26 minute read 01 March 2023

Vanguard’s Crystal Hardie Langston on using data to drive equity

The road to leadership is different for everyone—for Vanguard’s Crystal Hardie Langston, it meant seeing the upside of disruption, insisting on accountability, and using data to shape the conversation around DE&I.

Tanya Ott

Tanya Ott

United States

Deloitte’s Center for Financial Services launched the Within reach series in 2019 to evaluate the progress financial services institutions had made toward achieving gender equity in leadership roles, and to discover the practices that could spur measurable growth in the number of women leaders. That involves both deep dives into data and sharing the voices of individual women who have reached the upper ranks of their organizations.

Crystal Hardie Langston, principal and global head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion & Community Stewardship at Vanguard, brings both of these strands together. She is a strong proponent of using data not only to drive accountability for Vanguard’s efforts in DE&I, but also as proof points to show exactly why increasing equity is a net benefit for organizations.

Hardie Langston joined Vanguard in 2005, fresh out of grad school. She has held a number of roles in the company before taking her current post, including chief learning officer, head of Vanguard’s specialty rotational programs, and head of Vanguard Institutional Sales Small Market. She credits those rotational programs and the company’s heavy focus on career development with her longevity: “I still have scribbled pages of career-path frameworks that some of my leaders worked with me to build over the years.”

Now she’s using her position to build career paths and advocate for a new generation of talent. Hardie Langston sat down to talk with us about what spurred her initial interest in the field, how she has learned to expect and embrace disruption, and why the right cut of data can make all the difference.


A: There’s been a lot of really great work in recent years that has offered proof points for how we’d all be better off as an industry, as a marketplace, as a planet, where underrepresented groups, including women, have more access to things that have traditionally been harder for them to come by. What I think we have to keep underscoring is that access actually helps everyone be better off.


Q: This is the Press Room from Deloitte Insights. I’m Tanya Ott. Women and racially and ethnically diverse people have long been significantly underrepresented in the financial services industry. In the last several years, that’s started to change, especially at the entry level. But, according to a 2021 study, women are significantly less likely than men to be promoted into management and the pipeline into upper management is especially leaky for women of color.1

Crystal Hardie Langston is the global head of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) and community stewardship at Vanguard. She joined the company straight out of her MBA program at Duke University. But when I sat down to talk with her, she admitted her interest in the field started much earlier.

A: I got interested in financial services while I was in college. And, even at that time, I had a consciousness of how underrepresented my community was in the topic of financial services, both as employees and how often and prevalently my extended family and I talked about jobs and careers. I started in investment banking out of undergrad because I thought, wow, this might be a great foundational experience to really learn about financial services and what it is. Then my grad school experience helped me further refine my interest in the part of financial services that I wanted to explore more deeply.

Q: In my day job, I teach university undergrads, and one of the classes that I teach is media entrepreneurship. And it is often in that class that my undergrads realize they don’t really know anything about their own finances. Often it’s because families didn’t talk about those things with their kids and prepare them for having a financial life. So, I’m wondering, when you were growing up were finances a topic of conversation? Is that what led you [in] that direction or was it something that you didn’t discuss as a family?

A: You know, my parents actually did. There was early encouragement to my brother and I to at least think about the basics of finances. So, my early introduction to saving and thinking about money came from them; we were given plastic jars to help us think about the categories of our spending of our allowance. There was a short-term bucket. There was a long-term bucket that never made it to long-term use but was still there. Those were some of our early influences in thinking about saving and building wealth.

My father is our family genealogist, and he would share stories about how negatively parts of our family, in our history, were impacted by having or lacking access to financial knowledge and resources. These things translated into loss of land and loss of money, and in more cases influenced a [lack of] recognition and [increased] importance of building and establishing wealth legacy. Those stories only made me more and more interested in getting access to this thing that did seem to elude a bigger portion of our family, both personally as I thought about what I wanted my wealth legacy to be and professionally as I thought about how underrepresented communities were even represented in the jobs in a financial services context.

Q: Your explanation of the buckets or jars that you had growing up … we did a similar thing where we had one that was for “spend,” one that was for “save,” and one that was for “gifts.”

A: Yes!

Q: What does that financial literacy mean to you? Why is that so important?

A: You know, we’re currently having some really rich internal conversation as we think about financial inclusion broadly. When I think about financial literacy, I think about skills and knowledge on financial matters, and at its best, the ability to take action on behalf of that knowledge that fulfills a goal. It’s similar to me in the way that you think about learning a new language, learning the vocabulary and how to conjugate the verbs. But then how do you supplement that foundation with dialog that increasingly makes one conversant in the language? So, when I think about financial literacy, I think about that as the opportunity.

With financial inclusion, I think about that as access. I think about that as equitable access, in particular, to communities that have just been lacking access to investments, credit instruments, insurance, and those sorts of things.

Q: I understand that you’re a mom, and I’m wondering how being a mother has influenced the way that you think about being a business leader in this space.

A: Yes. I am constantly in awe of my role as a mother. My son is five, and it strikes me every day that I have responsibility for a whole human, to love him, to care for him, to help him make his way as a citizen in the world. It’s [a] 365, 24/7 opportunity to help him develop and grow, to help him invest in what delights him, help him navigate the things that are going to be hard. I often describe it as the hardest job I’ve ever had and the most magnificent.

My five-year-old is watching me and my husband to learn from us about how to show up, how to engage with others, how to deal with things that happen. And I feel like there’s a good number of parallels between that and my role as a business leader. I have an accountability to the people on my team, to see them for who they are, what they have to offer, to help them grow, develop, and achieve. And I am constantly aware of this responsibility that I have for the imprint that I will or can have on their life’s journey. I also, in this role, need to model the things that I want to inspire and absolutely be vulnerable enough to hear where I need to learn, where I need to grow, how I need to get better as a part of that learning experience and that modeling.

Q: I would imagine that one of the other things that you might be thinking is that things don’t always go as planned. Things aren’t always easy, right? And we have these ideas of grit and resilience and understanding that our path through a career or our path through life might have some zig and zags that we maybe never anticipated.

A: Oh, yes. The nature of the zigzags that we are contending with as a society just feel—I think we’re going to have to find another word for unprecedented. Right? Because that keeps coming up as the way to describe everything that we’re experiencing. I constantly, with my son, am trying to think through the best way to help him understand some of the things that he sees. Likewise, I’m thinking through the best ways to keep my team geared up for what we need to do and how we need to further this mission in an era of a great deal of zigzags, as you put it, Tanya.

Q: Have you dealt with disruption in the course of your career? You know, it looked like a very like orderly little line—went to undergrad, went to grad school, then got out, joined a company, and worked through it. I’m imagining—if for you, like for most people—it wasn’t quite as orderly as it’s summarized in one sentence.

A: Absolutely. Definitely not always orderly. Definitely disruptive, I think, is a really good way to use to describe it. What has helped me in the midst of that is the ability to expect disruption, particularly nowadays, and anticipate it. Some of the best coaches and mentors that I’ve had a chance to interact with literally wove the expectation of disruption into how I thought about leadership. I think some of the best MBA programs and undergraduate programs are doing that. I feel like I’ve come out of key milestone moments expecting that to be the case and seeing disruption as a new learning opportunity or a new way to solve with an altered set of circumstances or problems.

I think, often, the phrase “disruption” has a negative tint to it, but particularly in the work that I do with diversity, equity, and inclusion, disruption is really our goal more often than not. We’re truly seeking to interrupt the instincts and patterns of thinking, [and to] lead to more inclusive environments and cultures and bring out the best in people and teams that have to think differently in the changing global constructs we find ourselves in.

The last thing I’ll say when you mention disruption, Tanya, is I think living in an era of perpetual disruption is just what we need to be ready for. But I also think it’s important for us to be more thoughtful and selective about where we are when we’re experiencing that disruption. And I think that has implications for how we choose the places and spaces where we function. At Vanguard, no matter the disruption, [whether] based on a particular trend or transformation or marketplace dynamic, I feel cheer that I’m in a place where I’m not constantly having to contend with a disruption in my value set, but I can focus on what it means to deal with changing client needs, new marketplace dynamics, how we think about the world as a service provider, while that values core is preserved.

Q: I want to tease that out a little bit. I’d love to get inside your brain and understand how it is that you are able to find these new opportunities and develop your skills, all within the same organization. Is there a way that you think strategically about it? Or is it just simply someone presents you with an opportunity because they see your potential in that space and then you make a decision, yes or no?

A: When I reflect on that journey that you asked me about and the multiple roles that you’ve mentioned, one of the things that I probably didn’t have a significant enough appreciation for until later in my experience at Vanguard is one of the critical approaches that we take to people development is enabling our crew—we call our employees crew—to rotate through different areas of the firm, and those often are just as rich if not richer than the development programing that is available. It’s that actual experience in a very different part of the organization. Our leaders and crew don’t have to be siloed to get different experiences, and so I’ve benefited from that and have the chance to touch different client groups, solve different problems within our marketplace, learn from different leaders, and all of that kept making that journey stay fresh while those experiences also built on top of each other.

At Vanguard, our senior leadership team places a heavy focus on that talent development, and there’s a very intentional approach to discussing talent and their development plans. I was aided by this dialog that was happening on behalf of advocates and leaders of mine that were helping me with some of that mapping, particularly what I didn’t know about what an experience might offer or afford me. When I first started at Vanguard and was starting to meet and connect with senior leaders, the first questions that they would ask were, what things are you interested in? What do you want to learn? What kinds of challenges do you want to help solve? I still have scribbled pages of career-path frameworks that some of my leaders worked with me to build over the years. It was their ability to facilitate that conversation with me that enabled them to show up as advocates about experiences that might not have been on my radar and for me to get better at articulating what kinds of things I might be interested in.

Q: Not too long ago, another guest, also a woman in the financial services industry, talked to me about her rotation, I guess you might say, through accounting. She actually went back after an MBA and decided to get an undergraduate accounting degree because she thought it might be useful and ended up hating it. Rotating through in that kind of system often not only tells you what is a good match, but also what’s not a good match—and it’s okay if it’s not a good match.

A: That’s right. That’s right. Because there’s a learning in that as well, as you hone in on where you feel like you can have the most impact or how you build teams to fill in gaps and things where you might be lesser skilled or just need someone else to have that passion.

Q: How do the sorts of roles that you see women taking in financial services, the roles that they usually have in the industry, how do you think that affects their path to the C-suite?

A: There’s a lot of research that reinforces what has been an observation of women having less access to profit-and-loss opportunities in organizations. I think there’s certainly an opportunity to explore more intentionally what types of roles women are being geared toward in succession plans, in talent conversations.

One of the things that we do as we think about what our succession planning looks like for a particular area or function, we’re making sure that there is gender and ethnic representation in the pipeline for that so that we can combat there being underrepresentation in particular parts of the organization. Certainly, this is challenged by the pipelines of talent that are available in particular functions. But that gives us another opportunity to have impact as we partner with organizations that are focused on addressing pipelines. I think it’s very much about how organizations think about [the] talent processes that can start to kind of break those things that tend to make it more challenging for women to get their path to the C-suite.

Q: When you’re looking at the pipeline issue, is that a college-and-university issue for you? Is it a high school, a K-12 issue for you?

A: I think it’s all of the above. And as we think about high school and college, certainly in those periods of time, talent is thinking about what it is that they’re interested in doing. We certainly see where women are opting out early of some of these types of roles. So as an industry, it’s critical that we have conversations and have some business leaders and some programs that are getting into high school realms and into college classrooms early to help demystify the industry and breathe life into the opportunities that are available for all talent in this industry.

Q: You spoke really compellingly at the beginning of our conversation about why, as a Black woman, being in this space is really personal for you, given your family’s experience. But more pointedly on the gender issue: Why does it really matter if there’s gender equity? Or why does it matter if there aren’t as many women as one might expect in the field?

A: There’s been a lot of really great work in recent years that has offered proof points for how we’d all be better off as an industry, as a marketplace, as a planet, where underrepresented groups, including women, have more access to things that have traditionally been harder for them to come by. What I think we have to keep underscoring is that access actually helps everyone be better off.

I’ll point specifically to some work: Stephen Lawrence is one of our investment strategy group researchers. He did some research last year specific to the impact of gender diversity on investment teams. When he did this study, he was trying to prove whether gender diversity is an indicator of fund performance. He found that funds managed by single-gender teams actually underperformed and that funds managed by mixed-gender teams outperformed their benchmarks.2 But when you think about the fact that women are only one in seven active equity investment professionals, we’re literally talking about unrealized opportunity in the investment management space for fund companies. Those are things that we continue to hope to build thought leadership on as people understand this isn’t a nice-to-have. This literally has implications for how we think about performance and the outcomes that we strive to achieve.

Q: Well, you certainly forecasted straight into my next question, which was how do you make this go beyond the nice-to-have add-ons? Because particularly in the last couple of years, lots of companies that weren’t making a lot of statements around DEI, [but[ there’s still a lot of work left to do.

A: Yes. I think integration is so key when we think about how we embed diversity, equity, and inclusion into what we’re doing. Accountability is also central to me on behalf of that. That’s one way to ensure it’s not just a nice-to-have. How do we make sure that there are very specific measures and things that we’re holding ourselves accountable to, and how do we ensure that accountability happens in the way that we build systems and structures?

One of the things that we focus on quite a bit is that, yes, we need to offer DEI learnings and trainings and teach people about microaggressions and unconscious bias. That’s important, but that has to be accompanied by changing talent process to ensure that DEI is being contemplated when we’re talking about hiring processes, when we’re talking about promotions, when we’re talking about what we’re doing to retain great talent, that we’re having conversations about why we’re not retaining great talent, and there being accountability to answer those questions. Those are some of the things that we’re doing and the way that we have talent conversations. It’s about how we add particular cuts of data to those conversations to address who’s being discussed and who’s not, and answer questions about why and really break the habit that tends to occur in some of those conversations.

I also think we have to engage our talent and invite them to share more about their diversity dimensions so that we can even better understand how to meet the needs of talent, inclusive of gender and racial difference but also as we think about LGBTQ+, as we think about difference in abilities, military status—there’s still so much for us to learn in order to make sure that we’re serving everyone in our organizations.

Q: Of course, depending on the organization and how much trust there is between those employees and leadership, that can really make a difference in whether or not people are going to self-identify the things that you can’t see from the outside.

A: Absolutely. Well said, Tanya. And we have to be thoughtful about what are the things that we are going to do with that information? How do we make sure that the entirety of the population is involved in how we think about and how we address these issues and these concerns? Trust is so essential. It often is sort of quickly referenced but is still so importantly at the root of what we need to foster in our in our cultures.

Q: Quickly referenced, important at the root, and yet hard to build, and definitely hard to regain if you break it.

A: That’s right, Tanya. Well said.

Q: So, what do you hope the conversation around gender equity in the financial services industry is going to look like five, 10, 20, [or] 30 years from now?

A: I hope, in 10 years, we’re celebrating bigger gains than we’ve seen to date in closing today’s gaps. And, in 20-plus years, I hope we’re talking about gender inequity as this thing that used to happen, that’s officially history, and is never again going to be present tense in the way that we talk about the world and the things that we contend with in society.

Q: Okay, so now let’s flip it and say of all the things that could make that really hard for it not to be a conversation in 20 years from now, what’s the one thing, the one change that you think could be made to make a difference in gender equity?

A: I think as we explore and scrutinize decision-making tables, I think it’s about representation, and I think it’s about how we all collectively set goals that actually drive greater rigor around what that looks like. If I think, for example, about the opportunity there is, it’s not just about overall representation of women. It’s not just even about the cumulative group of leaders and leadership representation. It’s about women’s leadership representation at every level in the organization and holding organizations accountable to that.

We have to give credit to our CEO, Tim Buckley, as we were working together on the aspiration. [He tells us] those bars are too low if we’re just thinking about overall representation and the sum of leaders. [He] wants to drive our accountability at every level in the organization so that we can ensure that in those seats of influence, we have people changing and impacting policy, the way we make client decisions, and the things that will truly enable us to make a difference in gender equity ultimately.

Q: Well, Crystal, thank you so much for your time. It’s been great talking to you about this subject. And maybe we’ll have you back on sometime to talk more.

A: Thank you for having me.

Q: Crystal Hardie Langston is Vanguard’s global head of diversity, equity and inclusion and community stewardship. Our conversation was part of a larger project called Within Reach, which features women leaders at the highest levels in the financial services industry. You can find many more conversations like this at Deloitte.com/insights.

If you want to keep up with what we’re doing, I’ve got two suggestions for you. First, subscribe to or follow the podcast. It makes finding the latest episode really easy. Did you know we’ve been having these interesting conversations at the intersection of work, life, technology, and business since 2015? That’s eight years of conversations you can listen back on.

And my other tip? Follow us on Twitter at @deloitteinsight because it’s a whole lot more than just a podcast. And you can follow me at @tanyaott1.

Thanks for listening and have a great day.

  1. Alison Rogish Neda Shemluck and Desiree D’Souza, Leadership, representation, and gender equity in financial services: Within reach, Deloitte Insights, November 4, 2021.

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  2. Stephen Lawrence, “Telltale signs of higher returns? Gender mix could be one,” Vanguard, June 28, 2022.

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Cover image by: Alexis Werbeck.

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The Deloitte Center for Financial Services, which supports the organization's US Financial Services practice, provides insight and research to assist senior-level decision-makers within banks, capital markets firms, investment managers, insurance carriers, and real estate organizations. The center is staffed by a group of professionals with a wide array of in-depth industry experiences as well as cutting-edge research and analytical skills. Through our research, roundtables, and other forms of engagement, we seek to be a trusted source for relevant, timely, and reliable insights. 


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