Diversity, equity and inclusion (D,E&I) has rocketed up the agenda in the 2020s.
The horrific murder of George Floyd in May 2020 triggered an eruption of unrest about the endemic nature of racism in our societies. The prevalence of racism and other forms of discrimination in society really hit home when millions across the world saw a video of police officer Derek Chauvin suffocate Floyd, an ordinary citizen, for an alleged, and still unproven, minor offense.
The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement also pushed employees across the world to take a hard look at who they worked for.
Were their employers just talking the talk with D,E&I or were they walking the walk and implementing concrete actions that really made workplaces more diverse, equitable, and inclusive?
According to McKinsey, one sector that saw particular employee interest in D,E&I in 2020 was financial services. Finance workers were particularly concerned about inclusion. This suggests that while companies may be doing an OK job at hiring a diverse workforce, they are struggling to ensure everyone no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation or disability has the same experience of work.
McKinsey found negative sentiments around equality and fairness of opportunities and called on employers to be more transparent in leveling the field.
These concerning findings were confirmed by PwC research from 2021.
The consultancy’s survey found that 34% of employees at financial services organizations saw diversity as a barrier to progression, and 61% said their organization was only implementing D,E&I initiatives to attract talent or comply with legal requirements.
Ultimately, it seems like the financial services sector is erring on the side of talking the talk, not walking the walk. 30% of organizations had no leadership accountability around D,E&I success, 28% had no D,E&I leader in place, and only 24% had access to training around workplace inclusivity, according to PwC.
Genuine D,E&I at the Apex Group
Of course, there are exceptions to the norm in finance. Global financial services provider Apex Group wants to walk the walk. It does this with its sustainability commitments to clients, but also with its HR and people strategies.
Talking about the company’s mission, chief marketing officer Rosie Guest tells UNLEASH: “Our purpose is to drive positive change across the financial services space [and] to support a more sustainable, inclusive and responsible future”.
She continues: “We feel a responsibility to be bold and try to set the standard when it comes to creating an inclusive work environment.”
This begs the question, how does Apex Group do this?
First of all, it has zero tolerance of bias or exclusivity; this is core to Apex Group’s core values and mission. “Every role and every person brings value. We listen. We embrace diversity in all its guises.”
Linked to this, Apex Group understands the business case for diversity. “We believe that diversity of thought is what makes a business competitive innovation; it achieves this through its 8,000 employees speaking more than 26 languages across 50 locations,” adds Guest.
Therefore, mentoring is central for Apex Group. “We believe that being mentored is one of the most valuable and effective ways of developing yourself… It enables employees to benefit from exposure to new ideas, gain advice on development areas and increase visibility within the business,” Guest explains.
Linked with this focus on diversity of thought, it makes sense that Apex Group created a shadow executive committee of 10 directors from diverse backgrounds and from a range of countries across the world. They are all aged under 40 and there is a 50/50 gender split.
Created in 2019, the shadow executive committee aims to challenge the C-Suite to do better around D,E&I initiatives, as well as to hold them to account by acting as reverse mentors.
Apex Group CEO and founder Peter Hughes commented: “The appointment of the shadow executive committee will enable us to leverage insights from different generations and geographies to diversify the perspectives that we as executives are exposed to, and increase diversity at the most senior level of our organization.”
Guest explains that in 2020 two of the shadow committee were appointed to the group executive committee to continue their great work around D,E&I.
Guest notes that Hughes and the rest of Apex Group is now moving from “sole reliance on committees affecting change” to appointing full-time D,E&I roles.
“This year we have appointed a newly created role for Head of corporate social responsibility” – they will work across D,E&I, as well as support Apex Group’s sustainability commitments.
Spotlight on Women’s Accelerator Program
Another recent D,E&I innovation for Apex Group is its Women’s Accelerator Program.
Guest explains that the accelerator is “a development initiative designed to identify existing high-performing and high potential female talent within the global business”, as well as help increase female representation at mid and senior management levels.
62 women from 16 locations will be invited to join later in 2022. They will participate in forums to discuss their experiences, as well as learn from and mentor one another. The hope is that “the program will equip participants with additional resources to further their careers, faster”.
The initiative will help Apex Group to ensure its gender split is more equitable than the financial services sector average.
“Apex Group’s gender split [currently] mirrors what we see in the financial services industry – at entry levels over 50% of our employees are female, this decreases to 35% for mid-management and less than 20% at C-Suite level.
“Put simply, this is not good enough. We are not satisfied simply being aligned with our peers on this issue. We are taking accountability [and] putting this proactive initiative to play a part in addressing this inequity and driving positive change,” states Guest.
This program is close to Guest’s heart, and she is acting as the program’s sponsor in Apex’s Group executive committee.
“As a female executive in the financial services industry, clearly there is a personal element to my passion for this program. Ultimately for me, it is about making the path to success less difficult and lonely for women as they move through their careers in this space,” Guest tells UNLEASH.
She notes that without women to look up to in positions of power, “it can be difficult to imagine a path to progression and to maintain the energy to keep pushing through the glass ceiling”.
“We want to drive equity for progression [and] nurture an inclusive environment that enables every individual to reach their full potential”. Doing this “will ultimately make our business stronger and more competitive as a result”.
The next step for Apex Group is to launch similar accelerator programs for other marginalized groups. On the back of employee feedback, “a LGBT+ allyship initiative is in the pipeline for later this year”, explains Guest.
The big question now is will other financial services employers notice and implement a similar approach, especially given the threat of the ‘Great Resignation’?
Guest concludes: “With our global platform, we feel we have a responsibility to be a leader in driving positive change. Our ability to do good begins with our people – our greatest asset – and through them we know we will make a real difference to the world around us.”