Washington Update – Diversifying Our Most Important Asset

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By Rob Nichols, ABA President and CEO

They say you can’t improve what you don’t measure. That is why ABA has established a dashboard that shows the gender, ethnic and generational breakdown of our workforce, from the customer service operators to the C-suite. This snapshot is a critical first step in a self-assessment of progress towards our goal to be the kind of diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace that attracts and retains the best talent. It shows where we are and where we have room to improve; for example, it shows our staff is 39 percent non-white, 37 percent Gen X and that 45 percent of SVPs and up are women.

We want top talent for the same reason banks—many of whom have landed on “great place to work” lists, as ABA did last year—do: Because it helps us succeed. And there’s no denying that success is boosted by a diverse workforce.

I appointed a staff task force in 2017 to explore how ABA can enhance our own approach to diversity and inclusion, and the group’s report made a strong business case for taking our efforts to the next level. Consider that 43 percent of millennials—now our largest generation—is nonwhite, and that the U.S. is projected to not have a single racial or ethnic majority by 2055. That alone tells you that if you don’t have a diverse workforce in the fairly near future, you won’t have a workforce. Studies have also shown that companies with greater gender and ethnic diversity are more likely to outperform those with less.

But the most important case for diversity is simple: Ensuring your institution’s employees and leaders reflect the communities they serve—and treating all employees equitably, making them feel included—is the right thing to do.

Banking leaders have told me they wholeheartedly agree, and some are further along in their DE&I efforts than others. Some, for example, have landed on Forbes’ Best Employers for Diversity list, while others, including those operating far from diversity-rich cities, are still grappling with attracting diverse talent. Remember, though, that workplace diversity isn’t just about color; it’s about ensuring you have a range of perspectives and experiences informing your decisions. That can come from anyone whose background is different from yours. Think gender, age, military service, disabilities, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, etc.

The good news is banks don’t have to figure all this out on their own. There also are a host of organizations that are eager to share their insights to help you get it right, and ABA offers training, conferences and resources in this space—all cataloged at aba.com/Diversity. In addition, the Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion at the eight financial regulatory agencies held a summit last fall where banks and others who are further down the path towards a model DE&I workplace shared best practices related to employment and procurement practices. The ideas exchanged ranged from participating on the boards of colleges, utilizing minority and women owned recruiting firms and offering internships and mentoring to students at local low-income, minority-majority high schools.

Similar suggestions were included in testimony during the first hearing, held in February, of the new House Financial Services Diversity & Inclusion subcommittee—a panel whose very existence is a testament to the social, commercial and economic importance of this issue.

Carla Harris, vice chair of wealth management at Morgan Stanley and a popular speaker on issues related to diversity and inclusion, offered her own advice at ABA’s 2018 Annual Convention in New York. Among her suggestions:

  • Most fundamentally, check your unconscious bias; we all have it, and we can all benefit from
    training on how to spot it.
  • Make sure you lead in an inclusive way, soliciting views from all and making employees feel
    valued, seen and heard. If your staff is not feeling this way, you’ll likely be challenged in both
    retaining and attracting more diverse talent.
  • Be fair in your distribution of assignments so everyone has a chance to grow and no one is at a
    deficit when the next promotional opportunity arises.
  • Be intentional about making sure staff have the right sponsors, who have a far greater impact on
    advancement than mentors.
  • Finally, remember the pace at which our environment and competitive landscape is changing and
    take a step today—even if it’s pressing pause before you fill your next job opening—towards
    ensuring you’ll emerge as an employer of choice tomorrow. Nothing will influence your bank’s
    future success more than the women and men who run it day-to-day.

I would add my encouragement that you set up your own human capital dashboard. We all have a sense
of where we’d like our institutions to be two, three, five years from now. But whether our goals are
financial, business or diversity in nature, we won’t know how close we are to reaching them if we don’t
measure our progress.

For more information on the ideas and resources mentioned here, visit aba.com/Diversity.


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