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DIFF podcast: Businesses need to ‘live and breathe’ diversity – Dean

  • 10/04/2024
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DIFF podcast: Businesses need to ‘live and breathe’ diversity – Dean
Diversity should be an integral part of a firm’s culture to ensure support of underrepresented groups, it was said on the Diversity and Inclusivity Finance Forum (DIFF) podcast.

Speaking on the April episode on overcoming intersectionality, Sonya Matharu, senior broker and mentor at The Mortgage Mum, spoke of a time when she felt discouraged by someone working in the sector. 

Intersectionality relates to the different characteristics one person may have that could disadvantage them and result in compounding inequalities. Matharu spoke from the perspective of a neurodiverse woman of colour.

At the start of her career, Matharu sought help from an older professional in the sector for advice on how to further herself. 

“I did find it really tough to market myself, get myself out there… I felt like I was doing everything I could,” she added. 

Matharu said she wanted insight from someone “older and wiser”, but they told her “Sonya, you’re just going to have to come to terms with the fact you’re going to have to work extra hard. There’s going to be people that don’t want to work with you just based on the colour of your skin, and there’s also going to be people that won’t take you seriously because you are a young woman.” 

She said that made her feel disheartened because she was not writing a lot of business at the time. This ignited her insecurities, she said, and made her want to quit the profession. 

She later met Sarah Tucker of The Mortgage Mum, who mentored her and helped to restore her confidence. 

Andy Dean, head of intermediary support and new build at Nationwide, said Matharu’s early experience was “absolutely shocking” and highlighted the importance of coming across people like Tucker. 

He said many in the sector had similar stories of meeting someone who mentored them and motivated them to go further, adding: “How many people are actually out there that haven’t had that person who’s encouraged them and have had the unfortunate experience that you had initially, and they’re lost because of that?” 

He said the answer was for businesses to live and breathe the culture of diversity and build awareness. 


Promoting the diversity of roles and people 

When asked how to encourage a more diverse range of people to join the financial services sector, Matharu said professionals promoting what they do through social media and sharing what their roles entailed helped. 

She said she noticed business development managers (BDMs) were doing more of this, which also helped to showcase the broad range of roles in the sector. 

Dean said he saw more diversity across the BDM sector as well as the wider industry, but said more needed to change at senior levels. 


Celebrating and nurturing neurodiversity 

Matharu was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 10, and in her school reports there was a “recurring theme of ‘Sonya really wants to do well, but…’”.

She struggled with exam anxiety and demonstrating her skills within the educational system, which she described as “frustrating”. 

While at school, Matharu failed her mock exams but passed the real tests months later and realised that she just needed the right support. Her aunty helped her to understand the curriculum better, which led to her passing. 

Bharat Sagar, the host of the podcast, said dyslexia was now described as a “superpower” and questioned whether corporate firms were missing out on talent by overlooking people with it. 

Dean said the level of awareness regarding neurodiversity and living with dyslexia was “far greater than it’s ever been”. 

He added: “Breaking down some of those stigmas and barriers has been a key part of that. Corporate organisations now genuinely see the importance of having diverse skills, approaches, [and] ways of thinking within their organisation.” 

He said bringing this awareness to the fore broke down barriers for people who wanted to be given a fair shot and helped leaders in organisations understand how to address this. 

Regarding dyslexia, Dean referenced a comment Matharu made about BDMs during a recent industry Lunch and Learn event. 

“Reading reams of website information that can be very wordy at times; I think all lenders have got a part to play in trying to boil down their website content to make it as clear and concise as it can be… you called out the importance of a BDM and how you value the work that they do and how they can support you,” Dean said. 

He said it just took a phone call and discussing a case to gain a better understanding. 

Matharu said: “I am the queen of double-, triple-checking. I have to be, being dyslexic… one of the ways I do that is to contact my business development manager… and then I get that reassurance and peace of mind.” 

She said with dyslexia and other forms of neurodiversity, there could be anxiety around how things were interpreted and understood. 


Watch or listen to the podcast hosted by Bharat Sagar, ambassador at large at AE3 Media, featuring Sonya Matharu, senior broker and mentor at The Mortgage Mum, and Andy Dean, head of intermediary support and new build at Nationwide. 


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The Diversity and Inclusivity Finance Forum is a network which aims to discuss and promote key ideas and activities to create a more balanced and fair mortgage industry.

If you would like to become a member, please get in touch with  for more details.

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