How to ensure diversity in your financial services business

Conversations about diversity in financial services can be challenging, but it’s also something that can be addressed with the right systems and processes.

The financial services industry has often come under scrutiny for a lack of diversity.

Last year, the Financial Conduct Authority reported that gender diversity across the industry is low, with women making up around 17% of FCA-approved individuals – a figure that hasn’t changed significantly since 2005.

A 2018 report by HR firm Randstad, meanwhile, shows only one in ten management jobs in the industry are held by members of the black, asian and ethnic minority (BAME) community.

And this October, recruitment firm Ruebik and non-profit Operation Black Vote published research that highlighted “chronic underrepresentation” of black professionals in leadership roles within the UK’s largest financial institutions.

Conversations about diversity in the workplace can be challenging, with personal experiences and complex social issues coming into play. It’s a topic that we at Ashlynwood feel strongly about, and we’re proud to champion diversity within our own organisation and support the drive for change across the industry.

But it’s also something that can be addressed by putting the right systems and processes in place, across recruitment, marketing and more.

As a leader in the financial services industry, the way you communicate about diversity has the power to influence others in your organisation and outside of it.

If you’re not sure where to start, reading up on the topic and asking people within your organisation about their own experiences is often the best approach. Many people shy away from talking about diversity for fear of getting things wrong, but simply starting the conversation – and expressing your wish to learn and improve as an organisation – can be an important step.

It’s also essential to recognise that in many cases, inequality stems not necessarily from prejudices that people are aware of, but from biases that are built into the systems we work in.

Unconscious bias can creep in during the recruitment process, so while recruiters might think they’re simply hiring the best person for the job, they’re also choosing someone who fits a set of cultural expectations they might not be aware they hold.

One approach to eliminating this at the pre-interview stage is to try ‘blind hiring’. This can be done through services that remove demographic information like names, locations and dates, as well as the names of educational institutions from CVs, so that you can evaluate them based purely on the applicant’s skills and experience.

This not only removes unconscious bias at the early stages of recruitment, but it also sends a clear message to applicants, existing members of staff, and the general public that you’re taking concrete steps to encourage diversity.

Job descriptions and advertisements are also important to consider. Including an equal opportunities statement when you advertise positions is a good way to show potential candidates that this is something you take seriously – but make sure you do have the internal processes in place to back that statement up, such as ensuring your systems for assessing applicants are as unbiased as possible and making sure interview panels are diverse.

The wording of your job advertisements can make a difference, too. When looking at gender imbalances, for example, there’s evidence that certain language choices can reinforce inequalities. Traditionally ‘masculine’ language may discourage women from applying for roles, without explicitly saying that only men will be accepted.

How often do you encourage job candidates to be “competitive” or “decisive”, compared to looking for people who are “understanding” or “supportive”?

Other factors could influence a person’s decision to apply to a job, such as the availability of flexible working arrangements, the qualifications and experience it requires, and their impression of the firm based on the tone and imagery in its marketing materials.

More broadly, applicants and employees within your organisation could be affected by the overall culture of the business. When you look at common behaviours and expectations that are set within your workforce, do they include everyone? This could have as much to do with the opportunities staff have to socialise and network as their working day itself.

You could also think about how your diversity and inclusion objectives might fit into the way you measure employees’ performance. Could they be included in individual teams’ objectives, and assessed as part of employee feedback?

Embedding diversity considerations into these processes, and across systems in your business as a whole, should help you to make real changes to your organisational culture.

For more information on diversity and inclusion, see the following resources:

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