The Illinois Senate Special Committee on Pension Investments heard testimony last week from several pension fund boards on what they were doing to increase diversity within their own ranks and the firms with which they invest.
"It's time for new eyes," said state Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), the chairperson of the committee. "It's time for you to exceed your goals. It’s not up to us to tell you that. You should already know that. Set your goals and be creative and come back in six months and tell me exactly what you did, how you set your goals and what you’re going to strive for."
The committee applauded some of the funds' efforts while saying others needed to do better.
Illinois state Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago)
"Many of you have done a good job but some haven’t, and the numbers tell it all," Martinez said, then specifically singling out the Teachers' Retirement System board. "I don’t see your numbers getting any better. It took 18 years for you to meet 20 percent."
Thomas Beyna, the president of the Policemen's Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago, said the pension fund has been trying to reach and exceed goals, but only has a 22 percent funding ratio, which makes it hard to institute new actions. Jim Mohler, the executive director with the Chicago Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, said they have gone from having zero percent Latinos to now having more than 10 percent.
"We've seen a big difference in five years," Mohler said. "We've also gone up to 16.6 percent African Americans. Our goals are a bit dusty and need updating — it's time to move these goals up."
Mohler said though it is a small fund with only about 4,000 members, they have more people receiving benefits than those paying into the fund.
"This is a challenge that most funds face," he said.
State Universities Retirement Systems (SURS) chair John Atkinson said pension funds must be cognizant of the achievement gap in education.
"Outward migration of students is an issue," Atkinson said. "I'm worried about taking care of and supporting the kids that stay here because they generally need help. As we work toward greater equity, I believe we should be focused on walking the walk."
Atkinson said SURS is currently looking to hire a chief diversity officer to help continue striving for diversity. SURS Chief Investment Officer Doug Wesley said the board was aware that they needed to have more diversity.
"We know there is more work that needs to be done but we’re engaged in the process to work toward more diversity," Wesley said. "We’re proud of our improvement, but we still have a lot more we can do."