Culture and Diversity
FINBOURNE Interviews Reboot, The Diversity Project and Talk about Black
From words to actions
As part of our Culture and Diversity Series, FINBOURNE Technology interviews three leading industry groups to evaluate progress on under-representation in financial services, discuss future DE&I goals for the sector and the organisations driving change.
As a new survey from Opinium and Reboot finds two-thirds (64%) of people from an ethnic minority background in the UK experience discrimination, FINBOURNE Technology brings together three prominent financial services figures, to discuss how far the industry has come on race and ethnic diversity and how their working groups are endeavouring to move the needle.
Noreen Biddle Shah is head of communications and marketing at investment bank, Numis and founder of Reboot, a working group of senior communications professionals working to drive dialogue around race in the workplace and in UK society, with a particular focus on financial services
Kelly Tran is managing director, UK & Ireland institutional sales, at MFS Investment Management, co-leads of the Race & Ethnicity workstream at The Diversity Project, co-founder of Fish out of water campaign.
Justin Onuekwusi is head of retail investments, EMEA, at LGIM, founder of EnCircle Mentoring, and co-founder of the Talk about Black campaign, also part of The Diversity Project.
What unites all three of these organisations is their belief in better representation of ethnic minorities within the UK workplace – at all levels and the need for more transparency of data to truly understand the challenges different groups face.
Please tell us a little about your organisation, including its purpose, the journey you are on, and any critical milestones you have reached.
Noreen Biddle Shah: Reboot is a campaigning group of senior communications professionals united by the belief that we can drive real change by elevating dialogues around racial inequality in our industry. Our storytelling amplifies the voices of the many senior ethnic minority professionals making a mark in the corporate world. We also support the industry to attract, retain and advance minority talent through independent research and advocate societal and policy-led change through our partnerships and communities of allies and ambassadors.
The volume of media coverage and traction we’ve achieved through our work, , including our current investor led campaign on ethnicity pay gap reporting, demonstrates how far we’ve come and how much the industry genuinely cares.
Kelly Tran: The Diversity Project believes diversity is invaluable to the success of organisations within financial services. The Diversity Project champions many aspects of diversity, but when it comes to race & ethnicity, a lack of ethnic representation in senior positions is commonplace. Increasingly, a more diverse cohort is joining the industry, but limited progress is happening at mid-level to senior-level positions.
The Race & Ethnicity Workstream was set up to challenge the industry status quo and work towards addressing this inequality through raising awareness, developing skills and building a community for ethnically diverse employees and their allies. Notwithstanding ethnic, religious, racial or cultural backgrounds, everyone should feel they can bring their true selves to work and have the same opportunities as others to succeed.
Ultimately, our mission is to help people of different races, ethnicities and religions have equal access to opportunities to fulfil their career potential and advance to senior positions in the industry. So, to strengthen our collective voice, we endeavour to work with industry partners like reboot, which share our values and beliefs and further this mission.
We’re still a relatively young organisation, but we have a strong team of passionate people united by our mission. Our achievements so far have been our award-winning #Fishoutofwater campaign, which was designed to raise awareness and foster inclusion in the financial industry.
We’re also currently running our #embRaceyourcareer campaign to improve access to practical career progression insights from ethnically diverse leaders and empower the next generation to become senior leaders themselves.
Justin Onuekwusi: Talk about Black’s mission is to create a more inclusive investment industry by removing barriers to recruitment, retention and progression of Black talent in the UK, and to build a pipeline of cross-industry Black leaders.
We use a combination of mentoring, education, thought leadership and public speaking to increase opportunities for Black people and industry professionals, and to challenge the structures that inhibit progression.
A holistic approach is required to address all barriers to entry and progression in the UK workplace, while maintaining a specific focus on single minority groups.
Performance of ethnic minority students lags that of their White counterparts, with the widest gap being for Black Caribbean boys. Lack of curriculum relevance, recognisable role models, and funding for the state education system mean fewer economically disadvantaged and Black students enter further education and struggle to get into the corporate world.
Should these individuals achieve a good education, they’re less likely to be successful in securing their preferred roles, are either not attracted to asset management due to its perceived lack of diversity or, in many cases, simply not aware of potential opportunities. When these Black individuals do break into the industry, they typically end up in support functions, have higher rates of attrition and rarely progress to leadership or revenue-generating positions.
Discussions around race in our industry and society remain a taboo subject but only by talking about them can we educate ourselves and develop a greater understanding of the challenges.
How did you become part of this project and what lived experiences led you here?
Noreen Biddle Shah: The Black Lives Matter movement shone a light on issues engendered by systemic racism. It inspired me to share my father’s experience of working for a FTSE 100 company in the 1980s and encountering institutional racism, and how it impacted him and us as a family. The positive reaction I received to sharing his story encouraged me to think about how I could use my network to continue amplifying the voices of ethnic minority professionals, So we don’t have to continue encountering the same issues a whole generation on. This is why Reboot was born.
Kelly Tran: I’m of Vietnamese origin and a first-generation immigrant to the UK. As a female ethnic minority in the financial industry, I’ve experienced many setbacks and challenges. I believe there are a combination of external and internal barriers to progression for ethnic minority people.
Representation in senior leadership is important. Many diverse employees feel that ‘if you can see it, then you can be it’. But a lot of people find themselves stuck in the middle. There are many reasons for that including a lack of role models, network and community, coaching, mentoring and sponsorship opportunities.
These external barriers can have an impact on a person’s internal barriers. Some may lack the confidence and experience a sense of insecurity, loneliness and even isolation in the workplace because no one else looks like them or speaks like them.
At The Diversity Project, we call this a ‘fish out of water’ feeling. Personally, I’ve experienced all of the above to a different extent throughout my career. So, my personal purpose is to help create change for all ethnic minority employees in our industry. This is what led me to get involved in the work of The Diversity Project and, in particular, its Race & Ethnicity Workstream.
Justin Onuekwusi: The investment management and wider financial services industries reflect wider society. They are far from level playing fields. We’re committed to using our experience to positively influence fund performance, but also to positively disrupt the corporates, driving an increase in representation and societal change, and helping create a business environment where those willing to strive can fulfil their potential and create the best outcomes for customers.
Ethnic minorities comprise 14% of the UK population. Of this, 7.5% identify as Asian and 3.3% as Black. In London, where the majority of fund managers are based, 18.5% of the population is Asian and 13.3% is Black. In the fund management industry, 10% of individuals identify as Asian and only 1% identify as Black. In 2017, a financial report could identify just 12 Black fund managers working in the investment industry.
That is a problem. Can we truly claim we have a fair and meritocratic system with such gross underrepresentation? To progress towards a better future, we need cast the net wider than has been done historically to attract and retain talent that represents our clients’ interests..
Q: What do you see as the future DE&I goals for financial services?
Noreen Biddle Shah: The modern workplace is steeped in microaggressions – be it conscious or unconscious, recognised or unrecognised – so amplifying minority voices and having more minorities in leadership positions is vital to changing the status quo.
A recent reboot survey reveals that nearly 50% of financial professionals believe those from ethnically diverse backgrounds have not been offered as many career opportunities as White colleagues. Further, 31% of those from an ethnic minority background say this has made them consider leaving financial services. This is of course a moral issue, but it makes good business sense as well.
Firms must be made aware of the gravity of the issue and take concrete steps to combat it by evolving their training programmes, reviewing their recruitment practices, or developing their role models. This is why transparency is so important. If we had ethnicity pay gap data, we can really understand the breadth of the issue, how different groups are impacted and therefore address these challenges head on.
Kelly Tran: Our mission is to help people of different races, ethnicities and religions to have equal access to the opportunities to fulfil their career potential and advance to senior positions in the industry. The real change we want to see is for the next generation of leadership at executive and board level to better reflect the diversity we see in broader society and the people we serve. For that change to happen, building a more diverse and inclusive financial industry can’t just be about attracting diverse talent. It must be about creating an environment in which diverse talent can thrive, succeed and progress.
Justin Onuekwusi: I’m a big fan of mentoring if done in the right way. . However, having sponsors and allies are of equal importance to help you through your career and something we should strive to have. We need to ensure that people who require advocacy, rather than guidance on how to progress, are not simply being offered mentoring in place of the support they actually need.
That said, I do believe that mentoring can be vital at all stages of our careers. A good mentor can put someone on the right path to success, boost confidence and help develop networks. There’s also no reason why a good mentor cannot develop into a great sponsor.
Indeed, in recent years there have been a number of organisations and groups established to achieve better representation. We need to collaborate and come together, particularly where there is overlap, to ensure efforts are scaled and carry greater weight.
Q: How do you plan to measure these goals and what does success look like to you?
Noreen Biddle Shah: Success means positive progress. We want to see that reflected in the numbers. While two-thirds of respondents from our survey point to an improvement in ethnic diversity within their firms over the past two years, half are still calling for more ethnically diverse role models across senior and middle management positions. Role models are essential to creating an ‘if I can see it, I can be it’ mentality in younger generations. So, increasing diversity in the upper echelons of the financial services world and beyond is key. Sadly, this is where we are seeing the least progress.
Kelly Tran: We can’t manage what we can’t measure. It’s about disclosure and data in the first instance. That can help us know where we are, no matter how bad the current situation is. That’s why The Diversity Project continues to work with our industry partners on the 90% campaign to raise awareness and amplify the importance of reaching a 90% disclosure rate on race and ethnicity. Once we have that data, we’ll have a basis against which additional targets must be set.
Justin Onuekwusi: Success to us is simple. It’s fairer representation of Black people in our industries and at all levels of seniority. We spend far too much time trying to piece together educated measurements for what success looks like in DE&I rather making progress to prevent under-representation. The balance needs to shift from words to action now.
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