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Learning to cash in on drive for diversity

Published on Friday, 02 May 2014
Levina Poon

In the last few years there has been an increasing focus on workplace diversity within organisations, and the banking and finance sector is no exception. By broadening their reach, corporations looking to hire new talents stand a much better chance of finding top-quality employees when they recruit from a more diverse set of candidates. Examples of diversity commonly include issues such as gender, cultural differences and sexuality, but can even stretch to areas such as hiring candidates from different industries - an often overlooked option.

What actions are corporations taking in order to provide a more inclusive work environment for a more diverse workforce? One of the key areas of focus for the diversity drive has been on that of gender equality.

To attract more women into their workforces, banks and financial services companies have taken a number of different actions. These include universal salary levels; flexible working hours and part-time arrangements; setting diversity targets for hiring managers; "support groups", such as electing diversity representatives in different departments; mentoring and sponsorship schemes for women; campaigns in getting "out of work" women back into the workforce; and inviting inspirational speakers to talk about work-life balance.

Some corporations have been very successful in promoting LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) workers and cultural differences in their organisations. For LGBT promotion, we have seen "straight" (non-LGBT member) sponsors from different departments take on the mantle of diversity champions and act with advisory groups on LGBT and diversity issues. In other companies, social and cultural events are organised to celebrate diversity and cultural inclusions.

A number of other positive initiatives and developments have been carried out within individual organisations. However, a bigger impact can only be achieved through collective action. Greater efforts should therefore be made to share best practices among the big players in the finance industry.

Unfortunately, given the current climate in the world of financial services, being cost-conscious is still top of the list of priorities for most corporations. Not being able to execute diversity initiatives due to limited resources is one of the challenges many senior finance executives face. While the sector has seen some recovery, it could still be a while before we see any major changes in this respect.

Once a "diversified" individual is on board, some companies see this as the end of the process. In fact, it is just the beginning. A company's focus should now be on the development of diversified talent. The finance industry is full of examples of diversified candidates who are hired and leave after a short period due to a lack of training or support from their superiors - commonly manifested in a "my way or the highway" attitude.

Diversity has to be supported at every level and top management needs to make sure that everybody is onboard. Support and development gaps can quickly undo the hard work put into attracting from more diverse pools, as well as significantly add to the cost of the exercise.

How can a diversified individual be utilised to their full potential? Hiring managers might need to adopt a different style of management and communication, and more tailored levels of coaching and mentorship might be needed. Everyone is different and we all have our particular strengths and weaknesses. Treating people with respect and embracing their many differences is the key. Ultimately, companies are made up of people, and those people collectively represent the image of the company.

However, a corporation's desire to strive for diversity should not come at the expense of skills. Organisations need to balance their diversity agenda with the need to hire based on skills and appropriateness for the role.

Levina Poon is director of financial services at ConnectedGroup and has almost 15 years’ experience in executive recruitment for the finance industry. ConnectedGroup is a  full-service human capital consulting firm with offices in Asia and the Middle East.

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