A sector ready for change
This year has been a year of change in so many ways, not just by forcing firms and financial services to reassess every way of working, but to reassess the diversity and inclusion of the people at its core.
The Black community has been fighting for change for many years, often falling on deaf ears. The pandemic caused us all to pause, go back to basics and reconnect with our sense of humanity. This year, the Black Lives Matter movement’s call to arms captured the world’s attention during a moment of reflection, and it’s time for the industry to respond.
A sector ready for change
It’s no secret that the financial services sector is one of the most traditional industries out there, from legacy operations introduced in the 70’s and 80’s, to intricate old school networks. While some finance firms had begun to embrace digital, COVID-19 turned everything on its head. The key question for business leaders as the dust begins to settle on such an eventful year, is not just how we get back to work- fundamentally revisiting their digital transformation journeys to emerge stronger from a turbulent year, but how we embrace this catastrophic opportunity to re-imagine and re-invent a better and fairer way for all.
This year in particular has been demanding for finance firms to rapidly digitise and innovation is needed now more than ever. Often in finance, Black people seem less visible in client facing or leadership roles and may be more likely to take up roles in back-office technology or operational areas. Since technology and innovation is ingrained in everything we do, perhaps this could give Black employees the opportunity to become more visible and potentially supported for more senior positions. Research conducted by Accenture last year, shows that innovation is higher in diverse teams with a culture of equality, so giving Black talent more of a voice isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes business sense.
Capital markets is, for me, a particular area in finance crying out for innovation. It’s one of the most traditional areas of finance, with a real need for fintech disruption. From my experience, some Black people may have had their entrepreneurial spirit dampened as a result of years of oppression, despite possessing the natural creativity and fierce ambition needed for fintech disruptors. But given statistics from the Harvard Business Review show that only 1% of venture capital investments go to Black-owned businesses, these entrepreneurs often lack the funding to get their ideas off the ground. Here lies a huge opportunity for the sector to embrace fintech to remain competitive whilst, crucially, investing in Black founders.
It takes a whole community
As a Black woman, a lot of confidence issues can stem from not having the emotional support early enough, with someone to guide you to embrace your colour and remove any internal barriers for success you may have naturally built up. I like to see this as a journey which highlights the importance of having supportive people around you, forming a community with whom you grow. In that community, it’s for everyone to come together to instil confidence in young Black people. White people supporting Black people, Black people supporting Black people, and Black people supporting themselves.
I was fortunate enough growing up to be constantly reminded by my parents that success is possible for a Black person, but not everyone may have that level of guidance. In September, Accenture welcomed over 100 black students and graduates to our virtual “Empowering Black Futures Consultancy Taster Programme”, where we equipped them with advice, storytelling training and the belief that they too can succeed in a large corporation.
Mindset is everything, and Black talent needs help to grow their self-belief, to be bold and ready to take their place at the table. Though let’s not forget how difficult this is when no one at the table looks like you. This is why the community effort is so important to empower young Black people and their futures, creating a better environment for all.
Educate, advocate, invest
It’s not enough for companies to pay lip service, saying they will change. They need to invest real time and real money into education and internal policies. We must advocate for change and do it loudly. I’m seeing more organisations calling out their wider ecosystem if their teams are not diverse or inclusive enough, which is promising progress.
It’s about creating equal opportunities for Black talent and encouraging an open dialogue, which is a challenging task in the financial services sector. If we take capital markets as an example, it was traditionally an area of finance derived from a network-based structure, typically all about who you know and where you came from. It’s great to see some improvement here, with some top firms now investing in education, training the wider workforce how to be anti-racist and promote inclusivity to drive that innovation.
The education piece doesn’t just stop there. Firms can support their Black employees further by funding talent accelerator programmes, such as the one by the Black British Business Awards. These particularly benefit senior or middle management by empowering them to progress to the top and become leading role models. By also engaging all key stakeholders of an organisation, it stresses the importance of mentorship, sponsorship and encourages non-Black employees to put their hands up as advocates.
To sum up, it is clear there is still a lot of work to be done, and while this year has been so tragic for so many reasons, I truly believe it has opened the eyes of many. This is not just a moment in time or a chance to do someone a favour. Let’s not confuse this with “giving someone a leg-up”. This is a chance to level the playing field, once and for all. It’s time to innovate by educating, advocating and investing, and what better time for financial services to embrace this.