Diversity in Financial Services

Putting inclusion before diversity

Jenny Whiteman
Director, Legal Services, Hermes Investment Management

Organisations need to create an environment in which everyone feels comfortable to be themselves, no matter who they are.

Some people refer to diversity as a “box ticking” exercise. Well, I think it’s safe to say that I tick quite a few boxes. I am a female, Jewish, LGBT parent. These characteristics are all part of my identity – they contribute to my unique perspective, and people need to know these things about me in order to understand who I am. I work as an in-house lawyer at Hermes Investment Management, and I have been very open about who I am since I joined in 2008. I made a conscious effort to be “out” from day one at Hermes, in contrast to my previous role as a solicitor at a City law firm. I was tired of all the effort that went into hiding the gender of my partner – and therefore who I am, and I decided to be very open from the outset.

I wouldn’t say that I have experienced any negativity at work because of who I am, but there have been odd comments over the years.

There was the time that a male colleague who I had worked with for years called me and said “oh, are you in the office today? Which days do you work?”. I work full time, five days a week, and have throughout my time at Hermes. Would that colleague have asked me that question if I were a man, or if I didn’t have children? I doubt it.

On another occasion, I was chatting to a senior female colleague about weekend plans, and I mentioned that my wife and I were planning to go to an exhibition. My colleague’s reaction was a little bizarre: “Your what? Wife? Oh! Fun!” She was clearly rather surprised by my revelation. Again, I had to ask myself, would anyone react like that if I had referred to my husband? I don’t think so.

Another example comes from a conversation I had at the coffee point with a colleague. We had previously discussed the fact that we both have young children, but on this particular occasion, I happened to mention that I have a wife. My colleague blurted out: “Oh! Did you adopt?” Not a question you would usually ask a heterosexual colleague.

In all of these examples, no one meant to offend me, and no great offence was taken, but they did create some awkward moments. I think the key to avoiding this awkwardness in the future is for organisations to primarily focus on inclusion first, before diversity.

By this, I mean that organisations need to create an environment in which everyone feels comfortable to be themselves, no matter who they are. This takes time and must be approached from a variety of angles including leadership, culture and employee engagement, and scrutiny of the organisation’s policies and procedures. But, if you get this right, in an authentic way, then your reputation will grow, and you’ll naturally attract diverse talent.