Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) has been on the corporate agenda for many years now.
Different sectors have embraced it to varying degrees and at different paces. Many businesses began to develop their approach following the Women & Work commission paper titled ‘Shaping a Fairer Future’, presented by Baroness Prosser in February 2006 - over 15 years ago now.
Yet despite the incredible ability of the financial services sector to adapt and innovate to meet the needs of varied markets, it lags behind other sectors on this issue.
At the launch of the HM Treasury Women in Finance Charter Annual Review back in March, the FCA’s CEO Nikhil Rathi had to focus our minds once again.
He noted that the regulator will increasingly be asking tough questions of firms about representation across grades and whether their culture is open and inclusive, providing a safe space for colleagues at all levels.
As we look towards the end of the pandemic, there are emerging opportunities for businesses to change the way they approach EDI.
On the whole the financial services sector coped remarkably well with widespread homeworking brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, and it seems many are happy to embrace this new way of working for good.
A recent BBC report revealed 43 of the UK’s 50 biggest employers are planning to push ahead with a ‘hybrid’ model post-pandemic, mixing homeworking with office attendance. Many are even seeking to downsize their office spaces as a result.
Naturally, there are many employers who remain reluctant, often citing issues like stalling innovation and creativity. But does a hybrid approach, with its inherent flexibility, offer an opportunity for financial services businesses to solve some of the EDI challenges they’ve been grappling with?
As always, the answer is more complex than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
Rethinking representation post-lockdown
In some parts of the engineering sector you cannot bid for government contracts if you are not able to demonstrate an appropriate approach to EDI, and how it is embedded into your business.
Was Rathi signalling something similar for financial services?
Quite possibly, if the sector doesn’t start making significant progress. But this renewed focus is hardly surprising given we have just endured a pandemic that has disproportionately impacted women and people of colour.
Research suggests that it was women who took on the bulk of childcare duties during lockdown, despite both parents working from home.
Not only that, statistics have shown that a startling number of women felt the realities of the crisis forced them to put their career ambitions on hold entirely.