Nuveen CEO: ‘I have never been more optimistic’

At companies around the world, conversations are happening that would once have been considered taboo. That is paving the way for a more diverse, equitable and inclusive world, says Nuveen CEO Jose Minaya.

This article is sponsored by Nuveen.

What do you see as your role when it comes to Nuveen’s DE&I ethos and practices and why, as CEO, have you decided to be so hands-on?

First of all, I see diversity, equity and inclusion as a bottom-line issue for the company. There is a mountain of research that shows that diverse organizations perform better. We are also a people business, which means there is a continual battle for talent, and if you are not doing this well, you are not going to be able to attract the very best to your firm. DE&I is something that matters greatly to our clients as well. Institutions want solutions and service that reflect a broad perspective, and we know we won’t earn their trust if we don’t share core values. So, on multiple levels, getting DE&I right is fundamental to our long-term success. Finally, diversity, equity and inclusion is a personal passion of mine.

How has the pandemic impacted your approach?

I am often asked how the pandemic has changed our strategy, and my answer is that it hasn’t. ESG and DE&I are critical components and have always been incredibly important to us. The pandemic, and the injustices that we have seen across the US and globally over the past two years, have simply created a lot more awareness around these topics. It’s no longer a question of just committing to representation goals and keeping a tally. It’s about engaging in discussion, sharing stories and listening to our employees in a completely different and deeply inclusive way. And it’s about greater transparency with our firm’s equity opportunities and solutions to address them. Those are the most significant shifts that I see in corporations around the world today.

Is the debate expanding beyond gender and race?

The pandemic exposed systemic inequity and disparities in our society that both targeted and transcended gender and race. In our own organization, the pandemic revealed stark differences in how we worked. We faced the same challenges around remote working as everyone else; but while some of us were confined to large homes, with backyards and the opportunity to go outside, others had very different living situations. Others still – like those in our mailroom, for example – had to come into the office and take public transportation to get there.

In that regard, covid has forced us all to think differently and to consider the inequities around us. How are single parents faring in this pandemic? What about those with elderly relatives to care for? How do we support gender-transitioning colleagues during this time? Was everyone comfortable showing their homes via Zoom every day? The unique differences in experience that form each of us have come to the fore in a way they never have before, and that has made our employees feel more empowered. When incidents of violence against members of different ethnic groups spiked earlier this year, our employees asked to hear from their leaders. That just wouldn’t have happened two years ago, and that sense of empowerment is here to stay.

What is your ultimate ambition as an organization when it comes to DE&I?

Our biggest ambition is to remain a leader in this space by continuing to raise the bar. We want to lead when it comes to transparency, by showing what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. And we want to lead when it comes to execution. People often talk about metrics and, based on benchmarks with our peers, we are a very diverse firm. But for us, it’s not just about numbers. It’s about demonstrating progress, and letting people know where we’re headed and how we’re going to get there. So we’ll continue to build and refine our equity-based initiatives and processes to tackle those areas where we can do better. There are so many different ways to reimagine the world we live and work in, and we think we have a vision worth sharing.

What initiatives are you proudest of when it comes to creating an equitable and inclusive culture?

There are a whole range of initiatives that we have undertaken, from ensuring we have proactive pay equity, to mentorship and sponsorship opportunities, to building new metrics focused on leadership and workforce mobility as appropriate. But I think an inclusive culture really comes down to the way in which you engage with employees. We’ve launched a lot of different programs, but the one I am proudest of, and which I believe has been most impactful, is the one we call Courageous Conversations, where employees engage with each other and senior leadership, including myself, by sharing their personal stories. We’ve shared moments where we learned from each other and our collective experiences, and it’s made a difference in how we work together every day.

Historically, people were never encouraged to lead with their personal story in a work setting. But that is changing. We saw what happened with the murder of George Floyd, for example. We felt the pain of our employees and that pushed us to get out there, engage and share our own experiences. It still raises the hairs on the back of my neck when I think about some of the profound experiences shared by our employees, whether Black, Latin American, white, LGBTQ+ and those from other communities as well.

Just hearing those life stories had such a powerful effect. We know the journey is far from over, but there is a greater awareness today because of conversations like that. And, as a person of color and a corporate leader, I have never been more optimistic than I am today.

So, big strides have been made in awareness and good intent. But what challenges remain?

I think you’re right that the ambition is there. The challenge is how do we do it? I often hear people saying that it’s difficult to increase diversity because the talent pools are smaller. I don’t believe that. You have to fish in different ponds, and you have to plan ahead. You have to think differently about how you attract that talent. And you also have to think carefully about how you engage with employees and inspire them to be ambassadors for your brand and informal recruiters through their own networks.

Corporate leaders are now talking about things that you would never have heard them talk about before. That’s uncomfortable for some, and that’s OK. There is no playbook here. What is undeniable, however, is that your employees, clients and shareholders all want to know where your values lie and what position you’re taking on the big social and political issues of the day. And you have to be clear about it. These topics of conversation would have been completely taboo in my younger days. But now they are essential to the long-term success of any organization.

Jose Minaya became chief executive officer of Nuveen, the investment manager of TIAA, in January 2020, just as the pandemic was gaining its grip. He is responsible for Nuveen’s vision, strategy and day-to-day operations. He also chairs the Nuveen executive committee. He was previously president and chief investment officer, and before that led TIAA’s global real assets division. He joined the firm in 2004 after stints at AIG, Merrill Lynch and JPMorgan. Having grown up in New York, the child of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Minaya is passionate about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion. He is executive sponsor for the inclusion and diversity initiative at TIAA, working to build and promote a diverse and inclusive environment throughout the enterprise. He also serves on the board of the Robert Toigo Foundation, an organization that fosters career advancement and increased leadership of under-represented talent.