Diversity and inclusion efforts must not take a back seat as companies grapple with different working practices brought about by the coronavirus crisis, commentators have said.
As the financial services industry heralds a flexible working approach, changed forever in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis, financial commentators agreed the arrival of the “new normal” should lead towards greater diversity but warned some companies could fall behind in efforts to improve diversity and inclusion.
Anna Sofat (pictured), associate director of wealth at Progeny, warned progress in the industry required a “real desire” to change business practices and biases that had been in place for years.
She warned: “Certainly in the short term the imperative will be to save the business and the bottom line, and sometimes often initiatives like diversity strategies give way because they are not seen to be quite so important.
“That has already been demonstrated by the government – because they’ve got so many other things on their table, I presume, they have dropped the requirement for firms to report on pay gender gaps.”
In March, the Government Equalities Office announced employers would not be expected to report their gender pay gap data for the 2019-20 year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
In normal circumstances, employers who fail to report their data could face court action and an unlimited fine, but Ms Sofat warned the temporary removal of this enforcement could have a longer-lasting impact on diversity in financial services.
She added: “What message is that going to send to the [financial services] industry, which is already the worst for the pay gender gap?
“So I am a little bit worried that at times of stress businesses will withdraw and forget about what they see as a ‘nice to have’ initiative.”
Many have commented on the ease and speed with which the advice industry adapted to working from home in the face of social distancing rules, with the professional body the Personal Finance Society last month stating the sector had responded “remarkably well” to challenges presented by the pandemic.
Sarah Waring, client and proposition director at Quilter, said the advice giant was keen to grasp the opportunity presented by a remote working pattern helping diversity in the workplace.
Ms Waring said: “We have had quite a concentration of employment in some geographic areas, such as London and Southampton, but we can now recruit nationwide for the majority of roles, which opens up the recruitment pool.
“We have had really positive feedback around flexible working, as well as remote, particularly from females who have childcare responsibilities, so we are looking at how we can use this to help to equalise the gender imbalance in our industry.”
But Ms Sofat, also founder of the ‘Are You In?’ diversity campaign movement, said she hoped the mass move to remote working seen over the past few months across the financial services sector would empower women considering interviews or promotions.