Finance firms' good intentions are not enough to fix the diversity problem: Howard Marks

The finance industry has a diversity problem, and it knows it. Senior management at finance firms was 60% male and white, according to one Government Accountability Office study. For Howard Marks, co-chairman of Oaktree Capital Management, it has been a challenge to solve.

"I think we've always had good intentions, and an open mind," he told Yahoo Finance Live in an interview. "And that, of course, is not enough."

Oaktree is an alternative-finance powerhouse with $153 billion in assets under management as of March and investments in areas including credit and private equity. Marks said that about six years ago, a group of employees tackled the internal diversity effort, and the firm now has a full-time head of diversity and inclusion.

"Our numbers have been rising, and I think our numbers are now scaled very well against our industry, but they're still inadequate and we still have a lot of work to do — and we're glad to do it," he said.

Now Oaktree is going further, teaming up with other finance-industry heavyweights Ares Management and Apollo Global Management, for a 10-year, $90 million effort dubbed AltFinance: Investing in Black futures. The program is a partnership with Historically Black Colleges and Universities to improve the pipeline of diverse talent.

Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College and Spelman College will be the institutions to initially participate, with more potential additions to come. AltFinance will have three components: a mentored fellowship program, a tailored virtual institute (in partnership with the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania) and a scholarship program.

The fellowship program will be administered by Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT), a nonprofit group that fosters diversity in corporate America.

John Rice, CEO of MLT, told Yahoo Finance the core challenge is to bring diverse talent to the finance industry — to make that connection.

"It's not a pipeline problem," he said. "The talent is there. What these organizations need to do is to cultivate and prepare, and to expose that pipeline to the fantastic opportunities that are available in the alternative investment space."

AltFinance is launching in the first half of next year.

Julie Hyman is the co-anchor of Yahoo Finance Live, weekdays 9am-11am ET. Follow her on Twitter @juleshyman, and read her other stories.

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