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Despite progress, we need to do more on diversity – Rowntree

by: Richard Rowntree, Paragon Bank's Managing Director of Mortgages
  • 04/02/2022
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Despite progress, we need to do more on diversity – Rowntree
I recently spoke at the Diversity and Inclusion Finance Forum (DIFF) leadership event, hosted by Mortgage Solutions.


The inequalities seen in our societies have been the source of intense debate for some time and creating more diverse and inclusive societies is something that has been brought to the forefront in recent years following high profile incidents that have shocked and saddened people from all backgrounds.

Clearly, these are very sensitive and important subjects, so I feel that such events are vital because they provide us with the opportunity to have open conversations and delve a little deeper into the subject, discussing its nuances and what we feel are important areas of focus.

Last year, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) published a discussion paper on diversity and inclusion in financial services.

The paper’s authors found that initiatives are helping to drive change on different demographic factors of diversity with promising trends for a more equal gender split – in the UK, a paper on gender, age and nationality diversity in UK banks, published by the Bank of England, found that the proportion of women working in authorised positions in the UK banking sector rose from nine per cent in 2001 to 20 per cent at the end of 2020.

Globally, financial services sector performs above average in this area and a 2020 report by McKinsey & Company revealed that in terms of female representation at executive level, financial and professional services is one of the fastest growing sectors.

Unfortunately, progress has been slower when we look at ethnicity. Amongst FTSE 100 companies, there has been a decline in the number of black leaders and the number of those on a path to senior management, according to early findings from the Green Park Business Leaders Index, released in 2021.

Social mobility key area to consider

While I’m sure that few would disagree that addressing these issues of inequality are extremely important, there are other, less obvious, areas that we need to tackle too.

One of these is social mobility, an area that has seen limited progress, according to FCA.

A deep dive study of eight firms published by the City of London Corporation and Bridge Group found that 89 per cent of senior roles are held by people from higher socio‑economic backgrounds.

Addressing this issue is one of the primary aims of the Socioeconomic Taskforce, an initiative I have oversight of through my membership of the Taskforce Advisory Board.

During our discussion, a fellow member, Simon Reichwald, who is strategic lead for talent at Connectr, pointed out that while the sector has made some encouraging progress in improving the diversity of those entering into financial services, more work needs to be done to enable those from lower socio-economic backgrounds to progress.

To do this we need to avoid creating an environment where everyone not only looks the same but also thinks the same. Instead of focusing on whether someone ‘fits’, progress should be determined by fundamental aspects of a person’s suitability for a role, such as their ability and attitudes.

Allowing people to be themselves and feel comfortable in putting forward their viewpoints is something that should be encouraged at all levels because it helps to ensure that our decision making is more closely aligned to the many different perspectives that exist in our varied society.

I feel that the mortgage industry is a wonderfully supportive community and with fewer barriers to entry, the industry should focus on enabling people from all walks of life to progress. If we build on what has already been achieved the mortgage industry could be the leading light on social mobility and diversity and inclusion, more broadly.

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