Since our launch in 2017, race has been an important topic on DiverCity Podcast. In light of the death of George Floyd triggering demonstrations and protests in the United States and around the world, raising deep seated concerns about systemic racism and spotlighting the Black Lives Matter Movement, we have interrupted our planned schedule to bring you this Special Extended Episode.
Host Julia Streets is joined by Dr. Funke Abimbola MBE, Chief Executive Officer at the Austen Bronte Consultancy; Paul Monekosso Cleal OBE, Executive Director at Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, Kingston University and National Citizen Service Trust and an adviser to Sainsbury’s and FA Premier League; Donna Herdsman, award winning Professional Services Executive, Mentor and Career Coach and Reggie Nelson, Graduate Analyst at Legal and General Investment Management (LGIM). They discuss institutional racism, black representation and retention, what organisations and leaders can do to recognise racism, challenge behaviours and drive change, the language of race, and how best to attract and retain black talent in the financial services industry.
Donna Herdsman is an award winning Professional Services Executive & Mentor and Career Coach. She has over 30 years experience as a management consultant and as an Executive having worked for and with both UK and overseas Public and Private Sector organisations. She specialises in helping clients realise the business benefits from transforming their business and their technologies. The major roles of her career have been at London the Borough of Lambeth, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, IBM and Hewlett Packard Enterprise and has acquired strategic, operational and change management expertise following my senior roles in consultancies and IT organisations. Donna has an Advanced Diploma in Strategy and Innovation from Said Business School, Oxford, a Business Studies Degree, from London South Bank University and is a qualified accountant (Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy). In 2016, Donna was included in the inaugural EMpower (US, UK and Ireland) 100 BAME executive list. She was also one of the 100 Senior BAME executives in 2019/20, by EMpower and Yahoo Finance. She is passionate about developing other people by mentoring and coaching (TechUPWomen winners of an Impact Award in June 2020 employment and digital skills category), and she won the First Woman Mentor of the Year award in 2017. Donna believes in supporting the development of our young talent of the future via her role as a School Governor and now as a new judge for the Aleto Foundation Leadership Programme. Donna has been a Judge for the Black British Business Awards for seven years and one of the co-founders highlighted that her experience of ‘helping her find her voice’ when they worked together had been one of inspirations contributing to her establishing the BBBA awards. Donna also presented at the EU, House of Commons and for Inclusive Companies on STEM, on the role for proactive leadership for driving diversity and inclusion in IT. Donna has been featured over the years in a number of publications: CIPFA; Business in the Community; Empower, Computer Weekly; Precious Online by way of example. You can follow Donna on Twitter @dmsenterprise
Dr. Funke Abimbola MBE is the Chief Executive Officer at the Austen Bronte Consultancy. Funke is a performance driven, C-suite leader and healthcare executive with twenty years’ professional experience. Most notably, she has worked as a senior, C-suite leader for Roche, the world’s largest biotech company. A passionate and committed strategic and operational business leader, Funke leads by example and firmly believes in putting people at the heart of decision-making, driving higher productivity and engagement, performance and delivery. Her first career in law has ensured high standards of governance, compliance and risk management, steering organisations through uncertain times. Funke has successfully leveraged this foundation to develop as a commercial, business leader. Outside her day job, Funke is a recognised equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) leader with a strong track record in the field. In March 2019, she was appointed as a Champion for Action as part of Grant Thornton International’s global diversity campaign, challenging gender-based barriers to career progression including recruitment bias. As part of the Law Society’s Women in Law Group, she contributed to the success of the largest ever international survey of its kind, resulting in the Law Society’s ‘Influencing for impact’ report with practical recommendations for increasing gender diversity across the global legal profession. Funke provides mentoring and sponsorship to support a pipeline of diverse talent and holds a number of non-exec roles within the diversity space. She has a grassroots approach to driving change and provides talks to approximately 2,000 school children annually. A regular media contributor for the BBC, Funke has been filmed for the First 100 Years Project celebrating 100 years of achievements by prominent women in law. She is also a notable alumnus of her alma mater, Newcastle University. Her leadership and influence have also been recognised by the Financial Times who listed her as being one of the top 15 ethnic minority leaders globally. The Prime Minister awarded her ‘Point of Light’ status in 2016 due to the positive impact of her EDI work. In 2017, she was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list for services to diversity and young people. She was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws by the University of Hertfordshire in 2019 for contributions to social and corporate diversity. Funke is currently completing MBA studies with the Wharton Business School. Alongside this, she is embedding her MBA learning whilst leveraging her experience to date by providing board advisory services through her consultancy, the Austen Bronte Consultancy. She will be resuming her full-time career later this year. You can follow Funke on Twitter @Champ1Diversity
Paul Monekosso Cleal
Paul Monekosso Cleal OBE, is currently a non executive director at Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, Kingston University and National Citizen Service Trust and an adviser to Sainsbury’s and FA Premier League. Until 2017 for 16 years he was a partner at PwC, the global professional services firm, where he served on the Management Boards of the firm in both the UK and in Africa. He also provided corporate finance and consulting advice to clients across various industries including the public sector and financial services. Paul has worked in both local and central government, been a board member of the Government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission and still works with a number of London schools. These roles reflect his interest in public services and issues of inequality. He has for many years been involved in diversity and inclusion in business and was recognised for his work in that area in the most recent New Year’s Honours List. You can follow Paul on Twitter @PaulMCleal
Reggie Nelson is most recognised by the media as the young man who went ‘from East London to the City’. He graduated with an economics degree while studying Mandarin alongside his degree. On his journey, Reggie completed five internships including a spring and two summer internships at BlackRock, Aberdeen Standard Investments and Armstrong Investment Managers. Reggie is a Graduate Analyst, rotating across Client Business and Investments at Legal and General Investment Management (LGIM), Chair of the ACCA Emerging Talent Advisory Group, youth mentor for one of the largest youth networks in the UK, and is described by the Theresa May the former Prime Minister as a “persistent and inspiring young person”. You can follow Reggie on Twitter @ReggieNelson_10
Special Episode: Lets Talk About Racism Transcript
Julia: Hello, my name is Julia Streets and welcome to DiverCity Podcast, talking about equality, inclusion and diversity in financial services. Welcome to this special extended episode, discussing current events around race and racism. I’m delighted to be joined by a blend of guests and friends to the podcast as I welcome four voices offering very different perspectives in terms of skills, experience and age.
Today, my guests are Donna Herdsman, an award-winning professional services executive mentor and career coach, Dr. Funke Abimbola MBE, CEO at the Austen Bronte Consultancy, advising C-suite and boards across some multiple sectors, Paul Monekosso Cleal OBE, he is a Non-Executive Director at Guys and Thomas’s and NHS foundation Trust, Kingston University, and the National Citizens Service Trust, and he’s also an advisor to Sainsbury’s and the FA Premier League, and Reggie Nelson, Graduate Analyst at Legal and General Investment Management or LGIM, Chair of the ACCA Emerging Talent Advisory Group, and most recognised by the media as a young man who went from East London to The City.
Welcome everyone. It’s wonderful to have you here today for this incredibly important discussion. Let me just do a quick situation update, in terms of the context of this. As many listeners will know, on the 25th May, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during arrest. His death triggered demonstrations and protests in more than 2000 U.S. cities and around the world, all against systemic racism and spotlighting the Black Lives Matter movement. This inciting incident has given many black people in the UK permission and freedom to respond by sharing their stories of racism.
Everybody who listens to DiverCity Podcast will know that we take the subject of racism incredibly seriously. We believe that there is a horrific under representation of ethnic minorities in The City of London in the world of financial services. It’s no coincidence our first episode talked about race and it has been no coincidence that our second ever event with CityAM also talked about race, second only to why diversity and inclusion matters. So, therefore, I’m delighted to be interrupting our schedule to talk about why black lives matter and to have this discussion today. I was framing the situation there and I would love to invite each of our guests just to offer some opening thoughts and to consider this from a variety of different perspectives, really. Funke, I wonder if I could come to you, first of all. I would love to hear your opening thoughts.
Funke: What I would say on this is that this perfect storm situation that we have, has hit me in a way that I’ve never experienced. I spent the first two weeks after George Floyd was killed in floods of tears with my 17-year-old son, and we have never done that before. He’s been very involved with my diversity work and has been with me to events and he’s very aware of the issues, but I think we’ve now got a situation which is a real burning platform for us to drive change. That’s what I’ll say as my opening thoughts on this.
Julia: Paul, may I come to you for your thoughts as well?
Paul: Yes, likewise, I think everyone who I know has been affected by it in many ways and especially those closest to me. I think what struck me about it, though, is for once how this has crossed over, and I’m sure we’ll talk about this as we go through the podcast, it’s really crossed over outside of the black community who have seen these things all too often into something that’s really transcended that and gone into the mainstream. I think we’ve seen a lot of positive reactions to that, but also some negative as well. It has really struck me about how it’s become such a big issue, and that’s a good thing.
Julia: We’ll definitely get into that, as you say, throughout the show as well. Reggie, keen to hear your thoughts too, if we can welcome you in as well.
Reggie: For me, it does feel very, very different. There is a real sense of change around this. I was talking to some of my friends before, and I was saying that George Floyd’s death almost reminds me of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 where Rosa Parks took a stand and that was the catalyst to change, in order to eradicate some sort of segregation there. And I feel like it’s got the same thought to it now, whereby George Floyd’s death has sparked a worldwide revolution as it were, and I’m hoping that it is for the long-term, not for the short-term.
Julia: Yes. Thank you very much. Donna, if I could ask you for your opening thoughts as well.
Donna: For me in particular, it’s always felt inconceivable in this day and age that someone could lose their lives predominantly due to the colour of their skin, and the failure of another human being not to respond to someone when they hear the words, “I can’t breathe.” I think the death of George Floyd has bought into sharp focus that the entire world, due to the help of social media, that these occurrences happen every day and that there are people who are members of the human race that live in fear from authorities and institutions that by and large we look up to, to maintain equity in the world and to keep all of us as individuals safe.
Like some of my fellow presenters today, I found that I couldn’t actually write anything, whether it was a tweet or a LinkedIn submission, or just my thoughts without weeping uncontrollably, because I realised that he could have been my brother, my cousin, my uncle, my nephew, my best friend. He was just looking at that day as another day and ended up never seeing his family, or in fact, life again. I think that’s why it’s now a catalyst because it’s an unacceptable outcome for anybody that values human life.
Julia: Really what I’m picking up from those opening statements, thank you all for all of those, is that just how deeply human, personal, the humanity or arguably lack of humanity that’s been reflected through it, but also how it’s crossed over actually into everyday lives as well as internationally, and it’s potential to be a catalyst for change, which is really interesting. I would like now, if we may, just to move the conversation on just a little bit, but isn’t it interesting, it’s actually not very far that it has to move, because one of the things I’ve been really paying attention to recently is the conversation around institutional racism and how that reveals itself in everyday life. I would really like to get into how racism reveals itself in organisations and really what businesses need to do to recognise that and do something about it as well. Donna, may I come to you first of all? I would love your thoughts on that question about institutional racism.
Donna: The issue around racism in institutions makes it sound like racism is an overt practice, that it’s obvious and it’s seen and it’s transparent. The way I’ve experienced it, it does not come across that way. Occasionally, but not often. Often I believe it’s reflected and embedded in things like microaggressions that manifest itself, for instance, in non-white people. If they used that term, non-white people not being considered for roles at entry level into an organisation, not identified as potential talent and therefore not giving you opportunity along with their white counterparts to be developed and supported as they progress their careers. I think above all, what does not come across is being anti-racist. What I mean by that is when people do make statements such as “why don’t you go back to where you came from?” Which I have faced at organisations, or what was your holiday like at your father’s land? Which is again suggesting that I’m not British, that nobody else speaks up.
For me what’s really important is that organisations recognise not just racism and the role of microaggressions, but have a culture where such behaviour is not tolerated, and if necessary, that those that exhibit those unacceptable behaviours are publicly highlighted and whatever actions the organisations take, are shared amongst everybody else. The key to me is leadership, leaders that walk the talk and have actions that support and embrace the fact that all their employees and everyone that works for them, and in fact, also their stakeholders and their supply chain. It’s about giving people the quality of treatment, respect for them and their thoughts and the space to listen and allow them to contribute to the organisation as a whole.
Julia: It’s interesting because the question of culture and leadership comes up a lot, but I think it’s just an important thing about calling it out. Paul, can I bring you in at this point? I would love to hear your thoughts as well from an organisational perspective about how does racism reveal itself to you, and also what organisations could be doing to address them?
Paul: I suppose the most obvious way in which racism reveals itself in organisations is when you look at them from the outside or from the inside and you see mostly white people at the top and mostly black people at the bottom, broadly. That’s typically what happens, and I see that in professional services where I’ve worked for many years, I see that in the health service, where I’m a Non-Executive Director now, I see it in football, where I do some advisory work, I see it in higher education, where I’m a Non-Executive Director too. It’s pretty much everywhere, that’s the first thing. The symptom is very clear, sometimes reinforced by some of the points that Donna makes, I think in terms of how then people see the world within that. When I was a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, people thought there were no black partners for a long time because they just assumed that I wasn’t a partner.
There’s those reinforcing stereotypes that don’t help. That’s the manifestation, it’s very much about lack of representation at the top and usually it’s also over-representation at the bottom in low-paid, fairly menial jobs. We’ve seen the effect of that with the virus recently too. What encourages me about organisations, the ones I’m involved with at the moment, is that, going back to the point I made about crossing over and you mentioned it too, Julia – I have in my 30 odd years of working life, not heard white colleagues talk about systemic racism, institutional racism in private sector companies, for example, I’ve not heard them talk about white privilege either. These are concepts that are in books written by black people typically, and articles written by black people. Now they’re being talked about pretty openly by senior white colleagues of mine, and that really is the first time I’ve ever heard it.
I’ve been struck by how many of them, I think genuinely have been shocked by a lack of understanding that they’ve never had these conversations before. Clearly, to change things, change is usually in the hands of the majority, so that’s a really important change. When Reggie says that he hoped change will come from this, the source of the change has to be influential white people in large part, fired up, of course, by the rest of us and encouraged and given some guidance too.
That change could happen now, if we get to a tipping point of enough people really starting to care, and the conversation’s gone beyond black people talking to each other about these difficult issues into conversations that are in the first instance, quite difficult and a bit stilted, but when the right environment is created, I think can be had, and people are beginning to listen and learn. I think that gives us the opportunity to get some of that change that we know is long overdue, but very, very necessary.
Julia: Funke, I see you nodding on Zoom. Would you like to comment any additional thoughts? Reggie, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that as well.
Funke: I absolutely and wholeheartedly agree with what Paul has just said. I have seen a real sense of urgency from all of my allies who aren’t black, every single one. Whether that’s my close friend who would be mortified for me to name her on this, who’s a white Jewish mother of two young children, married, and lives in a very well-to-do part of London and has always been a strong advocate and champion, but she contacted me specifically around action. She said, “We’ve been talking about this for years, what action can we take?” I have the same from my five core group of white male allies, all of whom have slightly nuanced aspects to their allyship. And this has been a journey for me to appreciate as well, because I have one white male ally who’s the first in his family to go to university and comes from a mining background. I have another who is from a more privileged background from the North of the country and had probably more middle class upbringing and so on and on and on.
There are nuances, I now understand, with allyship and we can’t just say your white ally or white male ally. But the important thing I’ve learned, and this has been a real eye opener for me, is that all of them now recognise that whether or not they were aware that they have that privilege, the reality is they did have that privilege, because for half of them, they didn’t think anything of it, they’re not conscious that they’ve got this privilege, whereas there’re are some who are very aware that they have privilege and therefore might be quite defensive about wanting to do anything to change that. When we are looking at influencing change, we have to understand the finer nuances around allyship and how we can bring a significant minority along to be really quite militant. I use that word in terms of there’s a compelling burning platform, and I’m very happy that my set of allies were there already, that it now makes me realise why I’ve struggled with others in the journey within the legal profession. Now I get it. It’s the nuances, and that’s the key point.
Julia: Can I just ask you to expand where you were talking about some of the action points that your allies came to, can I ask what advice you gave?
Funke: With one of them, I’ve worked very closely with him at a former employer, a large global company, and this individual’s a very senior leader now within the global aspect of this role, so he is incredibly influential. Before I left this organisation, I co-founded a bursary scheme for underrepresented groups that was funded by the company but we had many categories of underrepresented groups and BAME was this mess, I think we called it ethnicity.
This gentleman is now putting skin in the game. He realises that we have to give additional weighting in the processing of the applicants to the black applicants. He now realises that saying BAME is actually muddying the waters. He said, “I’ve looked at the data,” but the fact he’s prepared to put a stake in the sand on this. You can imagine the sorts of conversations he is going to have to have around that. And completely without me prompting, I haven’t been in touch with him, because I was just in the hazy fog for the two weeks afterwards, so I actually haven’t contacted a lot of people because I was just finding it hard to process.
He proactively contacted me with an action plan and that’s just one example of the many things he’s already done. At this point, he’d already had the meeting to decide how they’re going to change the criteria and the way that the judging was going to take place. So I hope I have clarified, that’s just one example, but there are many examples.
Julia: Well, first of all, it is encouraging to hear that there are many people of white privilege, such as myself, who are going, “There’s something we can do about that,” to be taking an active action plan based approach to tackling it, because rhetoric is, well of course it is welcome to a degree, but actually we need things that are real and practical as well. Also thinking about the nuances of allyship, which I think is also very, very interesting. Reggie, really keen to bring you in here for your thoughts as well, on again, to come back to the central question about how racism reveals itself in organisations. And then again thoughts to add to our other guests about things we can do about it.
Reggie: Yes, It’s been echoed. I feel like racism, especially institutionally, isn’t manifested at face value, but it is in different things such as lack of understanding and from what I’ve seen, a lack of education around things like culture, which can sometimes lead to ignorance. I say this because I haven’t been working for that long, but I was quite fortunate enough to do quite a few internships at various asset managers and hedge funds in the city. I’ll never forget this, and I always tell this story because at the time it was funny but now I’m in this bubble where I understand it a bit more. I arrived at my desk on the first day of my internship at a large firm. I was doing introductions to my team, and this guy, still in touch with him today, lovely guy, he introduced himself to me and he asked to introduce myself, and before I even said a word, he goes, “No, sorry. Can you rap it for me?”
I stood there and I was like, “Why do you want me to…” I didn’t say it, because I didn’t have to react, but in my head I was thinking, why does this guy want me to rap for him? At the time, I laughed it off. It was funny. We’re still in touch today, but the thing I go back to in regards to lack of education notwithstanding, can lead to ignorance and someone else might have taken it as this guy’s being racist and why is he stereotyping me as someone that knows how to rap, just because my wider community probably can rap? I think based on what people have said, but particularly what Donna said, it can manifest it’s way in different ways, essentially.
Julia: Almost as you’re saying it, I can hear it on a trading floor, I can hear it in the corridors of a glass and steel building in Canary Wharf. I can hear it in the streets of the coffee shops of the city because this is the common language that people think is appropriate to use that reveals itself either explicitly or indeed with thoughts and biases that reveal themselves implicitly as well. Thank you all for all your thoughts there. I think there’s some very salient awakenings to be taken from that, and also some very practical thoughts to be taken forward as well.
As you can probably hear from my voice, I feel like I’m treading very delicately through this conversation, and I do actually want to come on later to the conversation about language. For listeners on the show who may well be feeling, as I am feeling as a person of great white privilege, it’s encouraging to hear some of the comments that have come out about the awakening. I hope that our listeners will consider themselves awakened, but also in terms of the delicacy of the conversation, but that’s never to take away from the importance of it as well.
What I would like to now think about is how do we improve the ethnic minority representation within organisations? I would love to begin to explore this from different perspectives. Paul, I’m going to come to you to talk about the Board. Reggie, I’d love to hear your thoughts on entry level into the industry as well. Donna, ascension of leadership through the organisation and Funke, to pick you up on a comment that came earlier about culture, if we would.
Paul, let me come to you, first of all. How do we change the mix at board level?
Paul: Well, I suppose the short answer to that is deliberately. It won’t happen by chance for sure. It hasn’t and it won’t. One thing you can’t do is just wait for it to get better. Sometimes you hear people talk about things like, “Well, as time goes on, then the situation will right itself,” but that hasn’t happened for a long time. It didn’t happen with women on boards either. We were stuck at a very low level for a long time until people took decisive action, and that came through, I think really the Davies Review, which then led ultimately to the 30% Club. There’s at least this notion that still might not be sufficient, but that it might be a good idea to have 30% of women on boards, and I think that caught on and people took action and got relatively close to achieving them in many cases.
The Parker Review seeks to do something similar in relation to ethnic minorities. But for me, the aspiration is insufficient, for two reasons. Firstly, it talks about having one ethnic minority member on boards by about 2021, I think. Probably optimistic actually, but to me, not enough for a couple of reasons. Firstly black and ethnic minority covers a whole range of different minorities, so one person is actually doing the job of several in that sense and can’t be representative of everybody, although being non-white is helpful, and there are some common perspectives to it. I think that’s not really enough diversity in the first place. Secondly, though, I think it’s important to recognise the dynamics of this and I’ve been the only minority on the board on many occasions and it can be a pretty lonely place.
When difficult subjects like the one we’re talking about come up and you’re the only minority in the room, try having that conversation and see how much you get in terms of support around the table. Often, not a lot. You need allies around the table and on this sort of subject, you need people that are also from minorities, as I say, the first diversity point also stands.
I think the Parker Review isn’t really going to do enough, it just seeks to get one minority person on board, but it’s a start. I also think the experience from getting more women on boards showed there was a difference between executive positions and non-executive positions too. It’s easier with non-execs in the sense that you can put people on, you don’t have to get them through the whole organisation and that talent management issue is often more of a problem for organisations because they’ve got maybe two or three top layers without any black or ethnic minority composition. The executive side takes time. That’s been seen through the progress that we made on gender diversity, but you can do it quicker on a non-exec side, so that’s perhaps a place to start.
There’s a long way to go, and as other people have said, standing in the way of all of these are the day-to-day, small things that add up, individual decisions that on the face of it, you might be able to defend the promotion or not. When you aggregate them together, you end up with the situation we have with very, very few black and ethnic minority people. You have to get below that level and do something structural to deal with the structural problem essentially, and not try and hope that individuals will somehow change their behaviour collectively over time.
It’s a matter of really dealing with the aggregation of all those minor incidents, decisions, etc, and finding a structural approach to dealing with that, that eventually will come through to better board representation. But to my mind, starting with the non-execs is the quickest way to make some progress and actually open up the right conversations at that level.
Julia: Yes. And another thing that people do talk about a lot is the role of recruitment firms and thinking about are they putting forward board candidates and then also the board advisors in holding the boards to account on, have you looked at all your candidates as well through a very severe lens, not a, “wouldn’t it be nice” tick boxing lens?
Reggie, I’ve come to the other end of the structure, but you are well on your way. I mean, we’ve spoken before about your incredible career journey that you’re on this flight path of extraordinary ascension. I would love to come to you on your thoughts, because I know you spent a lot of time also mentoring young black and ethnic minority candidates as well, thinking about the pipeline for new entrants into the industry as well.
Reggie: For me, especially from a grass root or entry level standpoint, I feel like in the near future, if we do want to see a real change, then the recruitment and how these large institutions recruit definitely needs to adapt and needs to change as well. I feel like with these hypercompetitive firms, they recruit, for example, from a particular pool of academic institutions, mainly large group universities. There is nothing wrong with recruiting from these institutions too, but if firms want to see a wider diversity and narrow that ethnic disparity, then you do need to cast that net further out and wheel in wider talent, because there is talent up and down the country, right? For example, if you look at Russell Group Universities, they’re made up of about 75% white students and around 4% black students. If you do recruit from these same pools and it doesn’t really make sense that you want to widen universally, but you’re still looking in the same environment, right?
The thing is, it’s not like black people aren’t applying to the universities, they are. They’re twice as likely to apply than their white counterparts, but there are several different factors that impede them from getting into these elitist institutions. I think this is where class plays a part as well. Class definitely does have a foothold in this. Now if you look at young students from the sponsored areas, they’re more likely to dropout most likely to not get to honour a first and in regards to graduate employment, they’re less likely to achieve than their advantaged peers. From a social mobility standpoint, or from a social structure standpoint, if you look at black and mixed heritage people, they make up a large proportion of that in the council estate environments and their social housing environments, followed by Pakistani and Bangladesh. All of these tie in together to almost put a headwind for young black talent. I feel like the quicker firms understand that and they grab onto that and they are able to incorporate that in their recruitment process, then you will create a fairer and level playing field.
I think the first thing is just to acknowledge that things do need to change and the way that we recruit does need to adapt because there is, like I said, talent up and down the country. Just as an example, I went to a meeting once and I remember someone said, “We need more Reggie’s in our firm.” It was really humbling to hear, don’t get me wrong. It was really humbling. However, I sat there and I said, “You have no idea. I’m not an anomaly. There are tons of people like me on my council estate but just never been given the opportunity and to that point, I had to knock on doors to get my opportunity. I didn’t have the opportunity given to me, and not everyone’s going to go knock on those to get those opportunities. People from those types of environments are really on the backfoot and number one, the recruitment process and number two, acknowledge that sociability plays a big part of this. I feel like in the long-term, we will get to where we need to be.
Julia: Absolutely. I would recommend everybody have a listen to the podcast episode that we interviewed Reggie about his career journey, and this is incredibly inspiring, but it also really strikes me that’s so many have got a thumbs up from Funke over the Zoom platform, which listeners will not be able to see, but you’ll be able to hear for sure, huge champions and there is huge support of everything you’ve done, Reggie, and you’re incredibly inspiring.
Donna, can I come to you from a perspective of leadership ascension, thinking about the career journey and it’s come up a couple of times within this conversation about leadership at the top, but also the next levels down as well. What role and what must that level do in order to basically attract greater black and minority ethic talent into the industry as well?
Donna: I think one of the things they can do, to the point that Paul made around the very visibility of the organisation, so definitely within the networks I see frequently, especially around millennials and I’m also a school governor, so when I hear the children speak or students speak at schools, they look at an organisation and the look of that organisation gives them an indication as to whether or not they believe that is somewhere they should join because they have an opportunity to both survive and to thrive. I think each of those are points of equal importance. So clearly, the harder it is to survive in an organisation, i.e to progress and fulfil your dreams, requires a high degree of resilience, and that can be quite sapping on the soul, and in fact, sapping on your ability to sustain your performance level.
The opportunity to thrive is to be able to see a path to be able to move up into an organisation where you can gain more influence and ideally help others follow behind you. But your ability to do that, I believe, is influenced by a couple of things. One of the things when I look back on my career, the things that helped me progress as a leader was actually having what I call influential sponsorship. They’re not just sponsors, but people when they spoke, the rest of the organisation, and in particular their peers, actually listened to them and took notes of what they were saying as it related both to my ability, but also my potential to develop as a leader.
Access to business networks are critical. What I mean by that is being able to sit in a board meeting when the board and senior leaders are discussing the things that are critical to the organisation’s survival, their performance, their growth, gives you an insight that it’s not readily available. There’s lots of books, and books will give a potential perspective, but being there, seeing how people interact and how they weigh up their options because nothing’s ever black or white, if I can use that term on this call, provides you with, I think it’s far in the belly to begin to embrace and understand how you can contribute positively to those business outcomes.
Unfortunately, many people don’t have access to that kind of inner chamber experience. It’s quite interesting, yesterday I was contacted by somebody, he’s white, he’s senior, he’s an influencer, and he is really concerned that him going back into the workplace to promote ethnic minority representation at a leadership level will be seen as tokenism. Coming back to the point that Funke made that there is an issue, I think, about authenticity that as organisations move forward and they want to support and promote ethnic minorities, the starting point is to treat them as they would their fellow white employees that they believe are talented and have leadership potential, but to look at the things that are blocking their ability to see them as equal and to address just those blockages directly.
Julia: That’s really interesting as I’m sure a lot of listeners will be sitting there thinking I want to do something about it, but does it look like I might’ve jumped on a bandwagon? It’s tokenistic or indeed it’s going to be too awkward a conversation to be having when actually this is the time to go “lean in, people. Absolutely lean in.” I love your comment about taking, so take people into your spaces, and because it’s only through the experience you get to being present in the room, that of course is you say, I love your expression about puts a fire in your belly and see the potential to then also achieve it as well.
Funke, if I could ask you to talk about culture, of which we have talked about a little bit so far, and then also drive us into the next area that I’m very keen to explore a little bit more, on what you addressed earlier around allies. Culture and allies, how do you view that in terms of creating more allies and also encouraging a culture where allyship matters?
Funke: For me, and this is having had many different types of employer as a solicitor. This context is really important, so do bear with me. I’ve worked at four different private practise law firms as a corporate lawyer, and I have now worked at two global pharmaceutical companies as a strategic business ops lawyer, governance, professional, whatever you want to call it, where law has been the sideline, but essentially I’ve been a commercial leader.
The distinction is really, really key one to make, because when you’re trying to drive cultural change, It’s a mixture of both the carrot and the stick, because the way I put it is – and someone told me this, a law firm, he said that in their drive to push things forward, they recognise that if you’re looking at a group across the whole law firm, for example, as being a hundred percent, all the staff, and 20% of those staff will never get it, they’ll be heavily resistant and they’ll have all sorts of reasons why they just don’t accept any of what we’re saying.
And she’s had to accept that. The 20% of the other end are already on board because they already have a strong moral code or social conscience or whatever driver might be for them, they’re already there. It’s the 60% in the middle who want to do the right thing, but don’t have the tools with which to do the right thing. That’s what is so important when you’re driving cultural change, because you have to be able to leverage whatever burning platforms, is it going to be the business case? Is it going to be that the customers are more diverse? It’s taken me years to appreciate this as someone who does this diversity work outside of my paid role. There has to be an action plan, carrot and stick. People need to be held accountable, there have to be set measurables around how far have we moved, and that will vary depending on the organisation, and setting corporate values that are linked in to this.
There’s a whole piece, but without linking this to people’s performance reviews, for example, and saying, “You won’t get your pay rise, you won’t get your full bonus,” and hitting people in the pocket. For some people will actually be influenced by that. I think you need to have a comprehensive approach to driving cultural change within any organisation. It’s a lot harder to do this in certain business models because private practise law firms are a fee-earning environment. So I was called the fee earner as are all lawyers in that setting. You are treated like royalty because you are generating fees. Everything lends itself to supporting the fee earners and everyone else is almost secondary to that. That’s a profit centre, so you’ve got to guard that.
When you move into industry, like in the pharmaceutical industries, it’s completely different. The sales guys, who are the equivalent of the fee earners, everyone’s bonused in the same way. Everyone is motivated by how well the company does irrespective of whether or not they are directly generating revenue. That’s a crucial change because this is a sense of shared vision behind reaching that common goal. Whereas unfortunately, what happens in fee earning environments is that because of the actual structure, it’s a lot harder to have that. So moving industry was an inspiration for me because I saw that this is what is possible, but it means challenging the fee earning and other similar environments where the actual system, the actual way that revenue flows, etc, doesn’t lend itself well to the utopian ideal that I described earlier of having a comprehensive plan around driving cultural change.
Julia: I think that that needs to be thought through very carefully in terms of what kind of organisation do you want to be, which ultimately is going to attract the best talent as a whole. Interesting, really interesting. Can I just pick up on the question about allies? Actually I would love to bring you in here Reggie as well, about what allies can do and what role allies play in this as well.
Reggie: For me, allies play a huge part, sometimes even more than those that are being affected because sometimes those allies are the voices that are going to be heard. For me, I can only use personal experience for this, and Quintin Price, for those that know the story, he’s the guy’s door that I knocked on. He’s a white middle class man. And I turned up at his house, I’m a black kid from a working class environment. I didn’t have much growing up at all. The disparities between our lives were so evident at face value, but he was able to see past that. It’s been six years now, taking me from this kid from a council estate that was excluded from school and had trouble with the law and all the rest of it into a corporate finance analyst that travels the world to help change.
It was because of his visibility and the guidance that he gave to me. He was able to show me what was available, number one, and because of that, he gave me the guidance and I was able to go out and do whatever it is I needed to do, and that essentially transcended into hope. In terms of allyship, I feel like the allies that make a difference are the ones that really provide visibility, that provide that guidance and essentially provide a hope that things can change. I use my personal example because it’s this quite close to me, but those principles can be translated into the topic of institutional racism, becoming translated into various different things like in the workplace, it’s really making that type of change.
Julia: It’s wonderful hearing Donna’s comments earlier about having somebody whose voice is really listened to. I’m sure that was absolutely the case in yours where other people woke up. Can I ask you, did you find that because of the calibre of your ally and the seniority of your ally, that others also not only took notice, but also changed their behaviour, which would be ultimately hopeful?
Reggie: 100%. At the time, Quentin was the senior managing director for BlackRock, which is the largest asset management firm in the world. I’ll never forget the first day I went into the BlackRock. I was the youngest person that was inside. I was a college student and I looked a mess, my tie was really short, I had this Nike side pouch and I didn’t go there prepared at all. Someone asked, “You’re quite young. How did you get here?” I said, “Quentin allowed me to come to Inset day.” And as soon as I said his name, their face lit up. “You know Quentin?” I don’t know about hierarchy and I don’t know about how it works, but you can see the difference in people’s faces when you say those names.
Having someone of that stature be my sponsor and be my ally, it was able to just provide me with confidence, number one, because I’ve got someone that at the time, was looking after 954 billion pounds that believes in me. I didn’t even know what finance was, I didn’t know what an index was. I don’t even know what half the things I’m doing now were at the time. But he saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself, and that allyship was crucial for my development because it’s almost like if someone who I have met for, at the time, about a month, believes in me, then how can I not believe in myself? If you were to use that example into the whole concept of change, if someone that is an ally believes in change so much, that almost provides us with hope that we can change something as well, so having those people with a big voice does make a huge difference .
Julia: To everybody who listens to this, we really have listeners all over the world who are literally sitting there thinking, I wish I could do something. I wish I could do something. Actually, right there, right there is one thing that you can do tomorrow is to become an ally, to get out there and actually take people into rooms and really sponsor them, and if you have the voice that people are going to be listening to, it is your responsibility. Actually having a voice is a privilege, it’s not something to abuse, this is a great way in which to inspire hope and change across organisations as well, which is really exciting. However, of course I was saying earlier, you’ll also notice in my energy and my voice, that I’m an optimistic, hopeful individual.
As I’ve been trying to pick my way delicately through this conversation, there is a conversation to be had about language. Donna, I would really love to come to you on this question about people who are concerned about the terminology and the language around race, and naturally perhaps wants to back away from it. My argument is get straight and then get it wrong. And if you do it with the right intention, somebody will set you straight as well. But Donna, may I come in to bring you in at this point, to hear your thoughts about language and race?
Donna: I think it’s an interesting topic. At a global level, I can understand why government institutions are trying to find the label, and I believe that’s what it is, a label to try to group all these people from different and varied backgrounds. That’s hard because what they’ve come up with is BAME, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic. But I think as Paul said earlier on during this discussion, that covers a myriad of different people from different cultures, from different backgrounds. In some ways, it’s not recognising or giving recognition to the fact that as people, we are all very different, with different combinations of life experiences, different things that have contributed to our lives. For instance, my mother has often told me that my great, great, great aunt, who I clearly never had the pleasure of meeting, was white. But you wouldn’t know that from looking at me because clearly when people look at me, they see a black woman. My concern about language is it avoids or gives an excuse for people not to spend time to get to understand other people and their background.
I think as we look at the world and intersectionality and integration becomes more and more of what we see today, if we fail to take the opportunity to get to know people and their backgrounds, then we will continue to exclude people who will feel that they have no home whatsoever, where they can’t relate to BAME as a title that reflects them, they can’t relate to white, because they themselves are not white, and we are just providing, unfortunately, an opportunity where we never get to the point of looking at anti-racism, it’s something that no longer exists in our society because we’ve excluded people from society and the ability to express themselves in a way that is comfortable and that others will listen to.
Julia: We’ve talked in our conversation there about talent in, and also ascension, we’ve talked about culture, we’ve talked about allies and sponsorship, talked about the language of inclusion and avoiding some of the easy traps that perhaps some people may well fall into, but I’m interested in discussing the topic of retention. Now, in a previous episode, we interviewed Janet Thomas, who was a previous President of Women in Banking Finance. When she started her tenureship, she was very optimistic and very engaged by the number of black young executives coming into the cohort of the membership of women in banking and finance. When she left a matter of years later, she was really quite mortified by how many had not stayed in the industry. I would like to talk about this topic of retention. And I think it’s something we have to really think about. Paul, I would love to come to you first, if I may, on your thoughts. What could be done in terms of encouraging staff to stay when they’re on their career journey?
Paul: I think Reggie nailed it when he used the word hope a bit earlier. You come back to, how do you give people hope? But I think if people have hope, and you could use different words, like belief in themselves, confidence, not only in themselves, but in the organisation, because a lot of focus is put on the ability of individuals to progress within organisations, but perhaps not enough is said about the ability of organisations to develop in a way that allows that to happen more readily. I think if people feel that they’ve got the opportunity to explore their own boundaries of the career and to get new experiences and the organisation will give them that and then give them training and the right feedback so that they can then get promoted, then they’ll stay. Why wouldn’t you? People leave because that hope isn’t there and that is born out by their experience, unfortunately.
I think you can say all the right things, and obviously there’s lots of organisations who are saying all the right things now. The question is going to be in a year’s time when we look back and say what you said a year ago, did you then do anything and did the people who are in your organisation believe what you said? Has what you said been born out in terms of the actual actions that have occurred? I think if people feel that the promises have been fulfilled over time, they’ll get greater confidence and they’ll want to stay, but it’s not just an overnight transition. People will have to see the realities of my daily work life is better, I don’t experience these microaggressions so often. I start to get better opportunities in terms of the jobs I get allocated or the projects I get allocated in my work. I get rewarded for that in terms of pay and promotions.
Then over time, I see my colleagues getting the same, I see recruitment of people who are going to be role models above me and all in all, I look at the world in a different way because I now have hope that my career will develop and I’ll stay as a result, whereas before perhaps I felt that maybe that wasn’t going to happen, so I’ll try my luck elsewhere, where, ironically, the grass is very rarely greener on the other side either, because this is a very broad problem. So I think organisations have to think very carefully about how they interact with their people, and I think question ourselves about why should our people, why should our black people in the organisation trust us? Why should they have hope in us, why should they stay? If they can ask those questions, hopefully by talking to those black people as well, then they’ve got more chances of creating the conditions under which those people will want to stay and progress within the organisation and enrich that organisation in the process.
Julia: Reggie, from your experience of being at the younger end of the career journey, and as you look ahead and you talked earlier about hope as well, hearing what Paul’s just said – is there anything you would add to that, to what organisations really need to think about when they’re talking about young black talent?
Reggie: Yes. I think education is one of the first things. From a person that started off my career, when I can see that an institution is really trying to educate themselves on to what is happening in the major issues and we’re trying to target the issues, for me, it’s promising and it does give you that sense of hope. For instance, I remember I watched this interview, and I’m not going to name shame for obvious reasons, but there was a journalist that asked someone in politics the question and said, “How many black politicians are in the cabinet?” They responded with something along the lines of, “There are a lot of BAME representation in cabinet, for instance Rishi Sunak and Priti Patel.”
They always masked away in the acronym of BAME and for me, if that happened to my organisation, I wouldn’t be too pleased in that because the specific issue that was asked is about black employees, let’s say, but then it’s digressed into this category of BAME. Back to the point I was saying on education, if I can say that my organisation is trying to really target the issue and it’s really showing a genuine care, that for me gives me hope that if I stay here, then that’s really going to benefit me in my career development.
The next thing is sponsorship. Sponsorship goes a long way, sponsorship and mentorship. I know that they are two different things, but they do go hand in hand. If me as a young employee can see that, there is the right sponsorship behind me and I am just given the right mentorship in order to develop in my career, again, there’s no reason for me to leave. I’m being compensated rightly. There’s tons of studies out there to show that, black employees are sometimes disproportionately paid less than fellow counterparts. Simple things for rectifying that, again, will allow retention to happen. If I’m having a coffee with my colleagues and I find out that we do exactly the same work, but he’s paid more than me, then it does pose questions inside of my head as to why that is the case.
Just ensuring that the colleagues are rightly compensated, again, is one thing to bear in mind. Also back to the point that Paul said, just career development. If I could see that I am going to be developing in this organisation, in this set up, then there’s no real reason for me to depart and if I can see that there is the right visibility, there is the right representation there for me, that does give me motivation to carry on and want to develop my career. I think all these are incumbent upon the sector to really put in place and if institutions put that in place, then it will definitely help with retention, and particularly from an interest standpoint.
Julia: Wonderful, great. Well, this has been an incredible conversation. It’s been nearly an hour. I’ve been more than happy to extend the usual length of the discussion, because this is so important. It’s been really rich with insight as well, thinking about leadership and culture and allies, and sponsorship and mentorship, also thinking about the carrots and the sticks and the structures and the organisational change that can happen, the personal accountability as individuals and leaders in the industry. Then also thinking about how we can support career journeys, and actually lean in and step up to the conversation. This isn’t a conversation, it’s actually an action plan as well, which has been incredibly useful. I am very mindful that we could have talked for so much longer.
One of the things I do want to talk to you and I will commit here and now to, is I want to talk about the race inequality report. I also would like to talk about self-care and mental well-being during this time as well. Funke, you talked at the very beginning about how personally this has affected you and your family as you’ve been watching the news and events and what that has meant in terms of your personal review of everything that’s going on, but also what this means, of course, is we go through our daily lives as well. I would love to just wrap up with just some final closing comments, really. We’ve talked about hope, we’ve talked about being optimistic for the future as well. I would love to hear from each of you about what are you optimistic about? Donna, perhaps I could come to you, first of all.
Donna: Optimistic. I think I’ve always had a huge degree of optimism because I found that essential for my ability to navigate both my corporate career, but also my desire to achieve a better life for myself and be able to support and help my family as well. Optimism, I believe, is ingrained in who I am. If I look at the need for optimism beyond myself, I think we’re at an inflexion point where we have the ability to commit as a human race because I think as Paul said, it’s going to take all allies working together for racism to be eradicated, but above all, for equality, for everyone to prevail, that if we put our minds to it and we call out those who are not prepared to step up and contribute fully to the fairness that we know should and must exist in the human race.
That there is nothing that we collectively can’t change. I think we also have to recognise that this is a journey, lots of people are calling for lots of changes very quickly. My concern about that would be that it’s going to be window dressing, but if we commit and we as leaders, because I believe everybody is a leader in some capacity in their lives, to showing people how to make equality a reality, then really there’s nothing that we can’t do.
Julia: Wonderful. Thank you very much, indeed. Paul let me come to you next for your closing comments and reasons to be optimistic.
Paul: Well, I’m always an optimist anyway. I think the bit that gives me optimism, as I’ve said earlier, I think is the fact that these conversations are happening and they’re happening at the top of organisations in rooms full of mostly white people as well, but happily not solely white people, because that wouldn’t be much of a conversation. That’s the point of all this. So I’m very optimistic about that and the fact that we might just be getting to a tipping point where more people really understand. And it’s frustrated me for many years that some very brilliant people that I know simply haven’t taken any of these points on board before about structural inequality and there’s thought that because they’re good people, then everything will be alright. And it isn’t, and it won’t be. And I think people are understanding that, and it’s a negative thing for people to have to understand, but it’s a necessary thing for people to understand.
So I think we’re getting past that point where people can deny that this is a problem anymore in large part, and we’ll have enough to mend my hope to achieve some progress. It serves no value at all to anybody in society to have a whole group of people, all the people like Reggie, as he says, there’s many people like him for them not to have the opportunities that their talent deserves. That’s not only a waste from their perspective, it’s a waste from all their perspectives, including the organisations. We’ll get somewhere if people talk more, if they trust each other, if people are willing to give their organisations the benefit of the doubt for a bit, when the organisations show genuine move towards change, so I hope that will. As I say, it’s a two way street. Both the individuals and the organisations they work into have to commit to work together on that, and that first step is talking. And that’s why I’m optimistic.
Julia: Reggie, let’s hear your final thoughts about what you’re optimistic about.
Reggie: I think the main thing I’m optimistic about is definitely being part of the movement that would hopefully allow a lot more people without looking at myself, and as from the environment that I grew up in, entering these institutions that quite frankly change things like… I mentioned it before, and I think Paul echoed it as well, there are tons of people out there that are like me, that are bright, they are so tenacious, they are so willing, they’re driven, they have all the right skill sets to make a fantastic career in these corporate institutions, just as an example, but just because of where they live, or just because of the colour of their skin, they won’t be given that fair level playing field and that cuts so deep because that could have been me.
I don’t want people to go and knock on doors, I don’t want people to go and do something that is so sporadic or out of the box just so that they can have their voices heard. I feel like it should be more for people to have a particular opportunity based on how competent they are, and not by other factors like what cluster they’re from or any other factor. I’m really, really optimistic that there are going to be a lot more people that look like me, are from the same background as me getting those opportunities and they won’t be too and far between.
Julia: Funke, let me bring you in for your final thoughts, your reasons to be optimistic.
Funke: I have two reasons to be incredibly optimistic. The first reason is that this environment has led to a more widespread acknowledgement that racism actually exists. The second reason is that on the flip side, I feel there’s a more widespread acknowledgement that privilege exists because until now, we’ve spent so much time trying to actually explain that racism does exist and being under so much pressure to tell our stories and very draining activity. But now there seems to be more awareness to the fact that it’s not down to us as black people to take on that education piece, it’s already difficult living with the day-to-day challenges. There’s a much better understanding of the responsibility being put on someone who’s not black to read the right books, to look at the resource, of which they are in abundance.
I think it’s wonderful. I think that books like White Fragility really, really help allies and others who are privileged to understand the nuances around that privilege. And that’s what makes me really optimistic. The education piece is much better managed now, and it takes the pressure off us. It takes the emotional data they told us, having to find and remember very upsetting examples of things that have happened to you and relive them every time you’re telling the story. We don’t feel we have to do that as much anymore. So that gives me huge hope for the future.
Julia: It has been the most fantastic conversation. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to all of you individually, for all your thoughts. We’ve looked at this conversation from many, many different perspectives, many different lenses. As I said before, lots of very practical insights and recommendations, but also bringing very personal career journey perspectives as well. Paul, Funke, Reggie, Donna, thank you all so much for being on the show today. My name’s Julia Streets, and thank you, as always, to everybody for listening to DiverCity Podcast.
Kieron: This episode of the DiverCity Podcast was produced by me, Kieron Yates, on behalf of Julia Streets Productions. Thanks to Cynthia Akinsanya for her insights. You can find out more about the guests on this week’s show on our website, divercitypodcast.com. Whilst you are there, you can also sign up to our newsletter for all our latest updates.
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