Diversity and inclusion should not be seen as discretionary, even with immense pressure to reduce costs right now.

The Covid-19 crisis has changed the world, but what does this mean for financial services? Shine Co-Founder Caroline Whaley spoke to Financial News with her thoughts on what can leaders do to stay ahead of the competition.

People are understandably anxious, as not only are we in the middle of a global pandemic, but there are also mass job cuts ahead. While the financial services sector is not as vulnerable as others, many organisations entered the crisis already facing significant challenges such as switches to new technologies, changing consumer habits and disruptive business models from challenger brands.

Barclays boss Jes Staley has predicted that “the era of the big office is over”. For every person who thrives working from home, there is an equal number who miss the office hubbub. It’s all very unsettling, but good leaders in the sector understand their people are shaky.

Financial services face some specific challenges. The sector is packed full of results-driven overachievers who like to feel in control. While a little bit of anxiety can get this personality type to sharpen their game, too much will lead to burnout. I’m seeing people work harder and harder, but a lack of clear direction for the future, due to uncertainty related to the virus, means that performance is likely to drop longer term.

On a team level, there are a few small things that will help. For example, it can be very powerful as a boss to admit that all is not fine, that you don’t have all the answers and that you are feeling vulnerable. This can lift your team’s mood, as people think ‘Ah, it’s not only me’. When you make it OK to not be OK it helps your people cope. Showing your vulnerability and being human is powerful. But if you’ve had an alpha management style, this will be a test.

I’m a big advocate of having conversations while walking. Some of my coaching sessions are now happening as ‘virtual dog walks’. A phone call forces you to listen, helps you focus on the emotion in someone’s voice and — as there’s no direct eye contact — relaxes people so they can talk more freely. The proven benefit to being on the move (beyond hitting your allotted exercise) is problem solving.

A senior Geneva-based wealth manager recently said “It’s not enough to be a manager, you’ve got to be a leader. So show authority with kindness and empathy, but couple it with real commercial savvy.” They also highlighted how the crisis forced the team get to know each other at a deeper level and improved their resilience.

The Covid-19 crisis is triggering a recession on a massive scale. This is a fact. One way that could help financial services firms exit this in good shape is by having a diverse, inclusive company. Right to the top.

Great Place to Work, a US consultancy focused on improving workplace culture, analysed the share performance between 2007 and 2009 of large corporates which had focused on having an equitable culture. While the S&P saw a 35% drop in stock performance, diverse companies saw a 14% gain.

Furthermore, the World Economic Forum, in a report looking at female leadership in financial services, found that banks with more women on the board had higher capital buffers, a lower proportion of nonperforming loans, and performed better in stress testing. The same was true for bank stability and female presence on regulatory boards.

So now is the time to focus on creating a fair organisation and avoiding the natural tendency during a crisis to take the comfortable route. Hold your course. Help those who don’t look, speak or think like your current board to make it up the ladder. They will allow your organisation to thrive while others stumble.

There may be a push to slash costs right now, but a successful inclusion programme based upon data with clear key performance indicators and board-level advocates should not be seen as “discretionary”. And there’s no time to lose.

While teams are in lockdown, pushing personal development and using the opportunity to have open, honest conversations, can have huge payback in terms of the effectiveness and loyalty of staff.

It will result in real competitive advantage. Make this yours.


This article was originally published in Financial News >