why I wasn’t sure I was right for the role and the fact that my background was different is he said that was one of the things he liked the best. He liked that I had a different experience from him and he liked that I was going to bring a different point of view from the rest of his leadership team.

And that’s that diversity of thought that we talk about that I think is so important. I definitely felt in over my head at times, but I also feel like I learned so much about my own strength and what I was capable of.

René: Yeah, it reminds me, Kate, the times when it’s hard to remember this is the time, but true breakthroughs happen when you push yourself out of your comfort zone, and it sounds like that was an amazing breakthrough. As we move ahead, I think we need to continue to find ways to innovate and bring women into our industry, especially in investment roles. Obviously, we need to move beyond talk and really take action. Over the past few years, I know our firm’s hosted interns from Girls Who Invest, which is a fantastic organization that brings women into portfolio management and leadership roles. What other programs are we involved in that will be game changers for us in this area, Kate?

Kate: So another incredible organization that we’re partnering with is 100 Women in Finance. It’s a group that seeks to empower women to achieve their potential at every stage of their career. We initiated a sponsorship with them last year and we’ve actually stepped that up to a silver sponsorship level this year. And one of their focus pillars is impact, and that’s specifically geared toward the younger generation, pre-career, getting them more engaged and aware of opportunities in finance. We’re really excited to get more of our employees involved with this organization.

And then in addition to that, we’re embarking on a sponsorship with Collaborative Women in Investment Management, which is an organization that has joined the efforts of CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) societies, FPA (Financial Planning Association) chapters, and industry partners across the globe around the advancement and development of female leaders of all backgrounds. And then last but not least, Allspring’s ambassador program has more than 30 employees who serve as primary contacts between our firm and local organizations, universities, and affinity groups. And that’s been an excellent way to improve our outreach and help us attract more diverse female candidates.

René: So exciting to hear in terms of these organizations and I can’t wait to join you and the rest of the leadership team as we move all of these forward. Well, Kate, I wanted to just offer my sincere thanks for your time today and your fantastic leadership at Allspring. I’m excited that I’ve gotten to know you over these past few months and I’m really excited to do this work with you, which is some of the most important work we have in front of us. And, also, I’m delighted to know that I’m going to try to see if I can Everest. I’m going to do it on a bike.

Kate: Yes, Everesting!

René: Not on my feet like you, but I wish you well. And I’ll be doing it virtually. And I hope that in return, I can inspire you to do some karaoke. Maybe we can even do that together someday. So I hope that we’ll get that going.

Kate: No promises on the karaoke. I think I’d rather climb Everest.

René: Well, you have me at Everest, but we’ll see if we get you on karaoke then. But I just want to say an enormous thank you to you.

Kate: Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure to be here, and I’m really looking forward to the year ahead of us, as well.

René: That wraps up this episode of On the Trading Desk. If you’d like to read more market insights and investment perspectives from Allspring Global Investments, you can find them at our firm’s website, allspringglobal.com. To stay connected with On the Trading Desk and listen to past and future episodes of the program, you can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Until next time, I’m René Picazo and thanks for listening.

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