We have some way to go, but optimism about diversity and inclusion is due

 
Julia Streets
HONG KONG-CHINA-LUNAR-NEW YEAR
Source: Getty

I am constantly impressed by how financial organisations and industry bodies dedicate time and resources to promoting their diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts.

Yet I am puzzled. Despite this effort and industry awareness, why are diversity numbers still lagging? Is there real change happening, or is this simply marketing rhetoric?

That’s why I started DiverCity Podcast, interviewing business leaders and D&I specialists to review progress, identify areas requiring focus, and offer ideas to drive change. There’s much to explore: gender, ethnicity, sexuality, identity, age. Only yesterday, we were talking disability at the House of Commons; today, race at The Women of the Square Mile conference.

D&I drives performance. In 2017, McKinsey declared that companies in the top quartile for executive team gender diversity were 21 per cent more likely to return above-average profitability, and others suggest these top quartile firms could deliver as much as a 53 per cent greater return on equity.

Read more: Lloyds has set a target for ethnic diversity in its workforce

Yet business leaders seem slow on the uptake. Only 40 per cent of businesses believe that diversity is important to success, with merely 14 per cent taking action to improve the senior team make-up.

Ask any senior executive, and they’ll list high-performing teams as a key attribute for success. Technologists will tell you that to be brilliant, you need a variety of people, brains and skills to try, test, adapt and deliver.

Cultivating diversity is an opportunity to actively encourage difference, to listen, learn, harness the potential, and enjoy the results.

Digital skills gap

Technology drives how we work, report, extract insight and create value, whatever our role.

Chief technology, data and security officers will attest that if they’re not investing in technology and skilled employees, they run the risk of falling behind, and increase their prospects of regulatory penalties, breaches, and under-serving their ever-more demanding, digitally-savvy customer base.

To keep pace, we need the talent, however the digital skills gap is only widening. If the industry seeks to compete to maintain its dominant position, we need those skills like never before.

The talent is out there

Most leaders and business owners nod along to these arguments, but complain of a lack of supply. “We can’t find the talent. They’re just not coming through the pipeline.”

And I get it, but keep looking in the same places as before, and you’ll keep getting the same results.

So look beyond, to the work of We Are The City, intent on feeding the female pipeline; the Miranda Brawn Diversity Leadership Foundation and the Black British Awards schemes helping BAME talent to rise; the Brokerage, a social mobility initiative connecting young Londoners with financial and professional services employers. And check out Makers Academy, focused on nurturing coding talent from ages 16 to 66. These are just a few of many impressive initiatives.

Read more: Diversity must be a priority in business, not an afterthought

We have a way to go, but I am optimistic. I am encouraged that the debate is becoming increasingly commercially relevant to improving corporate performance. I welcome investor awareness and policy impetus in scrutinising pay gaps and demanding diversity data, for they all combine to drive momentum.

We only need mention #MeToo, Weinstein, the Presidents Club, and the smartest in the City are clear that traditional styles of leadership, culture, recruitment and communication can no longer persist. We’re on a good road, we just need to accelerate the pace to fully reap the rewards. There’s plenty of D&I upside on offer.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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