By Jo Harris, sales director at Siemens Financial Services
Today we welcome diversity and inclusion (D&I) as essential components of our society, and consequently we see these values mirrored in the business world. More and more employers are paying more attention to who they hire, and employees are thinking more about the place they work and whether it aligns with their personal values. What many observers don’t realise is there is a genuine business case for D&I, as a recent report from McKinsey has shown that genuinely diverse boards — this is not simply about gender — are actually more profitable, so as well as embracing diversity for the good of a more inclusive business world, there is also clearly a competitive advantage to be gained and put simply, this is the right thing to do.
Yet progress can be difficult to measure and we can often be unaware as to whether our proactive steps are actually making a difference, or if in fact we should be doing more. Last year, I wrote a report on the representation of women at C-suite level in the asset finance industry. At the time of writing, across the FTSE 100, 36.2% of board seats were held by women, with 33.2% across the FTSE 250 and 34.3% across the FTSE 350. A government report published earlier this year provided updated figures, now 39.1% of board seats across the FTSE 100 are held by women, with 36.8% across the FTSE 250 and 37.6% across the FTSE 350.
So whilst progress is being made, it’s slow, and we are clearly some way off a 50/50 gender split, but what about ethnic diversity? One of the key targets from the independent Parker Review was that each FTSE 100 board should have at least one director from a minority ethnic group by the end of 2021. According to the latest update report this target has mostly been met with 94 of FTSE 100 companies having appointed a director from a minority ethnic group, but the review also found that most of these positions were non-executive director roles.
With this in mind, what more can be done to speed up the diversity project?
Targets are helpful guides but meaningful internal changes are also critical. Many companies offer professional programmes and specific D&I schemes to help women and ethnic minorities advance and fulfil their leadership potential. Whilst these schemes and programmes are of immense value, they only solve half of the problem, as it is important that in tandem with these programmes, effective steps are being taken to educate the rest of the employees in the company, whether they be peers or higher up decision makers, so that attitudes and behaviours can adjust to working in a diverse environment where everyone’s skills and abilities can be recognised and appreciated.
Change at the recruitment level is also fundamental. Many companies don’t measure progress in D&I or monitor related information in recruitment. Without metrics, how can you map progress and spot pitfalls? We have to start treating diversity as a business objective — if it were a project to increase profits there would be a business case and a roadmap for implementation, and since it has been shown that diversity also delivers increased profitability then there is no reason why the same processes shouldn’t be followed.
We’re working hard to achieve diversity at SFS. The company is dedicated to raising awareness and understanding whilst at the same time being innovative in the next steps we can take. Every employee at SFS is expected to dedicate 18 hours a year to D&I education in their own time and there are many networks within the company that host events, courses and workshops to encourage staff to engage in constructive conversation.
Some recent examples of our progress would be, BEAUT — Black Equality Allies United Together — recently hosted a brunch session in the office, where two 30-minute documentaries on race in Britain were shown, and employees were able to reflect and discuss the topic over food and drink. This was part of the community’s mission to create a safe space to understand racial inequality, and to build a culture of inclusion by raising awareness and addressing unconscious bias within the workplace.
We also have a Siemens Women’s Allies Network, or SWAN. SWAN is an internal network aiming to provide a space for women to network and discuss their careers and the challenges they face, through hosting talks, lunches and other events. The network identifies and spotlights realistic senior role models to share their experiences of life and professional development without ignoring the specific challenges many women face. Otherwise, women are being told they cannot succeed without sacrificing large segments of a ‘normal life’.
Additionally, for a number of years we have run the Women into Leadership and Women’s Impact programmes, and more recently launched Accelerace. The aim of these programmes is to push past harmful and out of date stereotypes — such as the ‘alpha female’ — and instead focus on supporting and developing people’s strengths. In our view, people who have faced discrimination and inequality have developed strong coping skills, tenacity and resilience through their experiences. This should not be overlooked but rather should be seen as an advantage to be encouraged in order to give people the confidence to be themselves.
Furthermore, every employee has undergone training for unconscious and conscious bias, which has helped people understand that using certain language, phrases and approaches, can play a part in combatting bias in our day-to-day interactions. The training has also helped people learn to call out bias with confidence, and to be receptive of being called out without being defensive, but with the awareness that through the training, adjustments can be made and we can move forward.
On a personal level, I hope that all players in the asset finance sector keep up the pressure to seek every means of increasing diversity in their boardrooms, as well as ensuring a good future feed for the next generation of leaders. A diverse range of candidates in leadership positions will bring in new skills and fresh approaches, many have overcome challenges such as navigating through a very white male influenced world — with all its conscious or unconscious discrimination, social bias and stereotyping. If you want to read more on the topic, you can download my report here.
I’d love to hear more from you about what you’re doing to improve diversity as together we can make a bigger difference.