As we celebrate International Women’s Day today, the diversity and inclusion message is getting stronger amongst businesses in the city as well as in financial services.
Belton Flournoy certainly has impressive D&I credentials! Belton is a leading expert on diversity — working to increase D&I within the London business community. He is also currently an Advisory Board Member at the LSE’s Inclusive Initiative and was recently named as a top 10 inspirational business leader at the British LGBT+ Awards.
As a director at Protiviti UK, in this article Belton explains how companies can move their diversity plans forward and why the work of LSE’s Inclusion Initiative will be pivotal.
Realising the potential of a diverse and inclusive workforce is moving closer. Two years ago, the London School of Economics set up The Inclusion Initiative (TII), using research and insight from behavioural science to help companies make better decisions about diversity and inclusion. And last year, the Financial Conduct Authority launched a wide-ranging consultation about improving D&I in the sector. The findings and guidance from both organisations will help financial services firms to turn a well understood idea into reality.
In this article, I want to outline the steps that will help businesses succeed in their D&I efforts. They are informed by my own experience, but also the work of TII. They matter because people often get stuck, thinking D&I is a good idea, but remaining unsure how to achieve real change.
Rethink expectations of employees
As a director in Protiviti’s cybersecurity business, I work with many global organisations when delivering projects. I believe it’s important for D&I to be high on their agenda, so I frequently ask about their biggest challenges in this area. The following is more pronounced in the legal sector, but I think it’s applicable to financial services as well: firms struggle to attract people from ethnic minority backgrounds.
There are many talented people from ethnic minority groups coming out through universities, of course, but they still face challenges entering the world of work. Firms often want their new hires to speak or dress a certain way; or be effective at A, B and C – to fit in within their culture.
I recently mentored university students on interview preparation and asked someone if they were going to wear a shirt and tie; they said they had never owned one. I even once had a candidate arrive to an interview wearing jeans. He still impressed me and got the job, but these examples made me realise that some students don’t know that social norms can be barriers. Companies can help people to understand what they are looking for, but also begin to shift their expectations, too.
Rethink expectations of leadership
When I studied for an MBA in 2021, I realised that one of the strongest benefits of a successful organisation is diverse and challenged thinking at the executive level. It allows people to open their minds and think differently. If leaders are always building off each other’s energy, the ideas will develop. But if there is disagreement, it allows fresh perspectives and ideas to emerge.
The MBA course showed me that open conflict in leadership teams challenged decision making, leading to more thoughtful outcomes. With their strong desire to be innovative, companies can get better by listening to younger employees and their previously disregarded ideas. It’s something we’ve done at Protiviti, creating a powerful experience that has nurtured diverse viewpoints.
You can’t be what you can’t see
The sad truth is that ethnic minorities are most likely to be in the bottom 20 per cent of the income pool in their 60s and 70s. So, when people are looking to drive change, they need to understand why this happens, and what society – and businesses – can do to change it.
In 2021, as part of London Tech Week, Protiviti worked with London Southbank University to help understand the barriers for people pursuing a career in technology. We know tech is an industry that wants great representation, closely followed by financial services. But most of the output from the design thinking session suggested ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’: when students looked around the industry, they didn’t see people that looked like them.
I think companies could do more to feature the stories of people from ethnic minority backgrounds, women, disabled people – and others – and give them a platform. When I do talks through TLC Lions, which specialises in diversity and inclusion storytelling, my LinkedIn is flooded with people saying: ‘I want to be like you one day’. Meanwhile, I’m thinking: ‘I still feel like I’m at the beginning of my career’.
These opportunities have taken me to Microsoft and Google, and other global organisations; if companies have an opportunity to give someone from a minority group a platform, it can be a powerful way to inspire others.
Conclusion – and top tips
The diversity and inclusion message is becoming stronger, and clearer. In addition to my thoughts, I also asked Dr Grace Lordan, the founding director of TII, to share three practical tips based on her experience. She says:
1) “Move away from top down, compliance-based mechanisms to create cultural change. Focus on creating inclusive leaders. Train and empower managers at all levels to use leadership tools that represent all voices at the table.”
2) “Ask inclusive leaders to calculate the effectiveness of their leadership style: if they do something different to curb groupthink in a meeting, log its effectiveness; if they do something to alter the composition of talent at recruitment, log its effectiveness. Share this information across the firm so leaders are constantly redefining best practice.”
3) “Figure out the headwinds and tailwinds that impact underrepresented talent. Remove the headwinds – the things that get in the way, like out-of-date cultural expectations; augment the tailwinds – like giving people a platform to tell their story.”
There are a lot of people, like me, who speak about diversity and inclusion from an emotive perspective. That’s important, but I don’t think there are enough people speaking from a data-driven perspective – that’s why I respect what Dr. Lordan is doing.
TII is going to complement the work of businesses: by supporting the development of inclusive leaders around the world and improving diversity through data-driven insights. In the long run, this approach will help everyone – including regulators, businesses and academics – to create better workplaces.
Belton Flournoy is a Director in Protiviti’s Technology consulting practice where he founded the UK Pride network. Under his leadership, the network hosts D&I events at the Shard and recently won best LGBT+ initiative by the Inclusive Tech Alliance. He volunteers with Pride in London, where he serves as Head of Pride in the City – a Mayor backed initiative he founded in 2017 focused on increasing D&I within businesses. Belton is a TLC Lion, a Radius Employee Network Leadership Program graduate, has moderated at the Telegraph’s D&I conference and attended an event at No.10 for his efforts in the D&I space.