There has been a lot of discussion, media interest, political decisions, conferences, etc on the subject of diversity with the emphasis being on the benefits that increased diversity can bring to organisations.
One of my nieces is starting university shortly to study psychology – one of her A levels was also sociology so I asked for her take on the subject of diversity. She confirmed that the aim of diversity campaigns is to create an atmosphere e.g. in the workplace, where all can feel comfortable. Two outcomes are expected from this: people will be more efficient, and they will want to stay.
One of the challenges the UK faces is that our productivity has fallen behind other nations and there is a lack of investment to reduce that growing gap. The T&C (Training & Competence) community buys in to the need to develop skills and knowledge – that’s what we do each day. Staff that are efficient and can see a future with their employer are more likely to be productive.
Given the heading of this article I run the risk of being controversial or flippant. Some would say that I am the epitome of everything diversity is out to challenge. As a student I ran for President of the University’s Student Union and came third – the winner was a lesbian, single mother representing the communist group. Some say I didn’t stand a chance (this was Essex in the 80’s) but I had a constituency I thought needed to be represented and it was an interesting experience.
Some would say that I am the epitome of everything diversity is out to challenge
Our life experiences shape our attitudes to a large extent unless we consciously do something to change them. When I was growing up, I visited the home of a school friend and was surprised to hear his younger brothers making what I now know to be racist comments – I was only 8 or 9 at the time but I remember feeling uncomfortable. I hope that they have had experiences that have helped them to see that prejudices of their parents were not useful to them or to the wider society in which they would be living.
Virtually every speech from the FCA includes a reference to culture – less focus on specific rules and more challenge for firms to consider whether their leaders are setting an example which is positive and inclusive. The treatment of vulnerable clients could be a bell-weather for the firms with which we work in terms of their take on diversity. Every firm which I have assisted in the FCA authorisation process in the past couple of years has been asked to submit their vulnerable clients policy. Helping firms and their staff to understand what is meant by vulnerability and providing examples of how to spot the indicators is central to an effective policy.
On another aspect of diversity, the gender pay gap in financial services was reported by paygaps.com (1) as being larger in the financial services sector than in any other sector in the UK economy. This is attributed to few women reaching senior roles, which raises questions about the way in which training could be differentiated but what would be the focus in your firm and do you have access to a credible facilitator? The FT reported in July (2) mixed figures for ethnic minorities with Chinese and Indian employees in Britain having median earnings of more than white British – however those from Africa, Bangladesh and Pakistan earn up to 20% less than white British workers. The TUC found that the average disability pay gap is around 15% (rising to 30% for those with mental illness). (3) Wellbeing is becoming more of an aspiration for firms; these gaps in pay will need to be addressed if more individuals are to feel included and respected for what they bring to their role.
And then we get to age, another concern for the FCA: they held a conference on intergenerational differences in July of this year. In his opening speech the CEO, Andrew Bailey, said that the most important issue that the FCA faces in the long run are the forces shaping the inter-generational issues. For example, younger generations are struggling to achieve things that previous ones accepted as the norm such as house ownership and adequate pension provision.
So, as a white, male, enabled, middle class person – and a baby boomer too – should I step aside? Or do I have role in the debate about how we see society in general, and financial services in particular, developing from here. I’m writing this article so, evidently, I believe that the answer is yes. T&C is about identifying gaps between where people are and where they can be and then putting in place means by which that gap can be bridged. Those with knowledge or experience can assist others to reach their potential in a practical sense and can also influence organisations.
As #MeToo has shown, it takes individuals to stand up and let their experiences be known if change is to happen. I believe that T&C has a central role in making in a difference and that each of us can play a part no matter what our background. Or do you think my ‘privilege’ means I should stick to the technical training?