Blog: Scottish Financial Services focus on gender

Mark-McFallThis weekend RBS sponsored Britain’s high-profile LGBT annual awards. It is a further sign that the sector is taking gender issues seriousl. Mark McFall examines how the Scottish financial sector is seeking to become more inclusive.

50% of Generation X see gender as being on a spectrum. Many financial services companies don’t even know what that means, never mind being prepared to change tactics to suit customers, and staff or potential employees. Yet, these are the workforce of tomorrow, and the sector must prepare. What better way than to adapt to the needs of those already fighting the transgender battle?

At the moment, inclusion is a watchword for all companies, large and small. However, for it to be more than a slogan, it needs to be at the heart of business, in all forms. It is therefore pleasing to see thatsome organisations are leading the way in spectacular fashion.

The 2016 Stonewall Report, which measures the most inclusive employers in Britain, tells us that M15 comes out top, which may surprise some. In terms of private sector organisations, Lloyds Banking Group leads from the front, recording their best ever performance and taking the No2 spot. With organisations such as RBS, PwC and Pinsent Masons also making the top 40, it seems thatsome financial services and professional services organisations are taking inclusion seriously, and at the same time, really benefitting from recruiting from sometimes hard to reach groups.

To do this they are tackling the issues at a variety of levels. Yes, big ticket gender and ethnicity programmes are bearing fruit, with targets for leadership roles set and well on their way to being met. However, those charging out front are not just focusing on the inclusion or diversity ‘headliners’, but are creating innovative bespoke programmes that specifically target harder to reach groups.

Recently, we hosted a session at our Edinburgh office for financial services companies, and were joined by Lloyds Banking Group, RBS and Stonewall. We wanted to see what other businesses are doing to include the LGBT community in their recruitment processes, and indeed, their workforce. Specifically, we wanted to see how the FS sector is proactively working to reach the transgender / gender non-binary community?

According to Kimberley Bird, Head of Group Risk Systems at LBG and Chair of the organisation trans*formation, 1% of the population of the UK would consider themselves gender non-binary or transgender – and unemployment within this group is far higher than the national average. This can have some fairly specific impacts – why should some people be resigned to a less fulfilling career? In a market where talent is short – particularly in financial services, it would be foolish to ignore potential on our doorstep.

Yet, inclusion policies largely ignore these groups. As has happened with ‘women’ and ‘ethnic groups’, it’s surely right we start to look at groups within the LGBT community specifically, as opposed to a broader brush approach. There are key issues that affect different people within the umbrella of ‘LGBT’ and by understanding these, and perhaps changing some policies, or recruitment techniques, we can open up employment to a more diverse workforce.

This might happen naturally as our children take over our workplaces– these digital natives will naturally think beyond male or female. But that’s too long to leave talented people on the fringes of the workforce.

When we asked our guests, most felt they didn’t receive (or didn’t provide) enough training on gender diversity; almost three quarters didn’t think, or were unsure whether, their organisation worked to proactively make people comfortable within their organisation; and, almost all felt that even attending a short seminar had helped them better understand the terminology used by LGBT people.

Subtle changes can make a huge difference. For starters, there are three key areas we, as a business community need to focus on:

Firstly, awareness – there is an issue. That’s just a fact, and to overcome it, we all need to start asking questions. The challenge is often knowing what questions to ask, and then of course, are we prepared to make the necessary changes based on the answers we get? Do we know who to direct our questions at? There is a whole new terminology which we need to learn to avoid offending without meaning to. All this means many are afraid to start ask the questions in the first place.

However, think about this for a minute. As an employer, we would never ask a woman if she was thinking of having babies – in the main we’ve all been educated that this isn’t appropriate so we just don’t do it. What are the questions that are inappropriate to ask a person that is gender non-binary or transgender? How confident or knowledgeable are any of us in this area? Not very? Well, me neither – which is why I found an organisation that could help with my questions.

Secondly, what policies and training can we put in place? We should all want good outcomes, for everyone. That’s as good a starting point as any. Some people will be better at handling certain situations than others, and the challenge is to try to standardise the approach. Even small steps might make a huge difference. For instance, it’s not hard for women, or ethnic minorities to work out whether an employee is welcoming – we can see that type of diversity by looking in the window. However, the trans community can be a bit more ‘stealth’, and therefore more obvious welcoming signs can be appropriate(hands up if you have a rainbow flag somewhere on your website?).

How can we move past ‘equal opportunities’ and be more specific, more inclusive?

The final leap is to challenge. Challenge yourself, challenge partners, challenge suppliers. Talk about issues and ask the questions. It’s time we really tackle organisations on diversity. I’m a great advocate of ‘best candidate for the role’, but if that position is taken after an inclusive search, then great things can happen within our workforce.

Mark McFall is Group Managing Director at Change Recruitment Group

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