2020 was an extraordinarily important time to be focused on making a positive impact for our people, our communities, and our clients. Our second annual Stewardship report details our progress against our ten sustainability goals, during a time when we were all facing a pandemic, social justice movements across the world, environmental disasters, and unprecedented volatility in global markets. Perhaps more than anything else, 2020 highlighted the urgent need for all of us, together, to commit to creating a sustainable future.
In recent years, business leaders and investors have recognized that prioritizing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives is critical for managing risk, attracting and retaining top talent, and adapting to the everchanging marketplace. But the relationship between sustainability and business continuity was never more apparent than it was in 2020, when just operating our business meant changing everything about the way we work and live. That was hard enough, but we had to make those fundamental changes while delivering uninterrupted service to our clients, upgrading our business processes, and focusing on the physical, financial, and personal well-being of our nearly 6,000 employees.
Through all of this, BBH was able to transition 97% of our global workforce to remote working arrangements by late March of 2020, during one of the most volatile markets on record, and with no major service disruptions for our clients. We kept our people safe; we kept our teams intact; and we supported our clients as they made similar work adjustments and later revisited their own values, investment objectives, and philanthropy.
Meanwhile, our employees rose to the occasion. They not only managed to do their jobs in extraordinary and stressful circumstances, in many cases they found ways to do things better. Our people met our client commitments, progressed major projects, supported each other, and developed new skills—all while balancing personal challenges brought on by the pandemic.
The circumstances that created so much disruption are absolutely tragic and we are only now beginning to see our way out. But 2020 was also full of silver linings and proved to be transformative for our business and a catalyst for how we plan to operate it going forward. As you’ll read throughout this report, many of the policies and digital processes we put in place to cope with the “Doing Business during COVID” environment provide benefits—for our employees, clients, society, and the environment—and that’s what we hope to carry forward.
While BBH made significant progress across all ten sustainability focus areas, the events of 2020 prompted us to lean into three related areas: employee well-being; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and community engagement.
Looking at Employee Well-Being from All Angles
We have always strived to encourage and help our employees live healthy, balanced, and fulfilling lives, and in 2020 we provided greater support for the growing complexity of our employees’ needs. Our first priority was to see to the safety and health of our people. We acted quickly to move BBH employees out of the office, provide them with the technology and tools they needed, and offer additional flexibility to take care of themselves and their families.
We also zeroed in on personal well-being programming to help our employees learn to adapt in the face of adversity, trauma, or other significant sources of stress. Through our newly expanded BBH Assist program, employees and their families had easy and confidential access to increased mental health resources. Through virtual events, communications, and manager training, we sought to destigmatize mental health and offer employees multiple ways to connect with peers and feel supported by each other, managers, and the firm.
Prioritizing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
In 2020, the combination of a global health pandemic, racial injustice movements, and increased acts of hate shone a bright light on the socio-economic differences, accessibility gaps, and related challenges in achieving work-life well-being within our world. Our work related to diversity, equity, and inclusion has been extensive for decades, but notably, in 2020 we made a public commitment to increase Black representation in our U.S. offices by more than 50% by 2024. This is part of a broader goal of ensuring that 50% of our global workforce are women and 35% of our U.S. workforce are underrepresented groups. Overall, our principle is that the diversity of BBH’s workforce should match the communities in which we live and the people who we serve.
Because what gets measured can be actively managed to get results, we launched an enhanced Self-ID program in 2020. This voluntary, confidential, self-identification survey requests information from employees on identity, such as ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, veteran status, and pronouns. The program launched in our U.S. offices in early 2021, and we are now in the process of introducing locally relevant Self-ID programs in Europe and Asia.
As we continue our journey, it’s critical to understand that while data helps drive informed decisions, the lived experiences of those around us also help us understand the numbers. To support this effort, we increased education on cultural awareness and racial equity, and all assistant vice presidents and above attended inclusive leadership training. Together these activities encouraged us all to embrace the authenticity in each of us, show empathy and compassion, and embrace a range of communication and work styles to enable all team members to deliver their personal best.
Caring for the Communities that Sustain Us
Looking outside our BBH walls to the broader community in which we live and work, we maintained our support of long-standing partner agencies and increased financial support to organizations focused on issues related to COVID-19, or whose operations or fundraising were impacted because of the pandemic.
Although physical volunteer work was understandably limited, our employee-led volunteer groups got creative about lending their time and talent to those in need. With virtual channels, BBHers made an impact through skills-based volunteerism, such as by building websites, teaching financial literacy, reviewing résumés, and tutoring and mentoring children and young adults in underserved communities.
Taking a Portfolio Approach to Sustainability
While sustainability was front and center within BBH, businesses and investors across the board continued to shift their priorities as well. As private bankers and investment managers, we saw first hand how the events of 2020 accelerated interest in values-based planning and ESG investing. In 2020, we received 21% more ESG-related request for proposal inquiries, building on a 33% increase experienced in 2019.
Just as we run our organization with a sustainable mindset, we manage our investment portfolios with a close eye to environmental, social, and governance practices. We believe that ESG isn’t an investment category; it’s a fundamental part of the investment process. In 2020, we further strengthened our commitment to ESG by becoming signatories in the United Nations Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI), which is an international organization that works to promote the incorporation of ESG into investment decision-making.
Mitigating Our Climate Impact
At the same time that we strive to understand our portfolio companies’ environmental impact, we are looking to understand and minimize our own. As a services company, our biggest contribution to greenhouse gases is through the operation of our facilities and the travel of our employees. With most of our employees working from home in 2020, we saw an opportunity to make energy-efficient improvements in most of our locations. Some of these were immediate, such as reducing paper and single-use plastic. Others will come in time as we look to optimize our office space and rethink our business travel for what will likely be a more flexible work environment.
No doubt, adjusting to a virtual environment has been challenging, but the last year has shown that it’s possible to both stay connected and be productive from afar. Looking ahead, we hope to build on this to better support our employees, clients, and other stakeholders by incorporating virtual communication and collaboration tools into our normal routines. In doing so, we think we can not only improve employee quality of life and client outcomes, but we can also significantly reduce our environmental footprint in the process.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway of 2020 is that sustainability is more than an objective; it’s a mindset. It requires thought and reflection, setting meaningful goals and making decisions. We will succeed when we integrate key programs and practices into our business and by constantly adapting to the changing needs and preferences of our employees, clients, and communities.
The following pages of this report provide a window into our sustainability focus areas and programs so that we can continue to hold ourselves accountable and refine our approach. Our intent is not just to help you, our stakeholders, understand how we think about sustainability, but also to create a platform through which we can learn and improve together. On behalf of all of BBH, I welcome your questions and ideas.
- William B. Tyree, Managing Partner