2019 is going to be a pivotal year for financial services as firms look to both newer technologies and people to support business innovation plans and growth. Julia Streets, CEO of Streets Consulting and host of the podcast, DiverCityPodcast, shares with us the opportunities firms can achieve through the focusing on diversity as part of their recruitment and organisational strategies in 2019 and beyond.
Q. First, tell us a little bit about yourself and what drives your passion for diversity in the City.
A. I’ve been working in financial services and technology for more than 25 years now, having held senior tenures at Atos Euronext Market Solutions (subsequently known as NYSE Technologies) and Instinet. In 2007, I incorporated Streets Consulting, the business development, marketing and communications consultancy and since then my team and I have advised a wide range of firms in the worlds of capital markets, B2B and payments, and specialist technologies including blockchain, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and more.
I spend every day talking to senior professionals from early stage businesses to more established global firms. How can they compete and grow, remain agile while expanding or contracting, manage risk, continue to innovate, collaborate, interoperate and manage transformation and change? Invariably conversation always turns to two of the key success factors: technology and talent.
We need data scientists, cyber security experts, algo engineers, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and blockchain specialists like never before, and I always pose the fundamental question: as an industry, can we attract the talent we need, when competition for skills has never been more fierce?
We have to deliver investment and performance returns. We have to find and embrace ideas and working models where fresh thinking and new talent can work happily with institutional experience and expertise. We are serving an increasingly demanding retail, wholesale and institutional customer and investor base that has never been more demanding and empowered. One that understands and demands the potential that digitally-enabled technology, powered by data and offering valuable insights, has to offer.
Q. Diversity is not a new topic for the City. Where are we now with diversity among financial organisations and technology firms? What drives your passion for diversity today?
A.Commitment to diversity and inclusion cannot simply be a marketing slogan, it is a core component to success. In October 2017, I started DiverCity Podcast (divercitypodcast.com) because I wanted to understand how organisations can harness the opportunity. There are untapped pools of much needed talent within our reach, the question is how do we attract, motivate and retain? So on each episode we seek to shine a light on positive progress, identify areas that require further focus and offer plenty of ideas to inspire listeners. Now midflight in Series 4, we have interviewed some 70+ guests both in the UK and around the world.
It is encouraging to see that so many firms do realise understand that diversity and inclusion is a business imperative and are taking the subject seriously. We continue to see some inspiring leadership from the top, great energy from below, and there are many initiatives designed to guide and help.
It is also very encouraging to see that conference organisers are moving this topic onto the mainstage in response to advisory board demand and an audience appetite to explore, engage and understand.
Regulators, investors and policy makers are all taking this extremely seriously. Ever more we hear stories that pitching organisations are being challenged for fielding teams staffed with all white, male, identical-looking executives. Money talks, and it seems money is moving.
We do have a long way to go, and enlightened firms keen to achieve a competitive edge seem to appreciate the business imperative and commercial opportunity on offer.
Q. Why is this the year firms should actually do something about increasing diversity in their organisations?
A.The only constant is change, and technology is a great enabler. This year, arguably more than ever, we need fresh ideas to work happily and effectively alongside institutional experience.
Ask any agile tech team and the key to success is placing a variety of skills around a central problem in order to build, challenge, test and improve. It therefore follows that if your people are too similar, the result will be biased and skewed, and it’s exactly the same with high-performing teams. If you continue to add similar inputs, you’ll more than likely end up with similar results. This is supported by so much evidence to prove that diversity and inclusion ultimately delivers a better result. And to be crystal clear, I’m not simply talking about gender. This also includes age. (What happens when we all hit 50?) What about ethnic heritage, LGBT+ and talent with disabilities, and we must also embrace cognitive diversity into the mix.
Q. How can firms can get started with increasing diversity? What obstacles do firms face in implementing a diversity program?
A.I am almost relentless in asking about the barriers to achieving the potential that inclusion and diversity can offer and invariably it comes back to the middle management – or hiring manager – resistance to change.
If there were any area on which leaders must focus and direct their Diversity and Inclusion executives to support, it is to help this middle management layer take advantage of the performance opportunities on offer and to provide supportive structures to help them take the brave step to hire and lead teams staffed with people that may not be like them.
If you’ve been hired, lead, trained, motivated and paid in certain way, it’s understandable why these managers behave in a certain way. But the world is shifting and this takes some courage. To my mind, those firms who are working hard to master this, will win.
Some other areas guests have highlighted also include demanding more from recruitment firms, tasking them to look beyond into other networks and talent pools; considering carefully how to write job adverts and job descriptions; being deeply aware of the conscious and unconscious biases throughout the interview process and in daily engagement; and the need to include the value of inclusion and diversity into scorecards and performance reviews. These are to name but a few.
Q.In your view, what are the most significant opportunities or benefits firms and the market as a whole can achieve through diversity?
A.The opportunities lie in serving a customer base and industry that in and of itself is truly diverse, harnessing fresh ideas, considering different perspectives. The McKinsey research ‘Delivering Through Diversity’ tells us that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21 per cent more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. For ethnic and cultural diversity, they reported a 33 percent likelihood of outperformance on EBIT margin and that the correlation between gender and ethnic diversity and financial performance generally holds true across geographies.
Organisations destined for greatness also fully appreciate the positive impact inclusivity can have on corporate culture and that strong leadership, working environment employing great talent, will ultimately serve to attract more.
We have a way to go. The potential is there but the numbers must still rise, which suggests there is plenty of upside to be had. I encourage firms to engage with We Are the City, Investment 2020, The Diversity Project, CityHive, the Black Afro Caribbean City Network, The Makers Academy, Muslim Women Connect, Code First Girls, The Brokerage, Women in Listed Derivatives and so many, many more impressive initiatives out there and they will help you tap into great potential.