Making Diversity & Inclusion an Intentional Reality

Research has proven that a company’s bottom line, whether in financial services or another industry sector, is directly influenced by the diversity of its leadership. To achieve diversity that reflects and is better able to serve an equally diverse clientele requires clear commitment and intentional effort towards diversity and inclusion.

At SIFMA’s 2019 C&L Annual Seminar, diversity and inclusion was a key topic among attendees and speakers alike. A common theme woven throughout these conversations focused on ensuring a concentrated and consistent effort from the very top of an organization to maintain, develop and grow a diverse workforce.  Speakers noted it’s important not only that the financial services industry reflect the diversity of the communities it serves, but that the law firms, consultants and service providers that assist us do so as well.

At SIFMA’s 2019 C&L Annual Seminar, panelists discussed diversity and inclusion strategies to address ethical, leadership and business considerations.

These conversations also stressed the need to remember diversity and inclusion, by its very nature, is about people, not statistics. To foster this people connection, a strong mentoring culture at your firm is essential. Building personal relationships with up-and-coming individuals ensures they feel supported and able to bring their whole selves to work.

At the same time, it’s also critical to be honest about what your firm is doing to improve diversity and inclusion initiatives. It’s important to acknowledge the achievements and efforts thus far, but also be realistic and upfront that work still needs to be done.

Sustained intentionality needs to be the approach. Setting the tone and expectation from the very top and establishing this will be carried out in the work being assigned, the recruitment efforts to secure new talent, and the development of those already at your company, proves that your words are equally matched by your actions.

As a Deputy General Counsel at Bank of America, I have the opportunity to see this intentionality and leadership at my company every day. Diversity and inclusion is woven into our culture, beginning with our CEO who chairs a global diversity and inclusion council that’s made up of senior leaders from every line of business, and drives progress in diversity and inclusion through goals and metrics at every level of our firm.

Participants in the Diversity & Inclusion Luncheon at SIFMA’s 2019 C&L Annual Seminar discuss how to foster an environment of diversity and inclusion in their organizations.

Molly Deere, Vice President & Assistant General Counsel at Stephens, echoed this tone of intentionality when describing the goals of SIFMA’s C&L Society’s Future Leaders Committee, saying, “A core piece of our mission is to intentionally address building a diverse compliance and legal profession.”

Further, she pointed out, “There is a business benefit to incorporating a diverse workforce. However, it doesn’t happen by accident. A diverse workforce happens because leaders make the decision to develop it and the more conversations we have about this, the better.”

Elaine Mandelbaum, president of the SIFMA C&L Society, and Sally Yates discuss Sally’s remarkable career at the 2019 SIFMA C&L Annual Seminar.

The financial services industry is making headway in this arena. Michael Freedman, Assistant General Counsel and Vice President of Regulatory at Raymond James, commented that “there’s a palpable difference right now” at financial services conferences. “It’s changing. It’s a highly inclusive, welcoming environment.”

The regulatory community is also making strides on this issue. They’re working to bolster this inclusivity, issuing Joint Standards that financial services firms may follow to assess, report and publicize their diversity and inclusion efforts – an effort required by Dodd-Frank. The group, including the OCC, SEC and FDIC, are working to mainstream these initiatives while maintaining transparency around them.

In fact, Section 342 of the Dodd-Frank Act requires covered regulatory agencies, such as the FDIC, OCC and SEC, to establish individuals Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion (OMWI). These offices provide essential programming, training and support for all matters of diversity in management, employment and business activities.

At the end of the day, driving diversity and inclusion is just as critical to a firm’s success and well-being as any other business function, such as operations, technology, or legal and compliance.

Kenneth L. Miller is Deputy General Counsel at Bank of America and the 2019 Seminar Chairperson of SIFMA’s Compliance & Legal Society.

On May 21-22, we’ll continue these important conversations at our Diversity & Inclusion Conference in New York City.