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August 2020 | General Insurance

Rob Evans: Diversity in financial services

Rob Evans is CEO of Paymentshield

Recent developments in the Black Lives Matter movement have galvanized dialogue nationwide around institutionalised prejudice, unconscious bias, and black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) under-representation. These are issues from which the heavily white and male financial services sector is by no means exempt.

Lack of diversity is glaringly present across the mortgage and insurance industries. But acknowledging this is not enough, and is too often self-congratulatory. We must translate this awareness into action, and do so in a way that is meaningful, tangible, and proactive. We must also recognise, however, that there is no quick fix.

The fast-moving and target-driven nature of business is inoperative in the fight for a more inclusive workforce. It will take time, and the solutions will need to be multi-tiered and undergirded by genuine understanding.

Paymentshield appreciates that to make progress, education is essential. This is why we have introduced company-wide, mandatory unconscious bias training.

Our targeted modules and learning materials explore how to recognise the ways in which prejudices manifest, and more importantly, offer strategies to confront them. Longlasting, material change will only be possible if we build thorough and authentic comprehension of our own biases.

This training will be key, if not necessary, until future generations are provided with a rounded and honest education that helps to combat the perpetuation of generational prejudices.

Taking a hard look at recruitment processes will also be significant in tackling diversity issues in the workplace, including gender.

The financial services sector is a notorious culprit of gender imbalance. That is why at the beginning of 2020 we made it compulsory for each role in our business to have a gender-neutral shortlist – that is, an equal number of self-identifying male and female applicants. The measure was also valuable for initiating nuanced discussion within the company, as it forced us to reflect upon what we were trying to achieve and why.

Affirmative action is important and must not be trivialised, but it should also never lapse into tokenism, which is often more harmful than helpful – not only to the individuals and organisations involved, but also to the cause we try to champion.

Appealing to a wider pool of talent is therefore key, and this is why earlier this year we actively ensured we had the correct measures in place to attract more female candidates. After putting our job adverts through language-testing software and finding it to contain masculine wording that deterred female applicants, we rewrote our materials to make them as gender-neutral as possible.

Three months later, we were seeing fresh, female talent like never before, and more and more women were progressing past the CV stage. 

We must acknowledge, too, that developing and retaining this diverse talent is equally critical as initially attracting it.

Getting through the door means very little without support mechanisms, working methods, and corporate culture in place to enable individuals to thrive thereafter. Representation is central to this.

The saying, “you can’t be what you can’t see” rings true: representation not only bolsters the confidence of marginalised groups, but also provides role models, enabling young professionals to visualise their own success in the future.

It is in the interest of both financial services firms and the wider media, therefore, to take the initiative to represent diverse talent, and begin this positive cycle.

In this respect, the COVID-19 pandemic has opened our minds to the importance of decoupling role and location in terms of representation.

With the increasingly apparent need to adopt a national over local approach to business, we have learned as a Southport-based company that debate around matching our make-up to regional representation is not necessarily helpful.

This has been the first step in introducing more positive, affirmative action, which we’re continuing to work on, ensuring it delivers in its execution and impact, and not just intention.

When it comes to diversity and inclusion, complacency is not an option. No matter the scale of the company or its access to resources, we all perpetuate biases – unconsciously or otherwise – and we can all take action.

Tackling these prejudices will be a slow and instructive process, but for the financial services sector in particular, it is also an imperative.