Muni market can help fight racism, Conn. Treasurer Wooden says

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The municipal bond market can help to fight racism in its ranks and promote social justice and diversity and inclusion around the nation, Connecticut State Treasurer Shawn Wooden told the Northeast Women in Public Finance.

“With all of you in the industry, there’s a unique role that we all could play. I describe it as taking the intellectual and financial resources of corporate America and applying it to this challenge,” Wooden said Thursday, speaking with NEWPF Co-Presidents Vivian Altman and Kimberly Lyons on a Zoom webinar.

He said that while progress was being made within the municipal bond industry, there was still a long way to go.

“We have to be intentional about creating the communities we want, the world we want,” said Connecticut State Treasurer Shawn Wooden. “It doesn’t just happen."

“When we talk about diversity and inclusion, I think our industry has given a lot of lip service to this notion over many years,” he said, “and progress has undoubtedly been made with both regard to gender and racial progress, but ... it’s still woefully inadequate.”

He said work needed to be done to eliminate institutional racism.

“We have to be intentional about creating the communities we want, the world we want,” he said. “It doesn’t just happen. And it’s the same thing within organizations. We have to make an intentional decision — and that’s what I advocate for. One, recognize the problem of a lack of diversity and inclusion. Two, be intentional about addressing it just like we address other business problems."

He said in the public finance sector, participants pay attention to numbers and pointed to numerous studies that showed the positive economic effects of a diverse and inclusive workforce and management structure.

“And this is where it comes in as my work as Treasurer, in that I am not just saying ‘Do this because I believe it’s the right thing to do.’ I’m saying ‘Do this because I think we’ll have a stronger investment portfolio’ if we have more diverse rosters.”

Wooden, who became Connecticut's 83rd state Treasurer in 2019, is the only Black elected state Treasurer in the United States and the only elected Black official in New England.

He previously served as Hartford's City Council President from 2011 to 2015 and was a member of the Citizen's Ethics Advisory Board. Early in his career, he worked in the AFL-CIO's Office of Investment in Washington, D.C. He has a BA degree from Trinity College in Connecticut and a law degree from New York University.

He was elected treasurer after a 21-year career as an investment attorney specializing in public pension plans at firm Day Pitney LLP, which is Connecticut’s bond counsel and he led the firm's public pension fund investment practice.

Wooden’s office is fiduciary for more than $37 billion in pension and trust assets for about 212,000 state employees, teachers, and retirees.

Connecticut has $18.5 billion of general obligation bonds outstanding. The state’s GOs are rated A1 by Moody's Investors Service, A by S&P Global Ratings, A-minus by Fitch Ratings and AA-minus by Kroll Bond Rating Agency.

In late May, Wooden wrote an Op-Ed in the Hartford Courant, “Corporate America, it’s time to stand up against racism."

Wooden said the response to the Op-Ed from CEOs who read it “was very positive, very engaging.”

He added that because of the overwhelmingly interest, he has been meeting with CEOs in the finance industry and is looking forward to the work he will be doing with corporations.

Northeast Women in Public Finance is a not-for-profit professional organization for women who work in private or public sector firms or organizations engaged in public finance. It offers educational and networking events as well as a mentoring program.

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Racism Racial Bias Black Lives Matter State of Connecticut Shawn Wooden Public finance Connecticut