When Angela Miller-May heard “guilty” read aloud on Tuesday afternoon, the mother of two young Black men who is a leading voice for social change in the finance industry felt new hope for her life’s work.
“Finally, the scales of justice tipped in the right direction,” Miller-May, the chief investment officer of Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund, said after a jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd. On an early summer evening last May, the police officer choked Floyd, a Black man, with a knee to his neck for nine-and-a-half minutes until it was too late.
Floyd’s death sparked waves of protests across the US and the world and has served as the catalyst for a new social justice movement that has permeated all parts of society, including the finance industry. His treatment by law enforcement has “lifted the shades and shined a light” on the extent of systemic racism experienced by African Americans, Miller-May, a long-time public advocate for diversity and inclusion in finance, told New Private Markets.
The social justice movement prompted by Floyd’s death has placed investment managers under heavier scrutiny from their investors about employment diversity and capital allocated to diverse-owned businesses. Managers are facing increasing pressure to make diversity commitments a condition for receiving new capital allocations.
The guilty verdict has “fortified” Miller-May’s optimism and hope that she will “see change and not just be a person that paves the way for change”.
“I feel like my fight for increased diversity is a fight that’s getting us closer to a better day and that I will somehow hand over the baton to the next generation,” she explained. “I’m not afraid to say it anymore. This time is different. It’s going to be better, but only if we make it better.”
Marty Nesbitt, co-founder of the investment firm Vistria Group, believes Floyd’s death carries symbolism beyond police brutality. The video a bystander filmed of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck gave “a lens for people to view into the circumstances of African Americans and other minorities in this country,” Nesbitt explained. “Maybe these people are treated unfairly, maybe the playing field isn’t level.”
Reflecting on his own career, which includes managing numerous businesses as well as serving as former president Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign treasurer, Nesbitt said the discrimination African Americans face in the professional world “never fully stops, it never goes away”.
“You never say, ‘I’m not being treated differently anymore. Now people just look at me as an American.’ That never happens. You never get there,” Nesbitt said.
When he mentors younger professionals from diverse backgrounds, Nesbitt said they often put in front of him business plans asking for a “ridiculously inadequate” amount of capital. This has given him the impression that these professionals don’t fully understand or appreciate their own value.
“I think that’s a symptom, a dynamic that comes from being treated ‘less than’ in every aspect of your life,” Nesbitt said, adding that a portion of his own career success boils down to “good fortune and luck”.
“No child should have to be as lucky as I was in this country to succeed,” he said.
For Robert Greene, president of the National Association of Investment Companies, an advocacy group for diverse-owned investment firms, the guilty verdict reached this week brought him a “sense of relief” after he found himself “praying more often for my son and children of colour everywhere”.
Greene said he’s encouraged that, as a result of Floyd’s death, more people have moved from “disbelief to affirmation” that there is a systemic problem with how people of colour are treated, but he’s still unsure whether today’s movement “says anything yet” about achieving lasting social justice and diversity and inclusion in finance.
“The guilty verdict says nothing about what happens to the next person who is stopped by a policeman that has ill intentions,” Greene told New Private Markets. “If a Black man’s life is worth [what happened to Floyd], it is extremely difficult to believe that people of colour have a fair opportunity when they enter the boardrooms of institutional investors to seek investments.”
Greene said his concern with Floyd’s death moving forward is that, similar to previous police killings of African Americans, it “has the potential to be episodic”.
“The grading of this test won’t come until five years from now,” he said.