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From the FutureRiskMinds: diversity and inclusion in banking

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Diversity and inclusion is one of the UN's Sustainable Development goals, covering socioeconomic factors, equality, equal access to necessary resources, and so much more. Historically, many industries, including finance, have been dominated by a particular demographic. And although many institutions promote diversity and inclusion, it's clear that there is a long way to go still. The FutureRiskMinds - tomorrow's risk leaders - examine the issues closely, and set out the necessary actions to improve diversity and inclusion in finance.

​​​​​​​Jenny Murray, Trading Credit Risk Management, Natwest Markets

Banking could encourage more diversity and inclusion by ‘walking the walk as well as talking the talk’. Encouraging diversity and inclusion is more than simply making commitments to recruit and promote individuals from a diverse background (gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability for example). Whilst public commitments are important to promote accountability, the day-to-day functioning of a company needs to reflect these statements or otherwise D&I issues simply become another empty statement, ignored by the banking population. Therefore the key to encouraging more diversity and inclusion is working at both top-down and bottom-up engagement and initiatives.

As previously mentioned, banking needs to make clear commitments that regardless of any diversifying characteristics all backgrounds are welcome and needed within the industry. The impact of role-models to support this cannot be underestimated. Banking needs to provide real people that individuals can relate to and in them see their potential for success. These role models should be encouraged to talk about their experiences, both positive and negative, to allow people to understand current barriers and start conversations to remove these. Importantly, these individuals need to themselves feel comfortable in the working environment. If someone was asked to fulfil a D&I function whilst feeling ‘tokenised’ that would defeat the object. Therefore, panel events, senior leader discussions, mentoring and education opportunities are crucial for success.

By using role models to voice concerns and also highlight successes, and by using individual voices to form a collective strategy and respect, D&I within banking will grow.

Creating a working environment which allows all individuals to thrive is done most crucially via information; information provided to individuals to allow the understanding of different cultural norms, different conditions impacting employees, and different ways people spend their time, which promotes an environment where people can bring their true selves to work. In addition, information and experience sharing both from senior leaders and junior staff become valuable resources for education. The power of open conversation is crucial for encouraging an inclusive working environment.

Becoming truly diverse and inclusive cannot be achieved overnight. It requires appropriate and carefully planned recruitment strategies, both at entry level all the way up to Chief Officer roles. It requires time and effort to be placed into identifying individual company barriers to inclusiveness alongside investigation at the industry level to support high level issues. By using role models to voice concerns and also highlight successes, and by using individual voices to form a collective strategy and respect, D&I within banking will grow.

Diversity and inclusion thrives where collaboration and challenge thrives. An open environment is critical for success which requires work and buy-in of senior leaders and junior staff. There is no one-size fits all approach to encourage diversity and inclusion – that is the beauty of diversity; there is no exact template. Whilst this makes achieving an inclusive environment challenging, with the buy-in of all individuals within a company or sector, everyone’s individuality can make D&I thrive.

Daniel Patton, Bank Advisory, BNP Paribas

Many still see banking as an old (straight) (white) boys club. This can deter those from diverse backgrounds from choosing banking as a career because it can instil a fear that they will not be able to progress as fast as their more stereotype fitting colleagues and thus they may look to other industries as a more productive way for them to achieve success. The inability to attract and retain talent from across a broad spectrum of society is one of the preeminent risks to the future of the banking sector.

The key to greater diversity in the future is through early careers recruitment and retention in the industry. This is because these people will become the leaders of tomorrow, shaping the future landscape and perception of banking. It is a multiplier effect. With more diverse role models in the banking-ecosystem, there will be more interest and aspiration from those with diverse backgrounds who are at the pivotal age of deciding their future careers. The industry must work hard to ensure that it fosters an environment that enables employees to be themselves and have their ideas heard and valued, without this their productivity will be stifled and the desired talent may look elsewhere.

The inability to attract and retain talent from across a broad spectrum of society is one of the preeminent risks to the future of the banking sector.

Many banks are already making great efforts to lead the corporate world into a more inclusive environment. One of the loudest ways in which the banks can show their openness is through large-scale public events. One such example is London Pride. Barclays leading the procession in 2017 with Olympic medallist Tom Daley on board the float shows just how much times have changed since their foundation in 1690. Many may scorn at the involvement of large corporations in events such as these, however acceptance at the highest levels of business helps to perpetuate a change in the mind-set of those within the industry and moreover indicates to potential future talent that diversity is not just accepted, but actively encouraged.

Not that equality needs any justifications; but there are countless studies outlining the benefits of a diverse workforce. The theory is that people with similar backgrounds think in similar ways and so potential idea generation and original thought is muted, which is particularly pertinent to the field of risk management. It has been noted that the Global Financial Crisis may have been exacerbated by a lack of variety in risk models and thus, going forward, diversity within the industry could be the solution as it helps to encourage a heterogeneity of perspectives.

Breaking a stereotype is hard. For perceptions of banking to change bold statements must be made by those at the top. Whether it’s senior male figures speaking out in favour of their female colleagues, CEOs giving - not just their approval - but their active support for employee diversity networks, or managers wearing a pride pin, when it comes to encouraging diversity and inclusion in banking, ‘every little helps’.

Zomorad Agha, Risk Business Architect, Deutshe Bank

Diversity and inclusion shouldn’t be about the quotas the bank is required to achieve. It shouldn’t be a seasonal topic of discussion that’s in the spotlight for a period of time in relation to media publicity.

I recently attended a Women in Leadership discussion where the panel of senior women that were invited to speak all looked very similar. Western, Caucasian females. I certainly did not feel as though I had a place on management board at this company because I could not see someone that looked like me… Let’s not forget that gender is only one aspect of diversity; once an Iraqi refugee that’s worked hard to achieve everything she has today, I want to know about the hurdles people have overcome to achieve success – that’s not always a struggle with gender. The stories relating to Asian women from traditional backgrounds who have had to combat the power struggle at home to hold down a job, the stories relating to the stay at home dad who chooses to defy stereotypes.

Let’s not forget that gender is only one aspect of diversity

The push to meet quotas encourages the wrong type of behaviour. Organisations should be seeking diversity from the offset – within job advertisements. You should be seeking people with “relevant experience” from various industries and backgrounds, failure to do so will often result in a male dominant financial market of candidates. Given that most of the challenges faced within the financial industry today stem from the inability to think outside the box - breaking out of existing mind sets and adopting a new way of working; it is key that we gain knowledge and learn from others (including industries) to better understand the world.

Inclusion is about being accepted and respected for the different believes and way of life. What I feel banks try very hard to do is avoid the topic of religion at all costs. Living in the UK, I am by default very familiar with the Christian religion, I by default celebrate Easter, and I by default celebrate Christmas – what I do not have time off to celebrate however, is my own religious holidays. Gone are the days where flexible working is frowned upon – people are empowered to work from home and away from their managers. If constraints are not tied down to clients / markets, why not allow employees to celebrate their own religion in trade for the public holidays that they would otherwise, by default, celebrate. I would happily trade the time off over Christmas to celebrate Eid. I am only one version, one voice and one example of the changes that are required to be made here.

This article was originally published in Where is risk management heading in 2020 and beyond?

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