Workplace inclusion has become a more mainstream conversation, but fundamentally, buy-in from senior leadership is critical, as are financial sector events that bring people together to share their experiences.
This is what Oris Ikomi, early careers engagement manager for Personal Investment Management and Financial Advice Association (Pimfa), who sat down with ESG clarity for Black History Month.
Ikomi joined Pimfa in August this year and aims to educate financial organizations on how to engage with young people, from primary and secondary school students to university graduates, to increase diversity among new starters.
From discussing how to inspire young Black individuals and amplify their talent to providing insight into what the financial sector can do to further diversify its workforce, Ikomi made it clear that educating both underrepresented groups and hiring managers is crucial is important.
How does Pimfa actively support and celebrate Black History Month?
Authenticity is the key word for Pimfa. This means organizing events that align with our overall goal of promoting diverse talent within the industry. For example, inviting panelists from black backgrounds who work in the financial sector to speak at events is a great way to break stereotypes and inspire black talent.
Last week I was present and spoke at the 1000 black boys event, designed to empower black young boys to build their self-confidence and career aspirations. One of the panel sessions featured three teens who had participated in the 1000 Black Boys program speaking about their experiences and career aspirations. Events like these help inspire underrepresented groups to pursue careers in finance.
Why do you think Black History Month is so important?
In recent years, people in Britain have started to recognize people of black descent, for example by looking at their success in the workplace. The conversation has shifted from “let’s make sure companies recognize Black talent” to something more mainstream. Black History Month helps keep the conversation going and continue to work towards a more inclusive environment.
After Black History Month, how can companies promote an inclusive environment for Black professionals early in their careers?
There are a number of things companies can do after this month. For example, internal employee resource groups are useful for focusing on Black talent needs, such as organizational culture in the workplace. This ensures that there are equal opportunities and policies in the workplace. It also allows companies to advance black talent by introducing mentorship programs that ensure individuals receive full support along the way.
Fundamentally, there must be buy-in from the senior leadership team. It should be part of their overall long-term strategy – something they consciously think about – and not just something they can tick off their list. Transparency is key. The why is also important. Why do companies want to represent young black talent? This helps eradicate this ‘check-box’ mentality.
What is the best approach to recognizing Black History Month in the workplace?
Events that provide people with the platform to share and exchange their experiences in the financial sector, for example a panel chat, are very useful. An effective way to gain insight is to focus on the lived experience of people of black background, as this helps companies recognize and implement initiatives.
For example, for the Pimfa D&I awards last year, Pimfa launched the Make it campaign. This is a series of videos with testimonials from people from different backgrounds that could help employers recruit different generations across the board. Knowledge – and sharing that knowledge – is so important. If you come from an unrepresented background, there is often no one to provide information on how to get into the industry. These events could change that.
What problems prevent young black talent from being represented in the financial sector?
It’s not because people from underrepresented backgrounds don’t want to work in the financial sector, it’s because of the way people are hired. There is a lot of nepotism, which is the main reason why you see the same people working in the industry. But now I’m starting to see an increase in the number of work experience programs available to everyone, and an increase in blind recruitment. Many companies do not have a standardized, objective selection process. If not, bias influences decisions, worsening racial equity in the industry.
Prejudices mainly point to the lack of representation in the financial sector. There is bias among customers – many people hire people from similar backgrounds to them – as well as underrepresented groups who think they don’t belong in the financial industry due to a lack of representation. It is crucial to educate young black talent about the opportunities in the sector and what specific companies specialize in.
For real tangible change to happen, it has to happen at the top. A decision needs to be made by senior leadership about what they do as an organization to ensure everyone is represented. That’s the long-term goal. If you focus on affirmative action initiatives that support Black talent without doing things at the top, it won’t be sustainable.
The ultimate goal is to achieve inclusivity and equality and reach a place where psychological and physical barriers are removed.
How do you encourage Black individuals to apply for positions in the financial sector?
Companies running Positive Action programmes, insight days and mentoring programs are good starting points. The outreach element is important. When reaching people, take the time to build relationships with young Black talent. Many recruiters organize career fair days, which is good, but it is especially useful for building a bond with potential employees.
Social media is a useful instrument here, for example by collaborating with influencers who already work with young people. More and more people of black descent are being recognized as successful – you have so many celebrities representing this. It is an advantage for the industry to represent black talent to bring in potential new customers.
Policy communication is a large part of what we do. Knowing the challenges within the industry, we want to lead the way in taking Black talent on a journey to change their perception and own preconceptions about the industry.
Are you seeing improvements in racial diversity in the industry?
The industry must reflect the society it serves. There is still a lot of work to be done, but we are moving in the right direction as conversations are happening and people want to open up the industry.