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Proud to recognise diversity – but just for a month?

Were you proud of June? Did you notice that June was the month to celebrate Pride. Do you know what Pride is? As June ends and July starts, I had to reflect when I read an article by Christer Holloman, founder of Divido. It’s about diversity.

I often look at things from the point of diversity. Growing up, I was in a man’s world …

Back then, a women’s place was in the kitchen, and they didn’t work.

Back then, my brother went to a mixed race school. His greatest fun was to go out at lunchtimes to beat up any kids of colour in the playground. They called it ****-bashing. It was a popular sport back then. Now, decades later, my brother has kids who have an Afro-Caribbean background, and is married to a lady from the Philippines.

At university, I was with a bunch of guys where we all played up our masculinity. We were not men, we were devo!

Note: the video does not start with Warren Buffet in 1978

Nevertheless, one of our men turned out to be gay. I had no issue or problem with that – I grew up with David Bowie – but people still have issues with gender and gender neutrality.

When I worked in business, I often worked with women – after all, I was a marketing guy! – and then it struck me that women predominantly had roles in marketing and human resources. When it came to the core business of doing business, it was all men. And mainly white men. In fact, mainly WASPS.

White Anglo-Saxon Protestant or WASP is a term used in the United States for upper-class white American Protestants, usually of British descent.

Today, the world is the same, but different. Today, the world allows people to be who they want to be. We encourage diversity. If you are a boy and now a girl, that’s fine. If you are from a remote island in the middle of nowhere, but now an experienced businessperson, that’s great. If you are different, you are still my friend.

I wish.

I often enter bank boardrooms, and can see that they are all like me. Old, white, grey men:

Oh, there’s a woman! She’s the CEO’s PA. What about this dye-haired lady? She runs marketing. And the guy at the back of colour? Oh, he’s the janitor.

What should be happening today is:

Oh, there’s a woman! She’s the CEO. What about this dye-haired lady? He runs marketing. And the guy at the back of colour? Oh, he’s the head of investment banking.

OK, OK, I’m being contentious (on purpose) but, in my lifetime, it has been amazing to see the turnaround from hostility to inclusion. We are not there yet, but we are getting there.

We are definitely moving in the right direction, from a world of trolling and hate to a world of peace and love (I hope).

Therefore, in the spirit of keeping Pride alive, I am sharing Christer’s column from Sifted with his kind support:

As a gay man in fintech I thought I was ‘good’ at diversity. I was wrong.

Advancing diversity in fintech relies on us all holding each other accountable.

I thought I was a poster child for diversity in the not-so-diverse world of fintech.

Being raised by a single mother and having come out as gay in my teens while still living in my small, rural hometown on the fringes of the Arctic Circle in Sweden, I have always felt I’ve been an advocate for underrepresented voices. So I was shocked when one day I took a serious look at the leadership of the fintech I founded. Two other white middle-aged men stared back at me.

Given my background, I was supposed to be good at diversity. I thought having the right values would make everything fall into place in my company. Where did I go wrong?

Accountability is key

Whilst it is easier to get diversity right if you adopt that mindset from the start, I don’t want to put the blame for a lack of diversity on startup founders.

Having lived through it now, I understand how far diversity was from my mind when I was trying to raise money and hit those revenue targets. That’s why founders and teams need someone or something external to challenge them and keep them accountable at the earliest possible opportunity.

That’s where VCs could be extremely helpful. But my general experience of VCs has predominantly been older straight white men who have little interest in driving diversity.

As diversity has never traditionally been an important issue during their careers, it isn’t something that they look for when choosing startups to invest in — or indeed challenge startups to work on. VC-backed companies grow — often very successfully — without being asked for a diversity agenda. The vicious cycle continues.

Industry groups have been a bit more successful at providing that necessary accountability. For example, Fintech Finishers, a movement I started, encourages fintech execs to take on endurance races to raise money and awareness for more diversity and inclusion in fintech. There are other great groups in Europe like the European Women Payments Network and the French Women in Fintech meetup.

“One industry initiative that definitely doesn’t help is adopting rainbow logos for Pride Month.”

One industry initiative that definitely doesn’t help is adopting rainbow logos for Pride Month. Most of the time this is nothing but ‘rainbow washing’, a tick box exercise that doesn’t get to the root of the problem.

Recognising that change must start at the top, when the time came to grow my leadership team, I knew I had a window of opportunity to address my past failings.

The first thing was to accept that a more prescriptive process might take longer, we might not get it right the first time, and that is okay. Led by our VP of people, James Weller, we took a closer look at our job adverts, updating the language to be more inclusive. We didn’t want to rely on candidates finding us, so we proactively reached out to the candidates we thought could fit the bill. That obviously gave us more control over the diversity of the final shortlist.

We also activated our network, making them aware of what we were looking for. Our current COO was a referral from our chairman who had worked with her at a previous fintech. I’m pleased to say that our leadership team is more diverse today with a 50/50 split between men and women among the new joiners.

Cause for optimism

People say things aren’t changing, but I am optimistic. I look at Backing Minds and Unconventional Ventures, two VC firms in my native Sweden which have as their explicit mission to find and back underrepresented entrepreneurs.

And conversations around diversity in fintech are helping change the status quo in traditional financial companies.

Since founding Divido, I have had the pleasure of meeting senior executives at more than a hundred banks. If I rewind the clock back to the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ culture that existed just a few decades ago, I see banking execs now are on their own journey towards greater diversity.

Building close relationships with fintech firms has helped them see different working patterns, new staff benefits and the power of a diverse workforce in action. They become advocates for change within their own organisation, embracing new ways of working and adopting new values.

Changing the status quo on diversity means not being afraid to admit mistakes and holding each other accountable. As Pride Month draws to a close, I challenge all of fintech to remember that — even when you change your logo back.

Christer Holloman is founder and CEO of fintech Divido. 

About Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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