Dear C-Suite, your ESG colleagues are miserable.
Okay perhaps not quite miserable (well, some conversations I’ve had recently have been quite sad) but there is certainly a common feeling of being quite deflated and uninspired within the industry at the moment.
Sustainability careers within investment management; what once used to be a yellow brick road to making companies ‘better’, it seems as though that same path is now expanded into a concrete motorway, next to political battlefields and reporting work-streams/river rapids… Many firms are trying to move in the same direction, but are cautious about making a wrong turn, and are becoming more aware of one another’s next steps like a game of chess.
Now just to clarify I’m not saying that an increase in reporting is a bad thing, it’s absolutely fundamental to progress and has a crucial role within an ESG team and to the investment teams. My point is that it seems that from roughly 90% of conversations we are having with clients and candidates, that sustainable finance seems to have lost its spark, and the autonomy for the strategy has taken a back seat the past year or so.
Some firms C-Suites have made bold, and often questionable, statements about their ‘position’ on ESG, leaders have had their notes and speeches checked prior to global conferences. The reigns have been pulled in, whilst firms navigate through this recession and the backlash. Fundraising is difficult, how do you position your ESG/sustainability products or strategy effectively to such a wide range of audiences? This is stressful and probably not a direction people initially thought we would have found ourselves in. We hear an abundance of stories of people having to bite their tongue, and be so careful of the words and tone they use when talking about ESG, they stamp down on their own morals during the frequent interrogations of having to consistently state why ESG makes sense (when able to of course, otherwise it’s very vanilla language not to lose certain investors), and remain professional, but often a little numb on the inside from these experiences.
These sustainability professionals end up facing a dilemma; should they stay and cling on to ‘I wish it would go back to the way things were’ or, which is why majority of people are always ‘not actively looking but always open to hearing about interesting opportunities’ - is the grass greener elsewhere? Well, how can they know? Where are they going to actually make impact, if this seems to be an industry wide scenario? So many firms say the same thing, there was a recent post I saw which has asked Chat GPT to write an ESG strategy/policy commitment and it was hilariously accurate.
If there is top-down support, strong leadership which truly appreciates the ESG team and understands that by nature sustainability people are often a different breed to the normal investment type, and can therefore provide clear direction on when new innovative projects can commence (not just nodding your head and saying yes, some day that could be a great idea now back to work) then your ESG team will most likely stick around. They get headhunted, don’t be salty about it, but understand that the firms who are genuine and are integrating sustainability throughout especially as a core arm of the business strategy, will be the ones to survive this so called ‘ESG Talent War’...
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