Melinda joined Cambridge Associates’ executive leadership team in late September as the firm’s first Global Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. In this newly created executive position, Melinda will be a close partner in ensuring DEI is integrated in all firm-wide efforts. She will also be responsible for monitoring and measuring our DEI outcomes to ensure we are driving a shared vision through action and creating a long-term DEI strategy that is aligned with our business goals. Cambridge Conversations sat down with Melinda to talk about her DEI journey.
WE ARE THRILLED TO HAVE YOU JOIN US TO LEAD OUR EFFORTS IN DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION. WHAT HAS YOUR PERSONAL JOURNEY WITH DEI LOOKED LIKE?
MW: My journey with DEI really began when I was a teenager, when the concept of “windows and mirrors” first became apparent to me.
I attended a high school in Connecticut, and I loved it. School offered a window into a world that I had just never experienced or accessed before. I learned so many new things, from Latin to lacrosse. These were areas that were all brand-new to me at the time.
But as far as having teachers who looked like me or shared similar values as my family as they related to the African American experience, I didn’t have that mirror.
So I took that idea with me through my DEI journey, and it shaped my perspective on the work. I held tightly to this idea of greater representation. That led me to join Teach for America, with the hope that I could be that mirror for kids in the classroom in the South Bronx where I was teaching.
After teaching, I had a range of experiences, including going to law school. I also became the head coach for women’s lacrosse at Howard University, where this idea of representation and equity really came to the surface again.
In my last opportunity, I worked at the Walton Family Foundation, which really brought to light the equitable distribution of resources within philanthropy. And so now, in this position, I’m bringing my journey, and the perspectives and experiences I have had related to equity and access, and I’m focused on how that relates to the financial services industry.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO JOIN THIS TEAM TO HELP US TO MAKE PROGRESS IN THIS SPACE?
MW: So many reasons! The most important of which were the people I met in the process. As I met more people from the firm, I saw a genuine commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion that kept coming to the surface in all my conversations.
When I first met with the Cambridge Associates team, one of the things I heard was that this work is viewed as a business imperative. That resonated so deeply with me. DEI strategy is inextricably intertwined with a business’ success, and it requires buy in and investment.
Equally as important, though, was that the team also had a deep understanding of the magnitude of the challenge. This isn’t something that can be solved overnight.
Having been working in DEI for more than a decade, I have seen that progress is most possible when there is a real a commitment to excellence, a willingness to learn, and people who are at the table and ready to go. That was exactly what I saw from the people at Cambridge.
WE HAVE GREAT OPPORTUNITY INSIDE OUR WALLS; WE ALSO HAVE A GREAT OPPORTUNITY OUTSIDE OUR WALLS AS WELL.
MW: Absolutely. In pursing my passion for DEI more deeply and how it translates to financial services, Cambridge continually rose to the top as a leader in this industry. And that says to me that we have a real opportunity as a firm to effect change throughout the investment industry with our actions and our influence.
Leading doesn’t mean we don’t have the opportunity to learn as well. But our position demands of us to ask and answer some important questions. How can we leverage our role in the industry to be conveners, to be thought leaders in this space? How can we learn alongside others in this industry to find better and clearer ways to increase equity and access?
IS THERE A PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’D SHARE WITH OTHERS WHO ARE ON THEIR OWN DEI JOURNEYS?
MW: Years ago, I was Director of Diversity at Westminster School in Connecticut, and at one of our student events, a guest speaker said, “Diversity is about the mix of people and inclusion is about making that mix work.”
That really stuck with me. Diversity and representation matter, but what happens if people in that room are not collaborating and working well together?
We cannot stop at simply providing the mirror for underrepresented groups. A true commitment to DEI is ultimately about providing the same opportunity for all people.