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Salesforce equality panel calls for reverse mentoring and local role models

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett May 21, 2017
Salesforce hosted its World Tour London event last week. Madeline Bennett went along to hear a panel of experts discuss the role of equality in the workplace, hosted by the firm’s own Chief Equality Officer, Tony Prophet.

A diverse group of people sat on an equality panel at the Salesforce World Tour in London last week, sharing their thoughts on how to support diversity and offering up practical tips based on their own experiences.

Chaired by Salesforce's Chief Equality Officer Tony Prophet, the first challenge identified by the panel was the ability of more traditional industries to prove they are open and supportive of diversity at work, in order to recruit and retain the best talent.

Richard Beaven, distribution director at Swinton Insurance and co-founder of Link - the LGBT Insurance Network, explained that the problem really hit home for him when he attended a recent careers event at the University of Nottingham. When he asked how many students in the audience wanted to work in financial services, all 106 hands went up; when he posed the same question about the insurance sector, all hands went down:

That’s terrifying for me because these are really talented young people that we need to attract. We just look like a really boring, really dull organization that’s all very stereotypical and unfortunately it is.

Compounding this problem, Beaven noted, is the fact that half of the insurance industry who are currently employed will not be there in five years:

We need to bring in new talent. But how do we bring the talented future into our organization if we have an organization that appears to be exclusive and an organization that doesn’t look to be welcoming. How do we attract talent into our industry which is going to dramatically change over the next few years.

Jackie Fast, managing director at Slingshot – a sponsorship agency she set up with £2,000 and a laptop in her bedroom at 25 years old after she could not get a job in the industry – believes that industries like insurance are putting the wrong people in charge of resolving the talent attraction problem. Fast said:

I take offence at young people not being given the opportunity. They may not have 50 years’ experience but they may have the right skillset or the enthusiasm. In five years, the majority of people won’t be there. Yet you probably have a board that doesn’t have anyone under 50 or 60.

If you’re talking about change, and you’re saying you need to bring on talent, and yet you’re not bringing on people at that level to look at how you bring on younger talent. There’s a disconnect between what you want to achieve and putting that in practice.

Dr Vivienne Ming, theoretical neuroscientist, technologist and entrepreneur, had some more bad news for Beaven and those in similar industries. She pointed out that creative talent wants to be celebrated and feel like they are working somewhere special – and that place is unlikely to be the insurance sector. Ming said:

Whether it’s fair or not, when they see a stodgy old industry or see they see a certain look to the makeup of a company, they say this isn’t a special place, this isn’t in touch with the creative people I want to be around. If you can’t attract this talent you might as well start planning the transition to whatever business model is going to replace you.

Fast agreed:

Younger people really want to work for a business that cares about the world. They are more invested in organizations giving back than I’ve ever seen before. That is something that businesses are going to have to take into account. Diversity and sustainability is becoming so important. If you’re not creating the roles or creating the company that people want to work for, they will go and they will start their own.


The panel also expressed frustration with the continuing struggle to get businesses to take diversity seriously and understand it has a value. Beaven said:

I’m bored of having to keep remaking the business case. We don’t keep having to make the business case to hire straight white men, but we do. But we do keep saying that diversity and inclusion are important and have to keep making it.

Dr Rhian-Mari Thomas, managing director and chair at Barclays Green Banking Council, agreed, noting that some diversity initiatives seem to be stalling. Focusing on women and gender, she cited various studies proving the more women firms have on the board, the better the innovation and performance of a company. But even though women now make up 25%  of FTSE 100 board positions, this has now stagnated and is yet to reach the hallowed 30% point.

Thomas was referring to the 30% Club, a scheme borne of the idea that having one token minority on a board does not work, and that 30% is the trigger point to drive behavioral change and different outcomes. She added:

I’m also slightly bored of the whole thing at this point, but it isn’t really working. The men have a tight grip on the positions of greatest power. There are still more people who are chairing FTSE 100 boards called John than there are women.

Ming cited a Credit Suisse report she had helped to produce, which indicated a three percent increase in return to shareholders among companies who have one woman on the board; increase the number of women to three and the return shoots up by five percent. She explained:

It had to do largely with malfeasance, over-aggressive investment strategies, bad acquisitions. There were some systematic differences in having women.

But it was women coming into roles on the executive team – not at board level -that had the best impact. Ming explained this was where companies managed to close the wage gap most effectively.

The panel finished by offering some practical advice for individuals and businesses wanting to try and change the situation. Beaven said:

For me, it’s a lot about diversity of thinking. I worked at Reuters, a really truly global company, and it’s diverse in every metric. We had the best meetings because of the difference in thinking. I never sat in a meeting with everyone from the UK, I never sat in an all-male meeting, I never sat in a meeting with everyone around the same age.

We thought about risk differently. How do we get diversity of thinking into organizations. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got 30% women and however many men because if they all think the same way, and make their decisions the same way, you’re not going to have a better business outcome.

Beaven advised others who have reached influential positions to be role models by finding ways to talk to industry, and also going into schools to tackle issues like racism and homophobia; and creating an organization for a particular group if one is lacking. Beaven explained how Link was set up by himself and three colleagues when sat in the pub, and it now has 600 active members.

Thomas is also a fan of role models, preferably those who are locally accessible and just a few steps above different positions rather than just the super achievers, and believes reverse mentoring and educating yourself with a group you may not have immediate affinity with pays dividends:

I signed up to be a Spectrum ally [Barclays’ LGBT group] and have had a succession of reverse mentors, young gay and lesbian people who help me better understand some of the challenges about what I can do using my platform as a senior leader in the organization to make it more inclusive and make them feel more comfortable. To improve their productivity at work because they’re not using up so much of their emotional bandwidth pretending to be somebody they’re not.

She also encouraged everyone in the audience to help someone else fulfill their potential by sponsoring one person:

You all know someone who’s great at their job, who maybe isn’t getting quite the opportunity or the profile or the network that they could. Help them do that. Use your network to shout about somebody else that you know, be they a woman or an LGBT colleague or black or ethnic minority. Let people know how fantastic they are.

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