Reflections: Remaking the Mold

Guest writer Angela Outlaw-Matheny from Crewcial Partners explains how her personal experiences influenced her work in diversifying the investment managers in our portfolio.

Reflections: Our Personal & Professional Efforts Toward Racial Equity is a monthly blog. Each month, we will reflect on what we are doing either personally or professionally to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in our work. View more

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In my professional capacity, I assist in managing a diverse asset portfolio on behalf of many charitable foundations, including the Central New York Community Foundation, for Crewcial Partners. But on a more personal level: Who am I?  It took nearly five decades to figure this out—what’s my purpose in life, and how do I fit into the mainstream—before I discovered why I get up in the morning and what brings meaning to my life: The gift of helping, giving, and finding new opportunities to invest in people.  But this knowledge was hard-won.

The first time I experienced racism was when my father denied me because I am dark-skinned.  He was light-skinned, as Black people say, and I was treated differently compared to my light-skinned, older sister.  Each day, he held her hand when escorting us to school, but I walked behind them, and she got oatmeal cookies after school while I went without.  Somehow, the lack of love and attention never bothered me; it became normal as I learned to walk alone.

My dad passed away when I was five years old, but I think of him every now and then because I dream of him seeing the bold and beautiful woman I am today.  If I could speak with my father, I would truly thank him for helping me become as curious, resilient, empathic, and courageous as I have become.  He taught me an invaluable lesson by ignoring me, as the act of exclusion created an advocate for the underserved. Now, I awake each day with renewed energy as we look on the margins everywhere for talent.  In our work as asset managers, we must be strategic and bold because structural harm calls for structural solutions. Our corrective action must be at a seismic level if we are ever to close this gaping lack of representation many have ignored in the finance and asset management industry ecosystem.

Today, many diverse asset managers are being overlooked, underestimated, and pushed aside for much the same reason. It has become clearer and clearer that we do not need to force everyone to fit the existing mold but work to create a new one.  Many individuals are often lost in an area called the “value gap,” a discrepancy between perceived value and actual value, due to racism and ignorance.  (My use of this term’s social connotation is indebted to its application by Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, who refers to a cultural value gap in which white people are generally considered to matter more than others.)

Until we address all forms of systematic racism, from dismantling actual institutions buoyed by oppression to changing skewed inherited views, we will find ourselves continuously grappling with inequity in the world of finance.  At Crewcial Partners, we work to dismantle systems and habits that give the value gap life. To start, we identified the necessity of creating an inherently inclusive manager research process, which led to a restructured investment team and a focus on “variant perception,” differentiated thinking and/or diversity of thought, more naturally leading to various diverse entrepreneurs with exceptional backgrounds. This simple yet profound concept is now core to our investment philosophy, leading to new networks with abundant talent and allowing us to democratize capital to include more women and people of color in the investment portfolios of nonprofit institutions.

We encourage our internal team as well as asset managers we hire to bring their perspective to the table and not worry about whether anyone agrees with them. Our entire structure depends on this.

Being early and perhaps even more importantly, seeing something others can’t is one of the greatest attributes of variant perception.  At Crewcial, we have a wide funnel at the top that narrows very quickly—this “open door” policy combined with our pragmatism allows us to pursue differentiated deal flow unencumbered by history or stereotypes.  It may seem simple, but different asset managers think differently, and we want access to that.

Our appreciation of the enormous benefits of what an outside view can bring to an ecosystem through variant perception, reflects a level of confidence that virtually guarantees a reduction in our blind spots that will prove important.  A team of talented, patient, well aligned and studious managers put together in a diversified mix that emphasizes unpopular areas always works in the end.

As the investment advisor for the Central New York Community Foundation, we’ve helped its portfolio achieve 22% exposure to diverse asset managers, which have outperformed across many market cycles.  For more than nine years, we’ve intentionally designed investment portfolios to align with opportunities that reflect not only the present, but where we are heading.  In our pursuit of inclusive management, we target talented but undercapitalized or underestimated managers who represent racial and gender diversity and own more than a 50% equity stake in their firms.

As we think about the unfulfilled dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we at Crewcial always remain conscious about how this vision ties into our culture, firm values, and the work of our clients.  Our manager diversity effort is built on a simple truth: talent is evenly distributed but opportunity is not. Such work allows the portfolios of institutions such as the Central New York Foundation to be representative of the communities they serve and actualize potential through inclusion.

Unfair treatment does not stifle me—it does the opposite.  It moves me, wherein I often give voice to what I see as being abhorrent and unfair.  In an investment world where DEI is a nascent space, in some cases actively avoided, there is sadly much confusion. I’m built for weathering this change and changing the shape of the current mold; my experiences have taught me to embrace all things new and different, because pain, growth and change are all inevitable in service of any worthwhile goal.  If you are uneasy about being uncomfortable and alone, this work isn’t for you. But if you can find the strength within yourself to persevere, the rewards are nothing short of a better world.

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