Diversity in Financial Services

Don’t skip Leg Day

Ally Owen
Founder, Brixton Finishing School

Rejection and lack of career progression can often be internalised as imposter syndrome. It’s not the individual that’s the issue, it’s the societal constructs.

Have you ever been to the gym and seen those people who’ve clearly only worked some aspects of their body extensively and neglected others? I’ve witnessed many examples of ‘Flamingo Leg’ syndrome when upper bodies and arms are pumped to the max but legs are spindly, forgotten and somewhat comical in comparison to the cage fighter physique tentatively balancing on them.

The whole body can’t work optimally because key parts have been underserved by the gym-goers efforts. It’s a misjudgement that makes them less, rather than more, competitive. A human body is, after all, just the sum of ALL of its parts. Industry has historically focused on a narrow set of pathways of entry – a slender definition of talent – and neglected swathes of the potential talent pool. Definitely an industry-wide case of flamingo legs.

Everyone is a consumer and service user, a potential customer. To best understand how to cater for their needs, we need to understand all the parts of humanity. Not just subjectively project concepts from a transmitter limited to a majority type. It’s like asking one of the Flamingo Leggers to climb The Shard rather than do a pull-up. It’s also good for business. McKinsey’s Diversity report finds that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. Companies in the bottom quartile in these dimensions are statistically less likely to achieve above-average returns. And diversity is probably a competitive differentiator that shifts market share toward more diverse companies over time.

Baroness McGregor Smith in ‘Race in the Workplace’ demonstrated that the economy could receive a £24 Billion boost if BME talent was fully utilised.

The Credit Suisse Research Institute’s report reviewed 2,360 global companies and found that companies with women directors out performed companies without women directors in return on equity, average growth, and price book value multiples. It also debunked the myth that, contrary to conventional wisdom, women in leadership roles do not actively exclude other women from promotions to
top management.

With more diversity, not only would the country be wealthier, it would be happier. The pain of exclusion is real – it’s lonely and difficult. Rejection and lack of career progression can often be internalised as imposter syndrome. It’s not the individual that’s the issue, it’s the societal constructs.

So what barriers do you face if you fit a standardised and ‘atypical’ view of talent? And how can we work together to dismantle them so we all can thrive and make more money?

There is discrimination and bias at every stage of an individual from an ‘under represented’ group’s career, and even before it begins. From networks to recruitment and then in the workforce, it is there.


BME people are faced with a distinct lack of role models, they are more likely to perceive the workplace as hostile, they are less likely to apply for and be given promotions and they are more likely to be disciplined or judged harshly. (Source: Race in the Workplace).

Class/Social Mobility

Dr Sam Friedman (LSE) demonstrates how those from ‘Privileged’ backgrounds who go to Russell Group Universities and got a 2:2 are more likely to go into top occupations than those who went to the same universities, were working class and got a 1st. This indicates that organisations are rewarding ‘cultural fit’ (and it’s Achilles heel of inbuilt bias) rather than actual achievement and potential.


19% of British adults of working age are disabled. They are twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled individuals. This rises to 45% by retirement age – so there is a good chance you will become disabled in your working life.

Five ways to drive change through being more aware:

Your recruitment referral programme is part of the problem – if your company isn’t diverse to begin with you are narrowing, not widening your candidate types as you are most likely to refer those you know well (who are more likely to be like you).

Use “blind” CVs until interview – Names cause bias – British citizens from ethnic minority backgrounds have to send, on average, 60% more job applications to get a positive response from employers compared to their white counterparts. For those with a Nigerian name, this rises to 80% and for those with a Pakistani name, it’s 70% – these figures have not changed since the1970s! Source: Nuffield College’s Centre for Social Investigation (CSI).

Be very aware of the danger of selecting ‘Cultural Fit’ and go for skill set fit. One in five companies said they wouldn’t hire someone who wasn’t the right ‘cultural fit’ for them. (Source Total Jobs). “Cultural fit is often used in a lazy way, by reference to some nebulous criteria about shared values, unsupported by evidence of what the culture is like in practice across any given organisation,” says Safia Boot, director of Respect At Work, who has worked as a mediator/investigator on many discrimination cases. “In the wrong, untrained hands ‘cultural fit’ is like a lethal weapon. Anyone who does not appear to ‘fit in’ based on superficial, implicit bias and stereotypical assumptions will be a risk.”

Transparency is key. Until we know where we stand and how we are performing today, it is impossible to define and deliver real progress. No company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion can be taken seriously until it collects, scrutinises and is transparent with its workforce data so we can assess challenges and progress.

Strong leadership is key to changing culture – Support from the top for inclusive policies, mentoring and sponsorship.