Features / Finance

Improving diversity in the financial sector

By ellie pipe, Wednesday Jul 31, 2019

The financial world may now recognise the value in a diverse workforce, but the pace of change is slow.

Barriers to entry, recruitment, retention and promotion of staff, flexible hours and unconscious bias in the profession were all topics that provided food for thought at a recent roundtable discussion, hosted by Flexology, with the aim of forging ways to overcome challenges.

Shelley Snelson says the pace of change in the financial world is slow

“Evidence shows that the gender pay gap is widening, that only six per cent of those with revenue responsibility at FTSE 300 companies are women, and that none of them come from black or ethnic minority groups,” said Shelley Snelson, director of Flexology, a flexible working recruitment specialist firm based on Great George Street.

“The business world is starting to see the commercial advantages of a diverse workforce and its impact on financial performance, through improved talent attraction to having happier, more productive staff, better decision-making and better alignment with customers.

“But things aren’t changing as quickly as we’d like them to. A number of businesses have initiatives underway to change things. While some are working, others clearly aren’t or not fast enough.”

The way in which the financial sector is represented was dissected at the event amid recognition that talented but “unpolished” candidates can be overlooked.

Rhiannon Phillips, finance director at Offsite Solutions, said: “When talking about apprenticeships, how many young people see themselves in our profession?

“If they can’t see themselves in the positions they want, they’ll go and look for something else. Finance needs to be represented as fairer and more inclusive so people can see people like them, not just graduates from middle class families.”

Angela Appiah Shippey says the most important thing in the workplace is being allowed to challenge

With talk of widening the recruitment pool, Angela Appiah Shippey, a client director at FD Works, pointed out that the issue is more than just skin colour, but also about a mix of backgrounds, social mobility and encouraging genuine diversity of thought.

“I think the biggest and most important thing in the workplace is being allowed to challenge,” she said.

“There’s a perception that when you’re senior you know the answer, and you don’t always. So, one of the big problems with diversity is that interviewers say they’re looking for applicants with loads of ideas but actually, when you get into the job, they just want you think the same way they do.

“If you recruit to tick boxes and you don’t think about how people will fit into the environment then the people you hire will be miserable.”

Shelley outlined two key aspects of improving recruitment processes: firstly, getting a diverse pool of candidates applying, then managing the recruitment process so that all are dealt with fairly.

She said that if fair processes are implemented at the top of a company, they filter down through the workforce.

In order to remove unconscious bias, it was concluded the recruitment process needs to be more structured, for example using question sets and testing rather than allowing grey areas such as ‘cultural fit’.

Flexible working was also highlighted as key to diversity, especially in achieving gender parity.

Seven of the eight people involved in the roundtable discussion had benefited from flexible working during their career in order to balance work and life demands.

Martyn Cutter, head of finance at Bailey Caravans, said: “Part time roles are hard to find from a recruitment point of view.

“I’m sure recruiters are missing out on a large number of brilliant and experienced people who are looking for and can only work that sort of work pattern.”

Shelley added: “For flexible working to be a success it needs to be offered to men as well as women, it needs to be seen as fair and inclusive.”

It was concluded that all businesses, but especially large companies, need to be much more rigorous on their data monitoring and analysis to see where diversity is falling down. Changes in both practice and mindset are required to achieve real change.

Read more: If I Knew Then: Angela Appiah Shippey

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