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Banking on Socioeconomic Diversity: Intersectionality in Financial Services Hiring 

Banking on Socioeconomic Diversity: Intersectionality in Financial Services Hiring 

October 2023


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Many companies mistake filling roles with women and people of colour as the ultimate diversity achievement. This is a misconception, and the key lies in understanding intersectionality.

First coined by American academic Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw back in 1989, intersectionality describes how race, class, gender, and other personal characteristics ‘intersect’ with one another and overlap. People often have more than one characteristic subject to discrimination or hostility. 

An example of a diversity movement that has been criticized for a lack of intersectionality are the various feminist movements of the past, which have been criticized for being too focused on the experiences of White, Western, heterosexual, able-bodied, and middle-class women. 

Third-wave feminism is attempting to correct this historical imbalance by recognizing intersectionality and embracing all women within the movement, including those who were not assigned female at birth. However, the history of feminism illustrates that even with a positive desire to challenge the status quo, inherent bias stemming from our own lived intersectional experiences can influence the steps we take towards diversity and inclusion. 

Intersectionality is about recognizing that certain combinations of traits can lead to compounded disadvantages. Take the example of a Black woman who identifies as LGBTQ+ and comes from a lower socioeconomic background—her challenges are far more intricate than those faced by a straight, affluent Black man. The mistake lies in filling all your vacancies with the latter while proclaiming success in diversity and inclusion efforts. It’s a false portrayal. 

Socioeconomic Diversity in the Financial Services Industry

The intersection that is the most often neglected is socioeconomic diversity. And the financial services sector is particularly guilty of this.  

  • Half of financial services employees are from a higher socioeconomic background. 
  • Financial services employees from a lower socioeconomic background progress 25% slower than their peers without any difference in job performance.  
  • Financial services employees from a lower socioeconomic background experience a class pay gap of £17.5K per annum. 
  • Nine in 10 financial services senior roles are held by people from higher socioeconomic backgrounds. 
  • About half of the top positions in financial services are held by White individuals from wealthier backgrounds, and almost one-third of these senior roles are occupied by males from similarly privileged backgrounds. 

The problem is clear: there’s a hiring bias in financial services—one that favours individuals from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, especially when it comes to who gets promotions and who progresses to the C-suite.  

6 Steps Financial Services Organisations Should Take to Drive Social Class Inclusion

1. Keep track of social class metrics

It goes without saying that the first step is to actually measure and track the percentage of your employees who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Without this information, you have no idea where you stand. The problem is that financial services companies aren’t tracking socioeconomic data. In fact, only 14% do.  

The best way to obtain this information is through anonymous employee surveys that only ask employees to disclose their department and level in the organization. You should ask questions about the respondents’ parents’ occupations, the type of school the respondent attended, and first-generation graduate status. Ensure that the responses are aggregated and not traceable back to individuals.  

Most importantly, once you have obtained the data, take action to address the imbalance whilst also considering broader intersectional diversity. Collating and analysing data is only helpful if it is a catalyst for change. 

2. Do away with degree requirements where possible 

People from lower socioeconomic backgrounds often face barriers to higher education due to financial constraints. 

Financial services companies need to reconsider degree requirements, especially for entry-level positions and roles where training can be provided on the job. While not applicable to all positions, removing the degree requirement for suitable roles is a key step to take.  

On top of removing degree requirements for roles where degrees aren’t truly necessary, companies should stop automatically favouring graduates from expensive or prestigious universities. These institutions often remain inaccessible to those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, except for a few exceptional cases. 

3. Focus less on prestige and more on potential

When sorting through résumés, resist the urge to quickly judge based on work or educational history alone. 

Consider the example of Sam Bankman-Fried, a graduate from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who is now facing criminal charges after the collapse of FTX, versus industry giants like Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg, and Branson without university degrees. Who would you rather hire? If you hired based on résumé prestige alone, you’d end up hiring Bankman-Fried. 

To make informed hires, shift from prestige-focused scanning and emphasize broader skills. Evaluate qualities like teachability, enthusiasm, ambition, manageability, leadership potential, humility, ethics, and dedication. Prioritize skills-based assessments and structured behavioural interviews over résumés for effective candidate evaluation. 

4. Team up with higher education institutions and nonprofits 

Even with the approaches above, attracting candidates from lower socioeconomic backgrounds can be challenging, especially if your company seems intimidating due to affluence or size. 

To address this, consider partnering with higher education institutions to establish a direct pipeline for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to join your workforce.  

You can also offer sponsorships or bursaries to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, ensuring a post-education commitment to your company.  

Don’t write off the value of collaborating with nonprofits either. Organizations like The Social Mobility Foundation, The Early Careers Foundation, or MyBigCareer empower individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and facilitate their employment opportunities.  

5. Pave the way to your C-Suite

While hiring employees from lower socioeconomic backgrounds for entry-level positions is a positive step, true inclusion means having them in your C-suite. But this transformation is unlikely to be immediate. It’s about setting up a talent pipeline that nurtures individuals from these backgrounds in entry-level roles, preparing them for C-suite positions in the future. 

For this, you’ll need the full support of your current C-suite. Each C-suite member should fully embrace the idea of shedding any preconceived biases and be enthusiastic about supporting career growth for these individuals. If they don’t, the question should be asked whether they belong in your leadership team. Ideally, your C-level leaders should also be willing to mentor, coach, and guide employees from lower socioeconomic backgrounds for future leadership roles. 

Career progression should be determined by ability, rather than the occupation of your parents, or where you were born or went to school. 

Career progression should be determined by ability, rather than the occupation of your parents, or where you were born or went to school. 

6. Ask for help

Picture this: You’ve just conducted an anonymous employee survey on socioeconomic diversity. To your dismay, the results reveal a significant lack of diversity, with most managers and senior leaders coming from privileged backgrounds. What’s your next move? 

The solution is clear: ask for help. No individual (or company) can thrive in isolation, and help is readily available for those who seek it.  

Support can take various forms, such as learning from financial services companies that are successfully addressing this issue, partnering with diversity and inclusion consultants to refine internal processes, or leveraging an upcoming C-suite vacancy as an opportunity to appoint someone from a lower social class background. For the latter two options, executive search and leadership advisory firms like Stanton Chase can provide valuable aid in both consulting and executive search. 

About the Author

Eleri Dodsworth is a Partner at Stanton Chase London and serves as the Regional Leader for the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging practice group for the EMEA region. She also represents the firm on the AESC Diversity Leadership Council for Europe and Africa.  

Eleri is a passionate advocate for equity, inclusion, diversity, and belonging. She strongly believes in helping her clients build diverse leadership teams, seeing diversity and inclusion as essential values that significantly impact business performance. Eleri specializes in placing leaders at the C-suite level, divisional directors, and non-executive directors in listed companies, as well as in private equity, family-owned, and privately owned businesses. 

Executive Search
Financial Services
Diversity Equity Inclusion and Belonging

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