- Kara Helander is the chief inclusion and diversity officer at the Carlyle Group.
- She’s at the heart of an effort to increase diversity across the firm’s global portfolio.
- She explained why the firm is tying managing director promotions to inclusive leadership.
- Because of her work, Insider named Helander to our annual list of the 10 leaders transforming finance.
- Visit Insider’s Transforming Business homepage for more stories.
The events of the summer of 2020, prompted by the death of George Floyd in late May, unleashed a wave of unrest across the country.
At the Carlyle Group, a global private-equity investor with 256 companies in its portfolio and $246 billion in assets under management, the events struck the firm’s chief inclusion and diversity officer deeply.
Kara Helander, the corporate leader tasked with helping steer the firm’s D&I activities, has since detected an opportunity to exact upon the momentum fomented by that moment — and is actively working to harness that energy and make changes endemic to the Carlyle Group’s internal HR processes.
Last summer, the firm finalized and implemented plans presented by Helander; Carlyle’s diversity, equity, and inclusion council; and its head of talent to implement a new set of criteria for assessing candidates who are in the running for a promotion to the managing director level.
The criteria examine their success in demonstrating inclusive leadership and management, tying the possibility of getting a promotion to more than just success in participating in a live deal, but to the ethos that managers create within their teams.
“What you want to be looking at is: Is it credible? Are they making progress over time? Are they making this a big part of their definition of what the modern leader and manager has to be good at?” Helander told Insider in a recent interview.
In addition to assessing the track record of MD candidates, specifically in terms of their success in exemplifying inclusive leadership, the Carlyle Group has also asked all of its employees to establish a goal related to diversity, equity, and inclusion for themselves this year.
Earlier this year, Insider took a look at the ways that the Carlyle Group is helping the companies it backs to diversify their teams and create more inclusive workforces and company culture.
The Carlyle Group and executives from one of its portfolio companies, the packaging supply manufacturer Novolex, told Insider how they worked together to broaden Novolex’s hiring aperture. The steps they detailed resulted in the appointment of two additions to Novolex’s board — both women — and helped the industrials firm triple its total number of diverse plant leaders.
A career spent championing diverse leadership
Helander has spent her career helping business leaders identify ways to support diversity, equity, and inclusion on their teams.
Before joining the Carlyle Group in 2018, she spent time as the head of her own consultancy that focused on helping companies implement corporate social responsibility and diversity and inclusion strategies.
Prior to that, she was a managing director at BlackRock. She also served as the asset manager’s global head of corporate social responsibility and oversaw the implementation of the firm’s first global diversity and inclusion and philanthropy strategies.
The firm isn’t stopping with its promotions review process. It’s also rolled out an internal training program to help educate other employees on how to mitigate unconscious bias.
That program is called “Better Decisions,” and, so far, more than 80% of Carlyle’s employees have partaken in the training and developed an action plan for their own personal development in this arena.
“It’s not so much where you start, but are you taking concerted, tangible action to make change around it? That applies to us and it applies to the companies in our portfolio,” Helander said. “You don’t want people to not take action because they aren’t where they should be.”
Looking to the future, the Carlyle Group announced an ambitious D&I-focused goal in the summer of 2020. The firm has committed to filling 30% of the board seats at all of its portfolio companies with members who come from diverse backgrounds by the year 2023.
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