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Patricia Hamzahee reviews the evening's discussion and conclusions

 

Gender and Beyond: Meeting the Diversity Challenge in Financial Services

 

How fitting it was to moderate a panel on Meeting the Diversity Challenge in Financial Services just as the current furore around how women (and men) are treated in the workplace is building to a cacophony. 

The Finance sector has been one of those places of work – like Hollywood, Parliament, Broadcasting and big business – where the culture has been shaped and controlled by the privileged white men in power. It is also an industry that promotes its exceptionalism – very clever and successful people doing complicated and risky work justifying historic high pay, limited oversight and weak sanctions for bad behaviour.

I agreed to chair this discussion for The Finance Foundation because I believe passionately that the post crisis culture change our society is seeking in Finance can only be embedded in our banks, insurance and investing institutions if we truly embrace Diversity.

To explore the change needed, we convened a panel of senior leaders from the sector with direct experience of the Diversity challenge. Tangy Morgan, Senior Advisor to the Prudential Regulation Authority of the Bank of England and a former insurance industry executive; AIG’s Geoff Godwin, UK Chief Operating Officer and Chair of their LGBT Group; and Jaclyn Dove, Executive Director, Insurance Europe at Standard Chartered Bank. They were joined by Justine Lutterodt, Director of the Centre for Synchronous Leadership, a leadership consultancy and thinktank that facilitates systemic change in the corporate sector.

Each panellist shared their personal journeys and what change they have witnessed during this time.

Ours was an intersectional discussion crossing multiple identities:  gender, ethnicity and sexuality. It was clear that many successes and challenges were shared across these communities.  We also recognised the unique challenges facing each group.  In both cases, solidarity was seen to be crucial to making headway.

The panel was asked if the sector is just paying lip service to diversity objectives, or whether real progress is being made in identifying what needs to be done to support fair and equal representation and reward regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation/identity.

Having worked in and around the Finance industry for decades, we all agreed that, despite some improvements, it was depressing to be having the same conversations as when we started working.

We discussed whether Boards and senior management were taking the right action to tackle barriers to equality. We also examined whether Board targets were a game changing intervention or a convenient distraction. The Parker Review has called for action to address the low representation of Black and Minority Ethnic staff at senior levels, where currently only 1.5% of UK FTSE100 are Board directors, and seeks at least 1 non-white board director at FTSE100 companies by 2021.  The 30% Club’s drive for women on boards has resulted in 27% representation. However, Oliver Wyman’s excellent 2016 Women in Finance report shows that only 13% of ExCos are women and they are usually in HR, Marketing and other functional support roles.

The Women in Finance Charter seeks to increase this representation. Similar initiatives are needed for BAME leadership and there are no initiatives that look at LGBT representation.

The panel then looked to the remedies that the Financial Services sector could embrace to make the necessary changes. 

The Legal sector was cited for the pioneering work of the Black Solicitor’s Network, now on its 10th Diversity League Table. Through rigorous benchmarking, promoting best practice and providing training and advice, the Legal sector was recognised for taking initial steps to make a meaningful difference. No such initiative exists in Finance.

There was some consensus that hard targets would make a meaningful difference.  There was also acknowledgement that the case for how diversity benefits business performance needs to be clarified.  This can be achieved through better articulation, additional research, and encouraging the research that already exists to be more widely shared:  from the Diversity Matters studies by McKinsey & Co to the numerous research studies into Asset Management performance that show diverse managers often perform as well as – or outperform – market benchmarks. 

The panel also tackled the emergence of Diversity fatigue, where initiatives are overtaking understanding. Proper training about unconscious bias that aligns with the business strategy, with diverse talents recognised as a competitive advantage, are needed.  

Another concern was how the lack of Diversity is shaping the influential realm of Artificial Intelligence and the programming of algorithms that are shaping all aspects of the world of work.

The audience raised the need to address not only the woman’s place at work but also the man’s, as he is also an essential contributor to the design of work/life balance career options.  The limited take up of shared parental leave in the Finance sector was noted with men in the audience highlighting how difficult such choices were for them to make.

At the end of the day, our panel agreed that progress on all Diversity fronts has been made, but that there was still so much more work to be done and that current approaches are taking too long. Targets, research and training supported by solidarity will ensure the success of Diversity in Finance.

Thank you to AIG for sponsoring this panel as part of its support for The Finance Foundation’s thought leadership series.