Yale Investments Office declines to participate in diversity study
When asked to comment on staff diversity, the Investments Office quickly updated its website, adding more women and people of color to its online roster.
Amay Tewari, Senior Photographer
Yale has declined to participate in a comprehensive study on asset manager diversity, even as its peers with large endowments, including Harvard, Stanford, Princeton and the University of Texas system, have chosen to do so.
The ongoing study on asset manager diversity is a project of the Knight Foundation, which funds journalism, arts and research in the areas of media and democracy. So far, the study has collected data from 16 universities. The Foundation is waiting for more schools to participate before publishing a final report.
“Without more information from Yale and other non-participants, we can’t assess how strongly diversity and inclusion factor into the management of their significant financial assets,” Ashley Zohn, vice president of Knight Foundation’s Learning and Impact Program, told the News.
The study follows the Knight Foundation’s decade-long effort to reinvest its own multibillion-dollar endowment in so-called “diverse-owned firms,” which it defines as firms “owned by women and people of color.”
According to Zohn, Yale’s endowment was one of the largest eligible for the study. The endowment reached $41.4 billion after gaining 0.8 percent in 2022, making it the second largest university endowment in the country, after Harvard’s.
Dartmouth College, Duke University, Columbia University, Harvard University, Princeton University, Stanford University, the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Texas system and Vanderbilt University all reported manager data.
Out of the ten universities with the largest endowments, Yale, MIT, Notre Dame and the University of Michigan did not report data.
At the time the News initially contacted the Investments Office for comment, the Office’s team page displayed the names and photographs of 22 upper-level financial staff — such as directors and analysts, a group that appears to skew white and male.
Within two hours, the website was updated.
The new page displays names and photographs of 39 staff members, now including administrative assistants and legal staff whose names or photographs did not appear before. On the redesigned page, white men no longer appear to make up a majority of the pictured staff.
“We understand the value and importance of having a diverse team and are working hard to strengthen our team on this dimension as well as many others,” the Investments Office wrote in a later email referring the News to its newly updated website.
Instead of carrying out in-house investing, large endowments — including those of universities — generally delegate to external managers. In 2010, the Knight Foundation decided that its outsized reliance on white, male managers was incompatible with its underlying mission.
The Foundation’s study aims to discover whether or not — and to what extent — large university endowments use diverse asset managers. In the meantime, the Foundation released some initial data in an interim release.
Though the University declined to provide data for the study, it provided a statement that can be found in Appendix B of the release.
“Matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion are extremely important to Yale, as highlighted by David Swensen’s work to draw attention to such issues in the industry before he passed away,” the statement read. “While we declined to participate in this study for various reasons, we agree that women and people of color face significant barriers in the asset management industry. We at the Yale Investments Office remain committed to building a more inclusive investment organization and a more diverse roster of investment partners and appreciate the work of all who are pushing these important issues forward.”
The University did not elaborate on further questions about its reasons for not participating.
In October 2020, Yale’s then-Chief Investment Officer David Swensen publicly instructed the firms that manage the University’s endowment to diversify their ranks. Yale has stayed largely silent on its progress since.
Swensen asked managers to complete a diversity survey, writing that Yale is “interested in the numbers of diverse professionals on the investment team and in … support functions, at various levels of seniority.”
Yale did not share firm-specific data from the survey.
“Universities serve the public and have mission statements about their commitment to [diversity, equity and inclusion],” Zohn said. “But do their dollars also display that commitment?”
The Investments Office did not provide specific details about its ongoing diversity initiatives, but a representative from the Office told the News that diversity is a “major focus” of staff recruiting efforts.
Institutional asset expert Charles Skorina said that he can understand why the Investments Office would not want to release data for the study.
He argued that after releasing manager data — which would inevitably show little to no use of diverse-owned firms — Yale would be forced to explain that diverse-owned asset managers simply did not meet their “performance standards.” Skorina said that such an admission would draw enough criticism to outweigh any potential benefit of releasing the data.
“Every news organization in the country would pick it up,” Skorina said. “It’s a no-win for Yale if they release anything.”
Skorina argued that the larger issue is the scarcity of diverse-owned asset managers. These firms, he said, make up “a very small sliver” of the market. Moreover, few “top-performing” firms — like the ones that Yale uses to invest its money — are diverse-owned, Skorina said.
The Knight Foundation reported that diverse-owned firms, which indeed account for just 1.4 percent of American assets under management, “perform at a level comparable to that of their predominantly white, male owned peers.”
Skorina suggested other ways for the Yale Investments Office to affirm its “commitment” to diversity, equity and inclusion, including devoting money to scholarships in financial management or hiring a more diverse office staff.
Tara Bhat ’25, an organizer for the Yale Endowment Justice Coalition, argued that the lack of representation in the Investments Office is a symptom of the Office’s greater disregard for underrepresented and marginalized communities, pointing to a wider student movement pushing for the University to divest from holdings in the fossil fuel industry and in Puerto Rican debt.
While Bhat said she believes that representation in the Investments Office staff is important and “should be a priority,” changes to Office demographics must coincide with structural changes.
“Their investing ethos, historical and continuous unethical investments, and prioritization of profits over people wouldn’t be completely done away with by just rearranging the diversity of the office,” Bhat wrote in an email to the News. “Both diversity and investing reform need to take place simultaneously.”
The Knight Foundation study was conducted in partnership with the Center for Business and Human Rights at New York University’s Stern School of Business.