Prioritizing DE&I as a Business Imperative with a Client-Centered Focus

A Conversation with Mark Steffensen of HSBC

In the next episode of our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion podcast series, SIFMA’s EVP and Head of DE&I, Cheryl Crispen sits down with HSBC Senior Executive Vice President & General Counsel, Mark Steffensen to discuss how the firm prioritizes DE&I as a business imperative with a client-centered focus. The core of HSBC as an international bank is multiculturalism and helping to connect clients from all over the world to capital and to one another is essential.

They also explore the firm’s six-pillar strategy for advancing DE&I and how this framework helps to measure goals and objectives and asks three questions for how they define success. To what extent are we having a positive impact across the diverse communities that we serve? How are we advancing equity and talent within our organization? How are we expanding the markets we operate in to be more inclusive?

For more information on fostering and expanding workforce, client, and supplier diversity equity and inclusion, please visit


Edited for clarity

Cheryl Crispen: Thanks for joining us for the latest episode in SIFMA’s DE&I podcast series. I’m Cheryl Crispen, Executive Vice President and Head of DE&I at SIFMA. Today I’m speaking with Mark Steffensen, Senior Executive Vice President and US General Counsel at HSBC. Mark also serves on SIFMA’s Board of Directors and is a member of our Board Diversity Committee. We’ll talk about the firm’s commitment to diversity and inclusion and its efforts to recruit and retain diverse colleagues in the financial services industry. Welcome, Mark, and thanks for joining us.

Mark Steffensen: Cheryl, delighted to be here. Thank you for having me.

Cheryl Crispen: Terrific. Mark, before we dive into our discussion, could you just share a bit about your career path and components that sparked your passion for advancing DE&I efforts within HSBC?

Mark Steffensen: Sure, Cheryl. I’ve had the opportunity to work in the corporate side of law, at different law firms, and I’ve also had opportunities to work in government as well. And one of the things that I’ve experienced over time is that the diversity that you have within an organization, this is diversity among people, diversity among thought, and diversity among experiences yields better outcomes. It provides a richness of thought, and this drives creativity and innovation.

One of the things that I also see from that is, and I see this through the work that I do on the board of Horizons National, as well as my local boys and girls club, is how a little bit of help and a little boost can change trajectories of particularly kids and folks in high school and college. And there’s so much untapped talent out there that if we’re not doing this stuff, we’re all losing out. I’ve experienced that in the various jobs that I’ve had in the various sectors, that’s how it’s become important to me.

Cheryl Crispen: That’s terrific, Mark, and that’s a nice segue. You mentioned the work that you do on various boards. We know that prioritizing DE&I is the right thing to do. But we also know at SIFMA and your firm that it’s also a business imperative as well. So maybe we could touch a little bit about how your firm has prioritized DE&I from a business standpoint and what that means with a focus towards your client and how that works within HSBC.

Mark Steffensen: HSBC is an international bank and we help to connect our clients to capital and to one another, east, west, north, and south. The notion of multiculturalism is at the core of HSBC’s identity. One of our value pillars is that we value difference. It’s not just a tagline, it’s the way that we win business and we differentiate ourselves from others in the financial industry. As I said, that understanding of differences, you know, stems from the diversity of people and thought and experience.

As we continue to expand this understanding we leverage 12 employee resource groups including identity-based and experience-based communities, abilities, race, ethnicity, gender, age, military service, and family care. One of the things that we do to supercharge is that each of those ERGs, they’re led by one of the members of our CEO’s executive committee. For example, I lead an ERG myself. That gets the focus as well as the attention and that’s a bilateral street as far as that goes. That’s what amps up the importance, certainly at least within our organization.

Cheryl Crispen: Great, that leads to another topic, Mark, that I would like to touch on. You talked about the environment and the culture. As an industry, we spend a lot of time looking to improve the diversity makeup of our firms through better recruitment, training, and striving for more diversity in our senior leadership. But to be successful in sort of retaining that talent, needs to have an inclusive environment and inclusive culture so that all those front-end efforts of recruiting lead to success throughout the firm. What are some of the things that HSBC is doing to create a more inclusive environment and how you would define inclusivity within the firm?

Mark Steffensen: One of the things that’s worth noting is we spend an awful lot of time appropriately so talking about diversity. But the thing is diversity just doesn’t happen on its own. For diversity to happen and to get roots and take shape, you have to have inclusiveness first. Inclusiveness drives diversity in my view. Diversity does not necessarily drive inclusiveness. One of the things that we do here is focus on things like reverse mentoring, the identification of unconscious bias. I can say a few words about some kind of next-gen importance to start with inclusiveness within a safe space.

One of the things that has led to that I’m actually quite proud of, you know, our public board here in the US is over 50% gender diverse. Our public board in the US is a little over one-third racially diverse. And then our leadership team you know, is also diverse from a, you know, from a gender and racial standpoint. Now, that doesn’t get that way unless you’re intentional and you’re persistent. In connection with retention, that’s how we leverage our employee resource groups that I mentioned. Another thing is we keep track of what it is that our managers are doing regarding seeking out, retaining, and promoting diverse talent. These are goals, and if you don’t track them and you don’t measure them, it doesn’t get done.

We also have a sponsorship program that executive committee leaders provide to those of historically underrepresented groups. I’m the executive sponsor for the HSBC Indian Network for Diversity. It’s been completely eye-opening to me. I am not Southeast Asian, and I’m not Indian, but what you find is you’ve got a lot of commonalities and it also starts with the commonality. There’s work to be done here, but the recognition that this is a journey. We don’t arrive at a destination and say, ‘We’ve done it.’ This is something that one has to be mindful of and, as I said earlier, intentional and persistent. That’s what we do here at the bank. And it’s something that’s not easy. But you know importantly, you have to stick with it. We’ve had some additional challenges in the US because we’ve, over the past year and a half to two years, gone through a major transformation of what it is that our business is going to be here in the US. And the thing about it is, you have to factor your DE&I thinking into that because otherwise, you can lose it- that starts at the top of the house. And then it’s incumbent upon all our people managers to drive that down and throughout the organization.

Cheryl Crispen: So, Mark, you just touched on some specifics that HSBC is doing in terms of sort of measurements and creating an inclusive community and culture. Clearly, the firm is in a good place and the journey within the DE&I efforts. And I do believe that DE&I is a journey, and firms within our industry are different places in that journey. Maybe you could just touch on “What can some firms think about in terms of starting or forming an ongoing diversity and equity and inclusion strategy, and then how does your firm sort of define success on that ongoing strategy?

Mark Steffensen: It’s important to point out that there’s no single way to do this. There’s no special sauce that if you just do these things, then you will grow and blossom this wonderful, sustainable DE&I program. But, it is something that takes thought and planning. What we have done here is we’ve created a six-pillar strategy in connection with advancing not just DE&I, but first starting with inclusion.

Six Pillar Strategy:

  1. The accountability of managers
  2. Advancing the conversation, having hard, uncomfortable conversations
  3. Recruiting
  4. Retention
  5. Strategic giving
  6. Supplier diversity

That gives us a framework within then measuring our DE&I objectives and goals against how it is that we define success and measure success.

We do that in three ways. One of those is to what extent are we having a positive impact across the diverse communities that we serve as a business? The second one is, how is it that we’re advancing equity and talent in our organizations? And in what ways are we expanding the markets we operate in to be more inclusive? It’s critically important for us to bear similarities in people, thought, and experience to those communities and customers that we serve.

That’s how we want to make sure that we have alignment. This year we’ve put $2 million to work towards future skills, which is directed at diverse communities and the support of those communities across America. As I previously mentioned, I’m on the board of Horizons National, which advances and operates a K-8 program to advance education and prepare students for lifelong success. And I’m so pleased to note that out of the 900 students that we’ve supported, 94% are racially and ethnically diverse. Over 90% of these students graduate on time and ultimately are at community colleges, four-year colleges, and just to again kind of circle back to what I said about giving kids a little bit of a boost. One of the students that I first met in junior high, just went to Princeton last year. Look, that doesn’t come without hard work, but also providing opportunities. That’s very fulfilling.

On the business side, we’ve created an initiative that’s led by our head of capital markets which is to bring more minority-owned businesses into the fold in our debt capital market space and our business. As a result, last year, we onboarded 22 firms that were minority-owned businesses, female-owned, black-owned, and Latino-owned. And this is a win-win for everybody. It improves the service to our clients and opens opportunities to groups that maybe historically have been underrepresented in the underwriting space.

Cheryl Crispen: Mark, those are some impressive and rewarding from your perspective and the firm’s perspective stats. So well done and congratulations on that. Clearly, you have a deep commitment to this, but a common reality is that some of the leaders within our industry do want to prioritize DE&I efforts, but maybe feel a little unqualified or uncomfortable discussing it, or just don’t know where to start. Maybe a little bit of discussion and thoughts on how we can help these individuals may be out of their comfort zone and empower them to utilize tools such as research data, and internal resources to be able to spark the change in their leadership roles.

Mark Steffensen: You’ve identified what is probably the most recognized binding constraint of this. People are scared of engaging in these conversations, not so much because of the conversation itself, but because they don’t want to make a mistake. With practice, you’re going to have more comfort, but you have to take that first. You must take that first step, and then you have to be able to take a second step. Because, and I’ll paraphrase from Exupery’s quote, which is “an unspoken value or an unspoken goal, it’s just a secret.” You have to be willing to have a conversation about it to open the door so that you can engage in active listening.

You can work through common misunderstandings, identify common grounds, and commit to speaking up for one another as people because, at the end of the day, we’re all people here. Some of these barriers that have been created over time, either actually or perceptually are artificial. And in order to break down those barriers, we need to be transparent with one another, we need to be inclusive, and we need to be honest with each other. Circling back to what I said is having an organizational commitment to creating a safe space so that people can have those conversations, some of which are going to be uncomfortable. But, the more that you do it, the more that you’re used to it, you can certainly foster some progress. Again, that’s another reason why our CEO, Michael Roberts, has committed the leadership team to be executive sponsors of our various employee research groups, is to make sure that is taking place, meaning both the conversations, but also ensuring that the safe space is there.

Cheryl Crispen: Mark, that’s great. This has been a great and meaningful conversation. I try and keep up with everything that HSBC is doing in the DE&I space, but you’re doing quite a lot, well done on that. But I did want to just ask if there are any other initiatives, or programs that you’d like to share with our audience before we conclude.

Mark Steffensen: I’m proud of the work that we’re doing within the legal function. I’d like to highlight some work that’s being led by Michael Wirgin in connection with two interns that we have working at HSBC this summer from Rutgers Law School through their minority student program. We also, through a separate program, have another summer intern working in our Chicago offices within legal from the University of Illinois, Chicago. I applaud Michael’s efforts in that regard. That’s a super experience for us. And this is our third year of doing it with Rutgers Law School. And we forged a real partnership with them. Over time, we think it’s been beneficial to the students as well.

The other thing I want to highlight is Jean Samuels has taken the lead on our sponsorship of the Corporate Council of Women of Color Annual Strategies Conference, and that conference is dedicated to the advancement of in-house women of color. That conference is being held September 25th through the 30th at the Gaylord Resultant Convention Center and Maryland’s National Harbor, and I’ll put in a pitch for that- come see us there.

Cheryl Crispen: That’s great, Mark. And on your comments regarding diverse interns, we share the value and the importance of that. And as you’re aware, SIFMA has SIFMA Invest! program that is designed to provide capital market information to diverse institutions across the country and offer a resume bank to those students. If folks are interested in more information on that, they can go to our website.

Mark, this has been a terrific conversation, and I thank you so much for joining me today. It was a pleasure talking with you, and I know it will be of great value to the audience, the listening audience, to hear about all the terrific initiatives that you have at HSBC. To learn more about what SIFMA is doing regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, please visit, and I want to thank all our listeners and again thank Mark for his time today. We hope you will join us for a future SIFMA podcast. Thanks again, Mark.

Mark Steffensen: Thanks, Cheryl.

Mark Steffensen is Senior Executive Vice President and US General Counsel for HSBC. Mark also serves on SIFMA’s Board of Directors and is a member of our Board Diversity Committee.

Cheryl Crispen is Executive Vice President and Head of DE&I for SIFMA.