Marissa Ellis, the Diversily founder joined Julia Streets and Jane Welsh to record an episode of the DiverCity podcast. It is all about diversity and inclusion in financial services. The podcast seeks to shine a light on positive progress, call out areas requiring further focus, and offer lots of ideas to help drive change.
Have a listen or if you prefer reading here is the transcript.
Series Four, Episode Five Transcript
Julia: Hello. My name is Julia Streets, and welcome to DiverCity Podcast, talking about diversity and inclusion 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 Jane Welsh and Marissa Ellis.
Jane Welsh is an independent consultant, and a founding member, project manager, and board member for the Diversity Project co-leading their gender work stream. Jane started her career at the London Business School before moving to Russell, and then onto Watsons, now Willis Towers Watson, riding through the ranks to lead the indexation research team. She served on the executive committee for the investment consulting business with additional responsibility for oversight at the firm’s inclusion, diversity, and leadership initiatives.
Jane, welcome to the show.
Jane: Thank you.
Julia: Marissa Ellis is a strategy consultant, business advisor, and the founder of Diversily. Her experiences included working with blue chip companies, start ups, accelerators, FinTech digital innovation, service design, and financial crime compliance. At the end of 2017 Marissa founded Diversily, and created the Change Canvas to help engage more people in a diversity inclusion conversation, and to provide a framework to accelerate progress.
Marissa, welcome to the show.
Marissa: Thank you Julia.
Julia: As always, at the start of the show we invite all our guests to take a minute to tell us what they’re focused on. Jane, let’s start with you.
Jane: I’m working on the Diversity Project, which is an industry wide initiative for the investment and savings industry to try and create a more inclusive place for people to work. It’s about sharing best practise, and it’s about working on initiatives that will make a difference.
Julia: Fabulous. Beautifully succinct, may I say as well. Wonderful. Marissa, let me come to you. What are you working on?
Marissa: Thanks Julia. As you mentioned, through my organisation Diversily we’ve created something called the Change Canvas, which is a simple but powerful framework for helping organisations to drive change, and our focus at the moment is really around extending the reach of the canvas. It’s being used by accelerator programmes, large organisations, small organisations, and D&I practitioners. It’s also being used at events, it’s being used at workshops, it’s a great way for strategy development and action planning. Our focus at the moment is about extending the reach, but we’re also now working on the next level of detail to really support organisations with that change. What does good look like? What does that framework of potential change look like, and how can we help organisations to accelerate that change?
Julia: I’ve been really looking forward to this conversation, because it’s a blend of the high level “Let’s drive change across the industry.” Along with the practical, which is wonderful.
Jane, you were saying about where Diversity Project started from, and I’m mindful, of course, it’s wide reaching this work as well. Tell us about how did it come about, and what are you seeking to achieve?
Jane: It actually came about as a result of a lunch I was having with a lady called Sarah Bates, who is a chair of St. James’s Place, and a lady called Alexandra Haggard, at BlackRock. This would be December 2015, and we were having a very nice lunch, and we got onto the topic of where have all the women gone? Because we had a sense that earlier on in our careers there was a high proportion of women in senior roles than there appears to be now. We can’t prove that, because we don’t have the data, but we just had a sense that we haven’t moved in the right direction.
We then got onto wondering whether we would even get a job in the industry these days, both because of the way that companies recruit, the kinds of universities they go to, the kind of courses they focus on, and the hoops that they expect students to jump through. But also the image of the industry, and we worried that that was perhaps putting off diverse talent from applying.
We then had a more positive thought, which was, we knew that individual firms were doing some fantastic work around inclusion and diversity, and thought, wouldn’t it be great if we could share that knowledge, so that we could raise the game for the whole industry? And also perhaps work on initiatives that no one firm could do on its own. That’s really the Diversity Project.
Julia: I love this notion of combined positivity, really, because as you say, there are lots of pockets of really positive change. Can I just ask you in terms of where did you see the greatest areas of positivity, and where did you see some areas where people said, “Actually, we’re just a bit pessimistic about this, actually, let’s focus here.”?
Jane: Well I think there have been lots of initiatives around gender. Not always successful, but there’s been a lot of focus, and a lot of talk about gender. Perhaps less action than we’d hoped. But there were whole areas where people were just not having a conversation at all, so ethnicity, disability, neurodiversity, all other dimensions of diversity weren’t being talked about at all. We want to raise that conversation, we want to encourage a conversation about what does it take to be truly inclusive, rather than focusing in on just one dimension of diversity.
Julia: How is it structured? Because you’re the co-chair, or a co-leader, of the gender work streams, I understand. How many other work streams are there?
Jane: We’ve got 14. Lots of different groups focused on different dimensions of diversity. We’ve also got a series of groups that are focused on different career stages. For example, we’ve got a group that’s looking at early careers. How can we attract more people into the industry, and create the environment that they want to work in? We’ve got another group looking at returners. If people take a career break in the investment industry, it can be very hard to get back in. How can we make it easier for people to get back into the industry? We have a whole bunch of different groups focused on particular dimensions.
Julia: I always love it, because it takes a sort of light bulb moment, almost, before people begin to realise that there’s an opportunity out there, but of course it takes a village for other people to step up and run so many different working streams as well.
Marissa, let me bring you in at this point, because as you always say, you had a light bulb moment when you said, “I’ve got to do something about this. There needs to be initiative.” Talk us through what was the driving dynamics at the time.
Marissa: Sure. I guess when I talk about a light bulb moment, the reality is there were actually two switches that went on in my mind. The first was recognising that there’s a problem, and the second was stepping up and saying, “I’m actually going to do something about this.” I think that we have to recognise that we’re all on a journey, and I think those light bulbs are going off in other people’s minds at different points in time. It’s really around trying to encourage that so we can shine a light for more people to take action.
What happened for me, I blame everything on this one event that I went to at the end of 2017. I turned up, and as a woman in FinTech, I was surrounded by white men. As a woman in FinTech, this wasn’t unusual. There was nothing strange about this. That’s been my career, being surrounded by white men, and I’ve had a wonderful career. I’ve had a fulfilling, I felt supported. But there was something about this event that resonated for me, and something clicked into place.
The reality was that it had come at a time in my life when I’d been doing lots of reflection in terms of personal impact, and what I wanted to do. There was a lot going on in my mind. It had also come at a time in my life when I had emerged from the crazy world of juggling young children and work, which for any listeners out there who are doing that, huge respect for you. It’s a minefield. I had got to a point where my children were slightly older, and I had a little bit of head space, so I was thinking about what the potential could be. But I was also very aware, through my own personal experiences, about what the challenges are. Having that insight, in terms of these challenges, and the potential opportunity just made me think that actually we need to do something about it.
I started thinking about what that could look like. I was also very conscious about the different experiences that my children were having based on their gender. All of these things came together, and I thought, do you know what? It’s time actually to recognise that not only am I a leader, a manager, a coach, a mentor, I’m actually a role model, and I actually have a responsibility to inspire other people who may not consider a life in FinTech, a life in technology, a life in financial services. That actually there is an opportunity there. There is a great career that could be had. I hope that through sharing my story, and through the very practical tools I’m creating, I will hopefully make some small step in the mass of change that is happening to inspire people to either join the industry, or do more within the industry, to make it more diverse and inclusive.
Julia: Jane, it seems like you want to come in there.
Jane: I just think that we share a lot in common. That actually this is about sharing best practice, it’s encouraging the whole industry and individual firms, and individuals to step up and create a platform for people’s voices to be heard.
Marissa: Absolutely, and when I was listening to you speak earlier, Jane, something resonated there with me in terms of the canvas that I’ve created. It’s all about a shared framework, and it’s all about coming together and sharing best practice, and ideas. I do a lot of work in the compliance world, and in the compliance world a lot of the time organisations are coming together, because they recognise that actually you collaborate, you achieve more. I think it’s very much about that, and creating the right environment to enable that to happen.
Julia: One of the things we think a lot about on this show is about how does the financial services industry project itself to the outside world? If we’re going to compete for talent, do we arguably attract the skills that we need today and tomorrow? You’ve both come from very strong organisational development backgrounds, if you’d like, either in-house or actually in your consulting careers today.
I’m really fascinated on your views about how workplace culture has changed. I mean, Marissa you started talking about family life and the career journey, and then Jane you were talking about some of those work streams going through the career journey as well. Do you see that workplace culture has changed?
Jane: I think there has been a change in the 30 odd years that I’ve been in the industry. It is less hierarchical, it is less deferential, but I don’t think the industry, and by the industry I mean asset management and investment consulting, those are the bits that I know best. I don’t think it’s made the strides to be more modern as perhaps some other industries have.
Attitudes towards smart working, or flexible working, I think we’ve got a lot to learn from other industries. I think collaboration is still a relatively unusual concept. There’s still a sense that we’re all competing with each other, but in this area I think by working together we can be more powerful and can affect change. I think there’s still work to be done to create the modern workplace, which will attract the talent of the future.
Julia: It’s quite interesting, because I think the conversation around diversity is driving the collaboration. That perhaps might, as we talk about the reasons to be cheerful, might be a driving force to drive greater collaboration in other areas as well.
Marissa, what are your thoughts around organisational cultural change?
Marissa: I think there has been some progress. I sit at an interesting intersection, because I’m within the financial services with very large organisations, but I’m also in the start up world with much more smaller, dynamic organisations. In both of those worlds I think here has been some progress in terms of flexible working, and I think flexible working can do a lot. I think some organisations say they’re flexible, but it turns out they’re very far from flexible.
I also think that there’s a long way to go. I think the organisations in terms of collaboration, with FinTechs and large organisations, they’re starting to have to do that for business benefit. FinTechs are much more innovative, and can move quickly, and they’re coming up with all this wonderful technology, and large organisations need to leverage that.
I’ve been having conversations with organisations about using the Change Canvas, not for diversity and inclusion, but to facilitate those conversations about collaboration, and how we can all work together. I think that there is this growing appetite to change, If we move back to the diversity and inclusion space, I think that the will is increasing, but there’s still a lack of what is it that we’re going to do.
In my view, it’s a simple equation. Awareness plus intent equals change. I think that the awareness piece is growing, I think that it’s not just because I’ve suddenly become active in this space that I am hearing more conversations. Like when you break your leg, you suddenly notice everyone on the street’s got a broken leg. I don’t think that’s what’s happening. I think that there is an increased discussion on the topic.
I think the intent is changing as a result. I think that the drivers for change are becoming much more around, well this is not just the right thing to do for equality, this is the right thing to do for business. There are huge business benefits of doing this. I think that’s what will drive the change. If we talk about why this is a good thing to do for business, to realise the business benefits.
Julia: I’m wondering whether that is going to be a compelling reason for people to stay engaged in the diversity and inclusion. One thing that I’m concerned about, are we running a risk of, there are ‘flare’ moments, like Me Too, for example, and The Presidents Club. How do we keep the conversation going in a way that remains resonant, and relevant to people in the business world to be engaged in the diversity and inclusion conversation?
Jane: I share that concern. I think there is awareness, and I think there is intent. But the senior leadership of organisations have got a lot on their plate. There’s increasing regulation, there’s increasing pressure on the industry in all sorts of ways. I worry that the diversity and inclusion piece will be squeezed just because of the capacity at the top.
In the middle of organisations, which is often where some of the challenges lie around line manager behaviour and attitudes, they’ve got a lot on their plate too. I think it’s important that organisations create some space to allow the focus on inclusion and diversity to play through, because it’s going to take a long time. It is not a quick fix.
Julia: Are you aligning the conversation with the commercial reality? For example at one end of the spectrum, going back to the world FinTech, it’s very easy to talk about diversity in the context of agile working and agile practises around building technology. Because you need to have diversity around a central problem in order to build it, break it, challenge it, fix it, measure it, hone it, etc, in order to be able to bring products to market faster.
It’s interesting when you talk to FinTechs because they tend to, to a degree, say, “Yes. We get it, because that’s exactly how we’re going to compete and thrive.” But in larger organisations, my personal views are, we need to align it much more keenly with the commercial realities of what people need to do.
Do you think we’re close to achieving that, or are we still miles away?
Jane: I think there is an increasing sense that in order to really understand what’s going on in markets, and to make sound investment decisions, you need different viewpoints. You can’t have everybody who’s come from the same university, studied the same degree, followed the same path, because they will not spark the risks. I think there is increasing awareness of that.
I met somebody only the other day who said, “Oh, I only recruit physicists into my research team, because they’ve got the analytical skills I’m looking for.” I had to really challenge them to say, “But isn’t that dangerous? That perhaps you do need different voices, different perspectives if you’re going to avoid major mistakes?” I think there is awareness, but when it comes to actually recruiting people there is still a danger of recruiting people in your own image. It’s not necessarily being put into action.
Julia: Some of the things we’re often questioning on the podcast is about the dynamics of what accelerate the pace of change, as well. In my mind, an alignment with a commercial ambition is one of the things where people go, “Okay, no I get it. There’s going to be a commercial imperative, or commercial benefit.”
Do you see any other contributing factors in the industry that are going to drive that, and accelerate that pace of change?
Marissa: I think you can take quite a simplistic stance and say, “If we’re going to drive change, if we’re going to accelerate progress, it’s about more people doing more things.” If the pace is dictated by the D&I experts who are trying to drive change, versus, there’s tone from the top in organisations saying, “This is really important, we genuinely believe in it.” People within organisations are not only empowered to drive change, but they want to drive change, they’re educated so that they understand the benefits. One of my biggest bugbears, and I guess one of my inspirations for starting Diversily, is that why have I become knowledgeable about a subject that through my own experiences , why, when I was learning about business development, and I was learning about product management, I was learning about how to grow businesses, why was this not a fundamental part of the education?
Now that I can’t think in a different way, every time I’m part of something I think about the perspectives of the people in the room. I think about the blind spots that we might have, and I think that if we can embed that as a fundamental business skill, then I’d really think that we’re not just asking the minorities and the experts to drive change, we’re asking everyone to drive change for the benefit of everyone. I think that’s really where the opportunity lies.
Jane: I think there are a couple of other things going on as well, particularly in this industry. First of all the regulator is taking a larger interest in this, they’re looking for diversity, and they want to know what organisations are doing. The government, obviously, with things like the gender pay gap, the ethnicity pay gap, may come through. That’s an addition pressure to take this issue seriously.
And then the clients are asking more questions. The asset owners are also asking more questions of what are their fund managers and consultants doing around diversity, and indeed the underlying companies that they invest in. I think those are additional pressures that will help push this forward.
Marissa: Yes, I completely agree. I think more and more organisations, and individuals within organisations, because of this raised awareness are saying, “Well actually, what does this mean for me?” And then suppliers are starting to become more demanding. I think the regulation, in terms of the pay gap, that drives the transparency in terms of the data. Again, because of my background in data analytics, one of my biggest passions is, well let’s use the data to inspire the decisions that we make. I do think there’s a melting pot of many things coming together.
Julia: Let’s take a moment there to invite Robert and Cynthia into the discussion with some research that they found.
Cynthia: In 2018 the UK Financial Conduct Authority published Transforming Culture in Financial Services, a discussion paper containing a series of essays from industry leaders, practitioners, academics, and regulators.
Robert: The paper covered four themes, Is there a “right” culture? The role of regulation in managing culture. The role of rewards, capabilities, and environment in driving behaviours. And driving cultural change.
Cynthia: The paper calls on firms to use behavioural science to guide incentives and cultural change, and to look beyond the role of leadership in affecting change by also looking at the role of middle management.
Many of these areas are frequently discussed on this podcast.
Robert: Across many industries the percentage of women in senior roles is declining globally. According to research by Catalyst, a global non-profit helping to build workplaces that work for women, in 2018 women held 24% of senior roles globally, down from 25% in 2017. 25% of global businesses have no women in senior management roles.
Cynthia: The industries that don’t have women in leadership roles include manufacturing, energy and mining, software and IT services, finance, real estate, corporate services, and legal.
Julia: Thanks, Cynthia and Robert. The links to the research can be found on our website, divercitypodcast.com.
That’s where you can find all our episodes and sign up for early notifications of future recordings. Please do follow us on Twitter @divercitypod, and DiverCity Podcast is also available on BrightTALK and all good podcast channels.
Marissa, you were just talking there about data, and I know Jane you came armed with lots of data. Why don’t you share some with us?
Jane: Last year New Financial did some wonderful research. A meta analysis of the research out there on diversity within the asset management industry. They identified, through a number of different studies that underlay that, for example, only 1% of fund managers are black. And that compares with, I think, 40% of the population of London being black or BAME. And the fact that only 4% of funds in the UK are managed solely by women, whereas 85% of funds are wholly run by men. The rest by mixed teams.
We’ve got a long way to go, and that data really focuses the minds of senior leaders. This is a data driven industry, and presenting the data really does focus the mind.
Julia: Actually, that’s a beautiful link back to you Marissa, because you were saying earlier about embedding the diversity conversation. Almost as a critical success factor of driving change, and I know you think about this from a project manager’s perspective, or a project management perspective. Data must be at the core of that.
Marissa: Absolutely. I think my influence is a lot around product management, and product management is all about finding that unique offering for customers that meets their individual needs, and to do that you need to understand your customers. I think that there is an analogy in the D&I world around understanding your employers. I think that there is so much that can be learned from the product management discipline, and I think it really falls into three categories. One is around data, and using data driven insights. I think people analytics is an under utilised space. I think that there’s more that can be done in terms of using the data we have to drive decision making.
I think another area is empathy, and that is, for me, connected to this concept of employee experience. If you look in the product management world you’ve now got new jobs that didn’t exist, say, 15 years ago around customer experience, or user experience. All they’re focused on doing is understanding need, and building empathy, and then creating solutions that absolutely meet those needs. I think if we can understand our employees, understand their needs, and recognise, for example, that men and women generally have a different relationship with confidence, so let’s build that into the way that we support them.
I think the third area, that we can take from product management, is the concept of the road map, and the idea that we can’t do everything tomorrow, it’s simply impossible. The analogy is you need to eat the elephant in chunks, and you build your road map by prioritising. You understand the needs of different stakeholders, and you build a road map that takes you out into the future. You define your long-term goals, but you have clear things that you’re doing each month to get you in the direction of where you want to go.
Jane: I completely agree with that approach, because again going back to that New Financial research, what they found was by talking to diverse talent in the industry there was a mismatch between the barriers that they experienced in progressing in their careers and the initiatives that many organisations were pursuing around inclusion and diversity. By listening to the people who were affected by the issues we can create a better road map.
Julia: I think that the truth is the voice will always come from the people who are effected, arguably, so hearing some of that come through. Then I also think about the enormity of your challenge, Jane, because you said there are 14 different work streams. There the road map must be essential, because otherwise you could just get into a turbulence of, well there’s so much stuff we should be doing, and how do you actually make sure that it does happen?
Jane: Inevitably you have to prioritise. There are certain key things that we’re working on at any one time. But there’s so much energy in those underlying work streams, and people are trying things, and that’s I think where we will advance most.
Just a quick example, in the ethnicity work stream there are some individuals there, who, for many years, did not want to be seen as coming from an ethnic minority. They just wanted to be judged on their own merits. But now as they are senior leaders, they realise they need to be role models. So that’s changing people’s minds about what does a senior person in the industry look like. It doesn’t have to be that white man any more. I think there is change, and we want to capture all of that energy in those underlying groups.
Marissa: That’s so interesting to hear that, because that was my story. I hated being described as a woman in tech. That was the story I shared earlier. I think you’re absolutely right, we’ve started compiling this framework, this list, of all the things you could do, because we wanted to take away the excuse for, “Oh I just simply don’t know what to do. I put the job out there, and no one replied.” You know. We wanted to take away the excuses, and we’ve got the list of literally hundreds of things that can be done. We’re calling it ‘the Onion’, at the moment, where you start at the middle with the leadership and the culture, you then work out to look at the employer experience, you then take a step further out looking at recruitment or how you get people into your organisation, and then one step further is looking at the ecosystem. Not just thinking about your organisation in isolation, but actually how do you fit in with the ecosystem in the industry.
By creating this framework, and then the various different things that can be done within each of these four categories, we’re helping organisations to prioritise. You know, what is it that they’re going to do in each of those areas, and I think that helps to provide both the focus and the direction.
Julia: What are you optimistic about? As you look at that framework that you have. I love the onion. the Onion of Life.
Marissa: It’s a working title. I don’t know if we’ll be keeping that.
Julia: It will get you crying, no that’s not the right way to go. But I am very interesting in what are you optimistic about?
Marissa: I am optimistic about three things. Firstly, the genuine will to collaborate. Since I’ve started Diversily, there really has been so much support and optimism for the work that I’ve been doing. That makes me feel very optimistic. The second thing that makes me feel very optimistic, is this growing level of awareness. I talked before about this awareness plus intent equals change. I genuinely think that that is changing, that awareness is growing. The final thing that makes me feel optimistic, which is actually the most important thing, is about the potential upside. By creating diverse and inclusive working environments we create better businesses, we create better solutions, we create a better industry, and we create a better society. The upside is just so up, which makes me feel optimistic.
Julia: Jane, let me bring you in there. When we think about going back to your original lunch, where we started today and said, “Where are all the women?” As you reflect on what’s happened since then, and look ahead, what are you optimistic about?
Jane: I’ve been so impressed by how organisations have engaged with the Diversity Project. It is the easiest sell in the world, to go into an organisation and say, “Don’t you want to be part of this?” We now have 50 organisations across asset owners, asset managers, investment consultants, search firms, and other organisations, all working together. We’ve created a movement really, which I’m very excited about that.
I’m also optimistic, because the senior leaders are in this as well. We have an advisory council, which is made up of chief executives of the member firms. They turn up, and they want to engage, they want to share what they’ve learned, and what best practise is. They’re committed to making a change.
My final point would be we know we can make a better industry for our clients if we embrace diversity.
Julia: Jane and Marissa, it’s been a wonderful conversation today, thank you both very much for joining us.
Marissa: Thanks Julia.
Jane: Thanks Julia.
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, divercitypodcast.com. Whilst you are there, you can also sign up to our newsletter for all our latest updates.
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