• Mike Dugan

In the wake of this summer’s heated political demonstrations and socio-political discourse around racial and gender equality, both in the United States and elsewhere around the globe, financial services firms are under more pressure than ever to ensure diversity and inclusion is a focal point within their organizational identity.

During the COVID-19 pandemic this may seem a difficult task, given that many firms are preoccupied with meeting the challenges and demands of a world transformed by the virus. At the same time, industry research and testimonials from corporate leaders themselves indicate that organizations which value diversity often report more favorable outcomes, both for their employees and their business.

Based on my experience, this certainly holds true. Inclusive work environments foster greater buy-in from employees, motivate teams to perform at higher levels, generate more innovative solutions, and are better suited to succeed on a global scale. Diversity – whether by age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, or culture – should be pursued and encouraged in the professional arena. It will be critical to the success of organizations and their workforce in a post-pandemic world, and here is why.

Diverse Teams Perform at a Higher Level in Today’s Project Economy

As financial services firms continue to organize increasingly around “Change the Bank” and product-focused initiatives, there is also an expanding reliance on cross-functional teams to deliver complex and transformative solutions. Teams comprised of individuals with diverse professional competencies are undeniably better able to operate across business domains while facilitating knowledge sharing between team members. However, there is a great deal of value in building teams that exhibit a high level of personal diversity as well.

Teams that can leverage the full breadth of their members’ identities and experiences consistently perform at higher levels. A 2020 survey conducted by the Project Management Institute found that 88% of project leaders believe culturally and gender diverse teams increase project value, while 83% believe international team members have the same positive impact.1

Which is to say, project and organizational leaders recognize diversity as both an asset and a means to positively engage their talent pools. Now more than ever, organizations and teams that embrace both professional and personal diversity foster a deeper connection with employees, leading to improved business outcomes through lower turnover rates, greater enthusiasm for work, and increased productivity.

Diversity is a Catalyst for Innovation at All Levels

Building teams with a focus on diversity is a good start – but the next step requires encouraging contributions from all team members and creating a dynamic whereby unique ideas and perspectives are incorporated into the solutioning process. To truly drive innovation and forward-thinking solutions, employees should be encouraged to draw from their personal – as well as professional – identities in collaborative environments. Input from a wide array of voices from different backgrounds and experiences assists in generating fresh ideas for new products or business strategies.

Corporate leaders agree: they understand that a diverse, empowered workforce is a key part of a successful innovation strategy. Research published by Forbes Insights shows about half of executives at large global enterprises see a direct correlation between diversity and innovative capabilities, and many see diversity as a necessity for success on a global scale2. Regardless whether viewed at the team, division, or organizational level, diverse viewpoints and ideologies will always drive novel approaches to business and ways of working that are smarter, faster, and more efficient.

Solutions for Global Institutions Require Global Perspectives

Across the financial services industry in particular, firms operate across borders and interact with their customers on a global scale. So, does it not make sense for the teams within these firms to be as multinational and multicultural as the customers they serve? Each country or region has its own way of conducting business, and being able to deploy a team of individuals who can operate across those boundaries provides a massive ‘leg up’ on the competition.

The COVID-19 pandemic presents an additional opportunity as we collectively navigate the largest work-from-home experiment in modern history. For the most part, the experiment has been a resounding success, as organizations have utilized an array of collaborative technologies to work cohesively and continue to meet business objectives. Why should we not use these same technologies to engage more closely with our colleagues across oceans and time zones, deepening our talent pools with individuals who bring new perspectives while showcasing to clients the resiliency and diversity of our workforces?

As businesses and industries around the world continue to adjust to the pandemic and the (current) ‘new normal’ we are presently inhabiting, there exists an opportunity to fundamentally reshape talent pools and project teams by placing an renewed onus on fresh ideas and broader perspectives. The return on investment of such a shift is well documented after all.

Diversity should no longer be treated as a line item on the organizational checklist, but instead as ‘must have’ for companies focused on continued success during the pandemic – and beyond.