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Series Four, Episode Three: Harnessing exceptional LGBT+ and ethnic minority talent

Timed for release during LGBT History Month, we welcome Matt Cameron, Founder of The Ocean Partnership and LGBT Great, the global investment management industry network, and Hephzi Pemberton, Angel Investor and Founder & CEO of the Equality Group, seeking to widen the range of exceptional candidates from diverse backgrounds.

In this episode we discuss promoting LGBT+ inclusion within the global investment industry, increasing diversity in leadership positions overall, why we need ethnic minority 30% Club-style targets, how to attract diverse talent from other industries and sources, the multiplier effect of investing in women and how some D&I categorisation can present potential barriers to inclusivity.

Hephzi Pemberton

Hephzi is an entrepreneur and angel investor, who believes in the power of good business to transform society. Having previously built and sold the buy-side recruitment firm Kea Consultants and established a social enterprise Kiteka in Uganda, she is now focused on increasing diversity in leadership positions with Equality Group.

Equality Group harnesses the power of diverse leaders across the Finance, Technology and Social Impact sectors. The consultancy service helps companies attract, retain and develop diverse talent, which the Executive Search service headhunts. Equality changes the business landscape by widening the range of exceptional candidates and offering them unique leadership opportunities.

You can follow Hephzi on Twitter @hephzipemberton.

Matt Cameron

Matt launched LGBT Great in 2017 with the vision to create LGBT+ inclusion within the global investment industry. Through the development of insights, visibility and outreach, LGBT Great’s mission is to profile and attract 1000 LGBT+ and ally individuals for the sector in 5 years. Matt holds a BA (Hons) degree in History from the University of Birmingham and started his career working with the investment industry in 2009. In 2015 he co-launched The Ocean Partnership, a recruitment and inclusion firm dedicated to investment industry. His team partners with over 40 firms globally to help increase people diversity and encourage the adoption of more inclusive cultures. Through LGBT Great Matt hopes to inspire the investment industry to open its doors to LGBT+ talent and also to provide LGBT+ individuals with access to opportunities within the sector.

You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattJCam, and LGBT Great on Twitter @LGBTGreat.

Series Four, Episode Three Transcript

Julia: Hello, my name is Julia Streets, and welcome to DiverCity Podcast, talking about inclusion and diversity in financial services. On the podcast, we seek to shine a light on positive progress, call out areas requiring further focus, and offer lots of ideas to help drive change. Today, I’m joined by Matt Cameron and Hephzi Pemberton.

Matt launched LGBT Great in 2017 with a vision to create LGBT+ inclusion within the global and investment industry. Throughout the development of insights, visibility and outreach, LGBT Great’s mission is to profile and attract a thousand LGBT+ and ally individuals for the sector in five years. In 2015, he co-launched The Ocean Partnership, a recruitment and inclusion firm dedicated to the investment industry, and has teamed partnered with many, many international firms to help increase people diversity and encourage the adoption of a more inclusive culture.

Matt, welcome to the show.

Matt: Hello.

Julia: Hephzi Pemberton is an entrepreneur and angel investor who believes in the power of good business to transform society. Having previously built and sold the buy side recruitment firm Kea Consultants, and established a social enterprise Kiteka in Uganda, she is now focused on increasing diversity in leadership positions with the Equality Group. Equality Group harnesses the power of diverse leaders across the finance technology and social impact sectors, helping companies attract, retain, and develop diverse executive talents.

Hephzi, welcome to the show.

Hephzi: Thanks for having me.

Julia: Matt, welcome to the show. It’s been a year since you launched LGBT Great. I’m really interested in what statistics and findings have led you to validate the need for that initiative.

Matt: Hello, I’ve just got to start off by saying how delighted I am actually to be invited in. Thank you for having me. I guess LGBT Great really came as a bit of a premonition really based on my own experience of being within the investment industry. I came to the city in 2009. I’m originally from Blackpool. Single parent family. First in the family to go to university. I’m also gay. I went to the University of Birmingham and did my degree there before coming down to London.

At the time, I think that the city was a very different place in comparison to what it is today. Certainly my first three years of working with the investment industry, for me was a bit of an eye-opener in terms of how un-diverse and also un-inclusive the industry was.

I guess that was the reason based on the fact that the culture within the sector really was a little bit behind. I think the majority or the reason why that is, is because a lot of the industry was the same. I felt fairly isolated, fairly disconnected. I hid who I was for quite a long time. The amount of meetings that I would go to and talk about my girlfriend, and all the rest of it. I just basically felt like I had to fit in.

In short, I was outed, accidentally, and that led me to biting the bullet and coming out for the person that I was. That had a big impact on how I felt when I was at work actually. From then onwards my career rocketed because people started to buy in to me because I was being authentic.

I guess my experience of the industry, some of the things that I recognised and when we were setting the LGBT Great project up was that there’s actually more LGBT people within our industry than we realise. The point is we can’t see them. The reason we can’t see them is because they’re not necessarily out and they’re not visible.

The second thing was that I’d built a lot of relationships with people who were like me, LGBT. From getting to know them it was actually quite apparent that they were considering to look at opportunities outside of the sector in search for cooler, more inclusive sectors.

The third dynamic is, as talking from my recruiter hat here is, we are looking for the first time ever now into a new pool of talent, particularly when it comes to that future talent that we need within businesses. We’re competing for talent within the technology sector, for example. When we go to LGBT communities of talent outside of the industry, there’s a big hesitancy and a lack of awareness around what our industry actually does. The impact of that means that they don’t consider our industry as an attractive place to work.

In building on that theme, there was a number of research at the time which was coming out, which proved that LGBT diversity within an organisational context actually means that the company is able to outperform those that do not. I’m talking specifically about the Credit Suisse ESG research here.

They analysed 270 companies that either had a component of LGBT management, been voted in a potential survey, or have a network. They outperformed the custom benchmark by about 3%. In addition to that, what I was noticing as well is that LGBT acceptance is gradually growing within the UK. There’s more people than ever before now identifying as LGBT. So, up from 1.7 in 2015, to 2% in 2016, based on the Office of National Statistics, which means that there’s a growing pool of talent for the investment industry, if it’s able to attract it.

Just as a final point on this theme, I’ve spent a lot of time researching over the years about the cognitive richness that LGBT talent can bring to business. This is based on the fact that LGBT people have very high levels of all of the qualities that feed into inclusive leadership. I’m talking about empathy, emotional intelligence, agility, the ability to engage a team. There’s research coming out that states, for example, that actually say that teams managed by gay managers have a 56% higher level of engagement within their team, which boosts performance.

In short, there’s a huge opportunity in terms of a growing talent pool. There’s a sector that’s got a reputational image problem. I think if we can bring those two things together, there’s a great opportunity for LGBT to be really great for our industry.

Julia: I completely agree with that because I’ve talked a lot on the show about, as a woman who basically spent most of my career going, “Please don’t ask me what I did at the weekend,” and actually relatively recently has come out. Everything you talk about, completely chimes with my personal experience in the city as well. There’s definitely this sense that the city has shifted quite considerably. Hephzi, you were at Lehman Brothers, I understand.

Hephzi: Yes, I was.

Julia: Now you’re heading up your own consultancy firm and advising how to attract and retain diverse talent. If you look back on sort of the last decade, to what degree do you think the financial services industry has changed? What should we be celebrating as a notable positive shift?

Hephzi: I think there has been some positive change. I think you can see quite a lot of change at the junior, graduate intake levels. I know there have been a number of the larger investment banks have been putting out some clear targets for 50/50 intake classes, Goldman and J.P. Morgan amongst them. So, that’s a real positive.

We’re then going to have to see how that actually gets pulled up through the middle ranks and promoted up to the top. We’ve also seen good progress actually at the very senior levels at the board. The 30% Club, I think was started in 2010 by Dame Helena Morrissey, and we achieved that this year, 30% of women on the board for financial services. That really came about from getting all of the chairman champions on board very early on, and building from there. I think there’s been some good successes at the very top and at the very bottom. I think there’s still a number of challenges in the middle. I still think there’s a lot of challenges in terms of actually the C-suite and the executive level leadership and that’s where we’re particularly focused at Equality Group.

Would we have seen anything quite so radical as sisters being added to Lehman Brothers? I don’t know, but I think there have been some good changes. I think there’s still a huge amount still to do, but definitely some positive momentum.

Julia: What are your clients particularly thinking about when they think about the executive level and the diversity in the executive level, what are they charging you to go and find? Is it as keen a brief as going, “Find me more people who are like this,” or is it, “Just help us with our mix?”

Hephzi: It’s both. There’s definitely searchers who have been bought in with a very clear scope of, “We are an all-male team and we need to get some women on board,” just as a starting point. I’ve definitely had searchers that are just around ethnicity specifically.

Julia: Are you getting more requests like that?

Hephzi: Yes. Definitely, which is good because I think that’s needed. The conversation I think started a lot around gender and probably that’s a good place to start with the sort of 50/50 mix, but it’s definitely not where it should end. What I like to do is actually not just have a limited scope of one type of diversity, I like to look at diversity fully across the board. My focus for clients is to get them the very, very best high performing candidate who also brings diversity into the team.

We are also very interested in mapping out cognitive diversity. How do you look at the data around that and then build on that as you’re adding new talent to a team? Looking more than just skin deep.

As much as possible we want to be broad and then specific, rather than specific and then try and go broad. I think you get better results that way round. But of course, client is king, and so we’ll try and work with them in terms of what they think they need.

Julia: Maybe in a few years’ time we’ll be saying, “The client is also the queen”.

Hephzi: I should start saying that, that would be great, actually.

Julia: The client is queen.

Matt: I think there’s a sense of panic requests as well in the industry at the moment, in that, we are so behind the mix there’s increasing pressure now coming from the government around gender diversity. What I started seeing is there’s real momentum internally around setting up internal teams, recruitment teams that are focused exclusively on mapping out all of the diverse candidates that are in the industry, which I’m in two minds as well as I sort of agree with that.

I think that the problem is there’s not enough diversity in the sector. So, moving one person to another firm, it really is a short-term fix for the firm. What we’re trying to do, and what I’m hearing from you as well, Hephzi, is that actually it’s more about actually how could we leverage talent from unconventional places and how can we start thinking a bit more broadly? But it’s a very difficult thing to do when you have got the client who is king or queen, you know?

Hephzi: I think one of the things that we do quite early on in the search is think around the scoping of a role, because so often there’s a lot of like for like hiring, and that like for like hiring can also translate into, “Okay, let’s find the diverse candidates that are basically doing this job.” Whereas what I like to do is break down the skill set and say, “What is the absolute must have and where can we look for flex? Where can we be creative? Where can we go and find some of that talent from maybe other sub sectors or industries, or where could we look for that skill set in areas that you haven’t looked before?” That has actually been quite successful. The more that we can do that, the more that we can also be pulling in new talent into the industry.

Julia: I think when it comes to finding more junior talent, there seems to be, or it feels like there’s a slight shift of people going, “Okay, so we don’t necessarily need Oxford and Cambridge graduates with a first,” but actually looking into schools and universities right the way across the UK. Exactly as you were saying, Matt, about, let me explain what the industry is all about because there’s this probably that disconnect as well.

I’m just interested in the dynamic between at a board level, particularly if you look at the FTSE 100 companies, they may will be more open-minded to finding senior execs from other industries.

If we’re finding younger talent that come from different diverse pools as well, what’s going to happen in the middle? Do you think that the middle managers will feel threatened by that, or do you think they’ll be open-minded to, “I’m going to welcome into my team somebody who actually doesn’t understand the investment industry necessarily?” Hephzi, let me come to you first, your thoughts.

Hephzi: It is challenging to do that because typically at that middle manager level you’re just looking for sort of pure execution power. Like you know what you’re doing, and you can hit the ground running. There’s also a lot of promotion that’s just happening internally as well. So, I think that is the most challenging part of a team to bring in fresh talent to, or it’s a lot of lateral movement between the same old names.

I think one of the things that I think has offered new potential there is successful returner programmes, especially around the gender diversity point. Getting women back into the industry that might have left, and typically actually them having to miss a few years, but are coming back in at that middle manager level, that’s where you can often see some good new talent coming in and helping to shift the numbers, but also the culture.

Julia: Looking sort of more internationally as well, You both have really fascinating international perspectives. Hephzi, from your previous entrepreneurial work in Uganda, and also Matt because you have clients all over the world as well. Any examples of best practise you’ve seen in other places, or anything we could be learning from other experience elsewhere? Matt, let me come to you first of all, as you talk to your clients around the world, is there a regional focus that we should be embracing over here?

Matt: Yes. I think that the biggest momentum when it comes to LGBT inclusion is definitely going to be from the West, that’s predominantly going to be centred out of London and Europe, but also New York as well. That’s where a lot of the conversations are happening.

There are some really good things coming through. For example, a lot of firms now looking at how they can develop parity with in terms of employment policies. So, have we got equal policies for transgender people, for example? Do we have the same policies that are available to heterosexual people available to same sex couples? There is some of that happening, I’d say within the larger firms, they’re slowly but surely getting up to speed. There are some making visible noises of LGBT as well. Last year was the first time that the investment industry embraced Pride, here in London. It was also endorsed by the Investment Association as well, which was a real change from time’s gone before.

There is that drive now to start what I would say, talking the talk. I think that’s kind of where the industry is at the moment. I think we’re a little way off walking the talk, but certainly there’s some really positive things coming out of the UK.

There’s three asset managers at the moment that are aligned, specifically large asset managers that have aligned to an LGBT focused charity, Just Like Us, who are LGBT Great are also working with as a partner. They’re focused on developing support for young LGBT students in university, in schools, and helping them access opportunities. That’s something that we’re looking to do.

Julia: Is that particularly here in the UK?

Matt: It’s UK, yes, but we are keen to take the message further. I think there are obviously international challenges which are driven by either geographical, political, social, also even religious themes, which act as barriers to LGBT inclusion overall. I probably don’t need to say the stats, but it’s still illegal in 72 countries. It was 74 until earlier this year. There’s been some recent momentum in India with obviously legalisation, etc. I read recently, that students in Hong Kong, in particular, just to give you an example, this is a big diverse city, are facing a real stigma on a daily basis when it comes to engaging with employers.

I think to give you an idea of the social situation there, the welfare system is predominantly delivered by NGOs, which is often religious because of Christian affiliations. The impact of that is that there’s quite a negative social perspective of LGBT. If you’ve got that in society, Unfortunately it’s going to be mirrored within business as well. One size certainly doesn’t fit all.

Julia: I think the fascinating thing there is when I talk to global heads of diversity and inclusion for some of the largest financial institutions in the city , I will start asking them about how did they take their existing policies in the UK and then make sure that those standards, if you like, and those principles are driven out globally as well, which is really interesting.

Hephzi, from your time in Uganda, working with women in business as well, the empowerment of women, I sit on the board of a charity that does a lot of work in Africa, and it just constantly impresses me about how any enterprise, however small, or whether it’s an NGO, that can harness the enthusiasm and the energy, and the power of women in its community, can really drive change as well. I’m fascinated in your insights from your time there.

Hephzi: Well the great thing about investing in women is that there is a multiplier effect. So, that investment in them then is invested in their children, their families, and their local communities. That’s certainly what we’ve seen with Kiteka, which is all about creating access to technology and digital skills, because ultimately, we live in a digital world. It’s very much a digital future.

As often happens, women are being left behind, and especially the world’s poorest women. Women are at the bottom of the pyramid, not even having access to the most basic of technology, which one of those handy pieces is a smartphone. We simply started by creating access to smartphones on loan, that women running small businesses could pay back on an interest free basis, and then giving them training, business training and basic digital training, digital skills training alongside that.

I’ve seen some fantastic impact as a result of that programme. Women increasing their earnings by about 40% within 12 months, being able to pay for their children’s education. They’ll save up for one of their children’s university education for the first time. Being able to actually move into some accommodation that everyone has a bed and can sleep. Some really great stories that have come out of that. We continue to do that work. I have a small team in Kampala that run the programme, we’ve worked with about 315 women at this point.

We’re continuing to build on the digital skills training, specifically around digital marketing because that seems to be something that our women showed great aptitude for doing. Not only do they promote their businesses, their local businesses, but they’re also developing skill sets so that they can work with other businesses and earn additional income as online workers, which is fantastic.

Julia: Unlocking new revenue streams.

Hephzi: Completely.

Julia: How amazing.

Hephzi: But we see really the success the project has relied upon, some of the things that I think all of the conversations we’re having around D&I rest upon, which is role models, mentoring, training, and that strength of the peer group, and having a strong peer group that can support you, and that you can be learning and developing with.

One of my favourite startups in Africa is a business called Andela, and they’ve been doing some amazing work unlocking the IT talent, especially around coding and engineering talent from within Africa. Sourcing the top 1% of engineering talent, putting them on an accelerated training programme over four years, and getting them to work with some of the largest tech businesses whilst they hone their skills and develop as engineers. Then they get offered full-time opportunities off the back of that.

Julia: Is that for African centred businesses or is that on that an international scale?

Hephzi: No, its international businesses

Julia: Wow.

Hephzi: They work with the Microsofts, the Skypes, the Googles, but they harness African engineering talent, and they’ve just invested heavily in the training and the upskilling of that talent, and then they managed to get the incredible international careers within one of the most competitive industries, which is an incredible initiative. They’ve raised huge amounts of money, and Mark Zuckerberg invested directly, and they’ve just done another 40/50 million rounds. So, I think their upskilling point is essential to look at, and something that we also need to be seeing more of in the financial services industry if we’re going to see the true diversity of talent.

Julia: Wonderful. I think that’s a great moment to turn to Cynthia and Robert for some research to support today’s discussion.

Robert: Inside and Out is designed to help LGBTQ+ students who are graduating in either 2021 or 2022, develop an understanding of the investment banking sector while addressing any concerns they may have in relation to being LGBTQ+ in the workplace. This is an initiative of the Interbank Forum, an industry wide group focusing on promoting career opportunities in corporate and investment banking.

Cynthia: In 2018 the Investment Association published, Bringing Our Whole Selves To Work. The organization’s first report into the LGBT+ experience in asset management, which sets out some key steps organisations can take to create more inclusive workplaces, such as :

Robert: Demonstrating that the firm is welcoming of LGBT+ employees during the recruitment and induction process. Considering intersectionality, so that’s all aspects of the LGBT+ agenda are valued equally. Encouraging heterosexual and cisgender colleagues to participate in LGBT+ networks and events to show LGBT+ colleagues that they have allies within the organisation.

Cynthia: And finally ensuring firms with foreign offices are aware of local laws and social attitudes towards LGBT+ people, and considering how to support and protect employees around the globe, especially those who have to work or travel to countries where being LGBT+ is still illegal.

Julia: Thanks, Cynthia and Robert. The links to the research can be found on our website,

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Coming back to our discussion earlier, we’ve gone off in many different directions, which has been wonderful. I’m thinking a lot about intersectionality at the moment, and particularly pick up on something you were saying, Matt, about going out globally and thinking about the implications of race in society, and particularly for young talent that’s coming through. LGBT+ talent particularly, and the dynamic there, is how do organisations go out and support that talent into the workplace? Love your thoughts on that.

Matt: I think intersectionality offers a really huge opportunity actually for our industry. I think that the problem that we have with the diversity inclusion world is that everyone is put into categories, which gets in the way of what I call allyship, in that we all sort of view each of the based on certain categories.

I guess in terms of LGBT Great, what we’re trying to do is really create this real momentum with our Project 1000 to make visible the diverse talent that exist in our industry, with LGBT or allied talent. As part of that we’re working with a number of BAME role models, for example, either allies or LGBT, and actually using their stories as real beacons to people outside of the industry to say, “Look, diversity does exist in our industry.”

BAME is a particularly difficult area for our industry on the basis that approximately 1% of fund managers, are black. So, there’s a real difficulty. I think things that investment managers can do is actually looking at recruitment processes to actually look at what are the barriers to us getting the talent in? I think there’s a big stigma there around a lot of particularly black candidates don’t have access to the opportunities, they typically come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, which means they fall at the first hurdle when it comes to a recruitment process.

We are seeing some firms now drop assessment criteria, and we’re actually starting to see some great new initiatives like Talk About Black for example, as part of the diversity project that’s actually going out to the local communities and actually talking about and showcasing wonderful people in our industry that are young, that are black, and actually telling their story. Saying, “Actually, we are open to you, come and talk to us.”

There’s great initiative called, Investment 2020, another one of my pieces of advice would be to all firms, if you are looking for new and diverse emergent talent, they’re doing some amazing work at the moment, reaching out to schools, universities, and looking to break those barriers when it comes to recruitment practises. They basically are doing some awesome work and have placed some amazing, diverse candidates into the industry.

Hephzi: I would also say there’s still from certainly research we’ve done at Equality Group, a level of institutional racism that’s out there. From the survey that we conducted with over 2,000 young people, 58% of the BAME young people are told to be more realistic about their career goals. Just over 50% are told to actually pursue a different career to the one that they wanted.

Julia: Was the research focused on the city, particularly in financial services as technology?

Hephzi: No, it was focused on at UK industry broadly. It wasn’t just focused on financial services, but I would imagine one of the careers that they will have been told to be more realistic about would be financial services and technology.

What we see within the BAME community, or I prefer to say, black heritage or Asian heritage communities, is hugely aspirational and hardworking young people coming through. What they really need are, as Matt was saying, the role models and the opportunities, and the networks, and the access. I think there’s a huge opportunity for the businesses that want to create that, to reap the rewards.

Julia: Thinking about some of the younger executives who are on their career journeys as well, who are already in these organisations, I think one of the most heart-warming things that I see a lot of actually is how they’re actually giving a hand down to help people up and into organisations, and mentoring them, and nurturing them through the process, if you like. Do we think that’s going to continue up to board level? Are we going to see it? But that could take a long time.

Hephzi: It can take a long time. But I think, as I mentioned at the beginning of the show, the 30% Club started in 2010, eight years later it had happened. I think we just need good intentions and clear targets, and then to set to work. I think we need to see that happening. We need a similar club for the BAME board level representation. We need it for C-suite executive and for junior intake. It needs to be across the board. It’s possible. It’s totally possible to do it.

Julia: And even put some numbers around it.

Hephzi: Put some numbers around it.

Julia: If you can measure it, you care about it.

Hephzi: Yes, exactly.

Matt: A lot of these things, it can happen as quick or as long as firms want to make it really. There are some great organisations out there that are really well equipped to provide some practical action right now. It just depends whether the firm are going to do it. My advice, and I’m sure as you Hephzi as well, is just get one with it and do it.

Julia: Which sounds like a great, great clarion call as we end the show today.

Matt: Don’t talk, do.

Julia: Exactly. What I love also as I obviously spend time with the young talent coming in, is they’re not without ambition. You know, there’s an incredible wave of ambition, and particularly looking at the results of some of those, of the students as they’re coming into the business, I think it’s a shame not to harness that. In fact, it’s almost madness, coming back to your point of the very beginning about the impact of diversity and why it really matters, and its ability to drive performance, because obviously, particularly in financial services, it is all about performance either to investors or indeed, to shareholders, and ultimately to customers.

Julia: It’s been the most incredible conversation. I have to say, I’ve really, enjoyed it. Thank you both so much for joining us today. Thank you.

Hephzi: Thank you.

Matt: Thanks for having us.

Kieron: This episode of the DiverCity Podcast was produced by me, Kieron Yates, on behalf of Julia Streets Productions. Thanks to Cynthia Akinsanya and Robert Pinto-Fernandes for their insights. You can find out more about the guests on this week’s show on our website, Whilst you are there, you can also sign up to our newsletter for all our latest updates.

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