Diversity and Inclusion: the Need for Courageous Integrity
By Eleanor Hill, Editor, TMI
Companies across the globe are striving for a more caring and responsible relationship with employees and the communities in which they operate. But are they doing enough to make sure that diverse hires thrive within the organisation? And that employees from under-represented groups feel included as valued, appreciated contributors? Four diversity and inclusion champions share their views on these topics and explain how corporate treasurers can help to create a productive and inclusive work environment.
It comes as little surprise then that, according to research by Boston Consulting Group (BCG), up to 98% of large companies (above 1,000 employees) currently run D&I programmes . Nevertheless, BCG also reports that three-quarters of employees in under-represented groups, such as LGBTQ colleagues, ethnic minorities and women, do not believe they have personally benefited from the D&I investments their employers have made .Diverse and inclusive teams are now widely recognised as being beneficial to businesses. With true diversity and inclusion (D&I) comes the potential for: improved performance, better understanding of customers, greater innovation, improved employee recruitment and retention, not to mention brand enhancement .
This suggests that while organisations may be making progress on the diversity front, progress on inclusion is not necessarily so rapid. As an HSBC representative comments: “A lot of companies are active around diversity, but not necessarily inclusion – yet you can’t have one without the other. Acknowledging the benefit of having different perspectives in decision-making and building a workforce that is representative of the organisation's customers is a great first step. However, we also have to ensure that employees’ differences are valued and that everyone is enabled to thrive at work.”
How then can companies move beyond basic diversity and inclusion compliance towards embedded and embodied D&I values? And what is the role of the treasurer in supporting true D&I?
Elephant in the room
According to BCG, one of the major obstacles to efficient D&I programmes is bias. Julianne Lee, Managing Director, Group Public Affairs, HSBC, also sees this as a significant challenge – especially unconscious bias. “We all carry unconscious bias with us, based on our own life experiences. It can take the form of associating capability with attractiveness, or similarity with cultural fit, or gender-specific attributes,” she explains.
One of the major challenges with unconscious bias, says Lee, is that it can lead to “group think, which can hinder true diversity and inclusion”. An HSBC representative agrees, adding: “Mindsets in banking tend to be quite homogenous. Employees with different ways of thinking are often unconsciously boxed off – labelled as ‘millennials’, for example. This creates unnecessary distance in the workforce. We need to make sure our mindset is dynamic and truly reflects the clients that we serve.”
To help mitigate unconscious bias, Lee suggests recognising it in oneself as a first step. “There is a wonderful Harvard-hosted website, Project Implicit, which offers a free test for unconscious bias. I discovered that my own unconscious bias is skewed towards associating profession, money and career with male attributes, which I found interesting because my own personal choices and my family choices have been more progressive,” she notes.
Alongside unconscious bias, a lack of proactive support around D&I can lead to disconnects in the workforce. Hannah Winterbourne MBE, Global Lead - Transaction Monitoring Resource Management, Financial Crime Risk Operations & FCTM, HSBC, explains: “As individuals and teams, sometimes we believe that not being negative towards someone is the same as being inclusive. Not being homophobic or racist, for example, isn’t enough.” This is especially true “when it comes to attributes you can’t necessarily see – as with LGBTQ or neurodiverse employees,” she notes.
“As a transgender woman, I know full well that there might be someone in your team who is different but doesn’t feel comfortable talking about it because you haven’t taken any active steps to show that you are inclusive of that type of person. In turn, this can have a detrimental effect on the individual’s performance, and also on the team’s overall performance,” adds Winterbourne. “So, proactivity has to be part of any D&I strategy, in my view.”
Picking up on the neurodiversity point (see box 1 for an overview of workplace neurodiversity), Charlie Eckton, Business Psychologist and Coach, Genius Within CIC, notes: “Creating a safe space for neurodiverse employees to bring their true selves to work has to start at the top of the organisation – it is important for leaders to demonstrate awareness and understanding around neurodiversity, not to just leave it to HR!”
An HSBC representative could not agree more. “As a leader, I see it as my role to educate the team on themes such as neurodiversity, which is why we recently invited Charlie to present to a number of Global Liquidity and Cash Management colleagues on the topic. I also instil in my team that they must respect all differences within the workplace, whether that be neurodiversity, disability, gender, religion or ethnicity, regardless of their personal views.”
In addition to leadership support, a candid review of whether the environment is “creating disabilities out of differences” can also be helpful in ensuring proper inclusion of neurodiverse employees, says Eckton. “This circles back to the points made earlier around unconscious bias,” she explains.
The power of having role models should not be underestimated as an inclusivity tool, either, believes Eckton. “Often there is a lack of openly recognised neurodiverse talent, and it would be extremely helpful to see more role models at different levels across the company,” she notes. Indeed, role models can be inclusivity advocates for all underrepresented groups, believes Winterbourne. Nevertheless, she stresses the need for more “everyday” role models to improve relatability and inclusiveness. “Anyone who is getting on and living a happy life can be a role model – not just those at the top of the tree,” she comments.
Box 1: What is neurodiversity?
In simple terms, neurodiversity means that the brain works in different ways for people who have:
These are the most typically occurring conditions in the workplace, although there are others. Some of the common difficulties associated with neurodiverse conditions include:
Everyone with a neurodiverse condition is different; they often have particular strengths in:
Box 2: True Diversity & Inclusion: Top Tips
Consistency. D&I is not a one-off project. “It needs to be a consistent focus for the business, at offsites, team meetings and in day-to-day interactions,” says Lee.
Courageous Integrity. “Organisations have ingrained behaviours and thinking. There will be resistance to change around D&I. But you have to do what is correct for your team and what is morally right,” comments an HSBC representative.
Inclusive leadership. “Not only is it important to have leaders that understand D&I and support it in all its forms, but leaders must also grasp that there is no longer a separation between home and work,” says Winterbourne. “As such, ‘inclusive leadership’ means managing an individual by understanding what makes them tick both personally and professionally.”
Proactivity. “Do not wait for an issue to occur,” advises Eckton. “Adjustments can be made proactively and this is the optimal path towards systemic inclusion – whereby individuals do not feel as though a special effort is being made to include them. Organisations should be on the front foot and ensure inclusion is simply business as usual.”