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Driving equality in financial services by changing the internal narrative; leading cybersecurity expert & DEI champion Belton Flournoy talks from the heart in this powerful Q&A

Rebecca Tomes talks to Diversity, Equality, Inclusion (DEI) champion and Protiviti Director Belton Flournoy about his extremely important work on increasing diversity in financial services. Belton reflects on how his experience as a black, gay man inspired him to drive much-needed change in the industry – and help ensure that all minorities feel comfortable and able to express themselves. Belton also shares three top tips on how IFA Magazine readers can develop DEI in the workplace.

RT: Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself and your role at Protiviti?

BF: As a director in Protiviti UK’s Technology consulting practice, I lead the UK Digital Identity team, covering all things to do with Identity Governance and Administration, Privileged Access Management, and cyber security. My day job is very technical and cyber-related.

I have a passion for diversity and yes, it would be great to discuss how I got on that journey – and why it remains such an important element on my personal agenda today.

I have been involved in a variety of things, from creating the ProPride network at Protiviti UK to working with Pride in London, and I now sit on the Advisory Board for the London School of Economics Inclusion Initiative. This initiative looks to use behavioral science to drive inclusion across professional and financial services. We are able to fund full-time researchers, through partnerships with organisations, and I help shape the research agenda to bring about evidence that will ultimately drive positive change around DEI.

I also support the Technology Community for Racial Equality, TC4RE, through Protiviti.  TC4RE is a collection of technology companies (e.g., Microsoft, Computacentre, etc.) who work together to increase racial representation within the technology sector.

RT: Can you sum up for us what drives you and give us some edited highlights of your professional experience and success stories to date?

BF: I don’t believe success is important in life. I believe that the most important thing is finding a passion that drives you and helps you find yourself and the things you enjoy doing.

I also find that failure is one of the best driving forces in lighting a fire underneath someone. I have had my fair share of challenges but there’s one that stands out as being the match that lit the fire beneath me. I had just delivered a program for a global investment bank and was invited to meet the Global Head of Change because he was impressed with some work Protiviti had undertaken. On the way to the meeting, a client – who we had been working with for a number of years – turned to me and, from a place of care, said: “by the way, Belton, don’t let him know you are gay”. My response was: “It’s not something that I bring up at work; I’m here to do my job – and it has no bearing on my output”.

So I went to the meeting, it went really well, and we talked about me being from Texas. However, afterwards, I was speaking to a friend, and they asked me what I would do if someone asked me to hide my race on a conference call. I immediately replied with, “Of course I wouldn’t do that”. Yet, at the same time, it was perfectly acceptable for someone to make that comment about my sexuality to me – and I was comfortable reassuring them that my sexuality had nothing to do with my work.

I soon realised that my sexuality is just as important as the colour of my skin, or the fact I’m from Texas, and hiding it doesn’t make me stronger. Instead, it eats away at your ability to be your authentic self at work.

That experience made me realise I didn’t want anyone to ever feel like they had to hide who they are at work – that fear causes people to be quiet and not as productive.

After that meeting, I no spent energy trying to create an alternative, hidden ‘self’ at work. I move to become my authentic self, spending less effort worrying about the colours I wore or how deep my voice was in meetings – and as a result, my productivity shot through the roof. I wanted other people to go through that transformation too. To do this, I created the LGBT+ network in the UK Protiviti office, to help everyone in the company feel comfortable, and because of its success, I started to work with Pride in London, with the support of the mayor, to create pride in the city and to amplify the voices of LGBT people. Through my efforts with Pride in London, I was invited to Number 10 and to participate in a market closing creamy at the London Stock Exchange.

My productivity was all down to the change within me – in that, I was no longer responding to questions with cryptic answers about what I did on the weekend or if I was married – and when you are able to relieve the constant pressure of trying to hide who you are, you are able to be productive.

However, DEI is only one piece of the puzzle. At Protiviti, we’re ultimately working to try and find ways to make people feel valued and listened to. And although increasing DEI is an important way of achieving this, there are plenty of other ways, too. One thing Protiviti has done is create three innovation sites around the world, and we have worked hard to establish a culture of innovation amongst all of our staff globally. We have trained every employee – from the consultant to the CEO – on what we call “design thinking techniques”, which involves using a variety of techniques to brainstorm ideas that can help solve challenges. Furthermore, design thinking allows you to solicit anonymous ideas from every person in the group simultaneously, but in a non-invasive way. This method is an example of how organisations can harness and validate people’s thoughts and ideas.

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