A Seat at the Table: D&I in Financial Services

Diversity and inclusion initiatives remain a top priority for financial services firms. Discussions have moved beyond whether diversity and inclusion are essential to a firm’s success: everyone agrees they are.  There is a wholehearted acknowledgment that building and maintaining a diverse and inclusive workforce and industry is imperative.

Today, the most important question is, how do we each do justice to this important endeavor at our respective companies and ensure our industry reflects the diverse population we all serve?

At SIFMA’s 2019 Diversity & Inclusion Conference, attendees and speakers advanced the D&I journey.

For one, leadership in developing, implementing, sustaining and growing these programs is paramount; establish a concentrated and consistent effort from the very top of an organization to maintain, develop and grow a diverse workforce.

Sharron Levine, Director, Office of Minority and Women Inclusion, Federal Housing Finance Agency, emphasized that “diversity practitioners need to have a seat at the table. That means you are involved, and you have a people’s voice at the company.”

Commitment from the top is essential since a pressing issue “is the need for folks with power and authority to join the conversation and be on board.” Including the right people leads to effective and meaningful conversations and increases the likelihood of a successful D&I strategy.

A successful D&I strategy, however, also requires metrics and benchmarks to ensure your goals are both clearly defined and realistic to achieve. Pamela Gibbs, Director, Office of Minority and Women Inclusion, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission reiterates the importance of having clearly defined goals, as it helps to identify weak spots which in turn shape success.

Diversity & Inclusion is more effective if evidence-based. For example, Saul Schwartz, Director, Office of Minority and Women Inclusion, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, suggests “measuring results by a dashboard accessible to division heads.” It functions as “an internal analysis on workforce” and ensures leadership is held accountable for the growth of initiatives, as well as areas that are struggling and need more time and attention.

Levine also recommends conducting an annual analysis of diversity spend. This approach guarantees a consistent focus on prioritizing diversity and inclusion, as most D&I programs, strategies, and initiatives require a fiscal component to them. Furthermore, this analysis serves as a yearly touchstone to review what was achieved in the past year and what is left to accomplish in the coming years.

At the end of the day, a diverse and inclusive workforce and industry must be recognized as a systemic way to do business, embedded in both a firm’s culture and structural organization.

In fact, being diverse and inclusive is not only the right thing to do but is also a smart business decision. Research has shown that companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially and are more successful. A diverse workforce also expands your firm’s knowledge and helps advance your offerings to clients.

A 2018 study by McKinsey, Delivering through diversity, found that “companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.” As for ethnic and cultural diversity, “the finding was a 33% likelihood of out-performance on EBIT margin.”

As the study explained, “correlation does not equal causation,” but it does indicate that when “companies commit themselves to diverse leadership, they are more successful.” Diverse companies are “better able to win top talent and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making, and all that leads to a virtuous cycle of increasing returns.”

Firms need to reflect the workforces they serve to better understand and meet their clients’ needs. While this clearly is a work in progress for the industry, having these conversations and continuing to work towards a more diverse and inclusive future is imperative.

As these conversations continue, Asahi Pompey, President of the Goldman Sachs Foundation, challenged conference participants to think beyond just including diverse groups and instead focus on creating a culture where diverse groups feel that they belong. That sense of belonging is truly where a diverse workforce can flourish.

Interested in learning more about D&I initiatives in the financial services industry? Check out Making Diversity & Inclusion an Intentional Reality, Diversity & Inclusion in Private Wealth: A Continuing Focus, and Operations for the Future: Diversity for Success.

Cheryl Crispen is Executive Vice President of Communications and Marketing at SIFMA. She is responsible for SIFMA’s diversity and inclusion efforts, serving as advisor for SIFMA’s Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Council.