This article was written with the financial services industry in mind. The need for greater diversity is so pronounced here. However, the message, of course, has much wider application. Every industry can do more to reflect and resonate with their diverse audiences – the world. If every individual applied the 4 steps at the bottom of this article, we could make huge progress.
Research shows that gender diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their competitors.
Ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to out-perform competitors.
We attended a National Chartered Symposium at the end of January, tasked with capturing interviews to camera with as many, and as broad a range of Chartered Financial Planners as possible. (If any of you are reading now, thanks for helping out.)
One of the things that struck me as I scanned the room of close to 1000 attendees was how overwhelmingly white, male and middle-aged the group was.
Now, of course, there’s nothing wrong with being any of those things. I’m the majority of them- I’m holding off on the middle-aged bit. Not yet!
However, as I lined up 2 women, and a black man in his mid-twenties, having scoured the room for willing participants, I acknowledged to myself how ridiculous it was that I saw this “diverse” line-up as a major coup!
In fact, this “diversity” is not reflective of the industry. Here lies the problem. The industry does not reflect the great diversity of the UK. The differences in age, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, education and socio-economic background of your potential audience must be acknowledged.
It must be reflected.
As a result, huge swathes of the population see the industry as somewhat irrelevant to them. And this is rooted in science.
The oldest part of the brain sits just on top of the spine. It’s called the amygdala. It’s often referred to as the reptilian part of the brain. Here, we make snap judgements on the people that we meet. It’s an unconscious decision, based on what we see and what we hear from that person. Ultimately, what they look and sound like. There are four categories that this part of the brain will put the other person into based on that data:
- Potential sexual partner
This data determines whether we will approach or retreat from that person- or remain completely indifferent. We then use data from our neo-cortex- the part of the brain responsible for language and analysis- to support that snap judgement. However hard you might try to build trust, it’s extremely hard to break down someone’s initial reptilian response to you.
Research from behavioural psychologist, Mark Bowden, says that we are pre-programmed to be indifferent. Our reaction to the vast majority of people is indifference. Once that snap judgement has been made, we switch off and stop listening.
Just looking at the visual make-up of the industry, and the tone of voice that prevails at the many public speaking events that we’ve attended, I’ve a hunch that vast swathes of the population are entirely indifferent to the financial services industry.
Now, we work hard to ensure that Financial Planners connect with audiences in a way that is human, intimate, authentic to themselves, and relatable. This work is so important when looking to build trust. However, there is only so far that this work can take you. If being authentic is still white, middle class, middle aged and male for the vast majority of the industry (again, nothing wrong with being any of those things), you’ll struggle to break down the indifference of much of the population that are not any of these things.
Looking at the four categories above, if you want to be placed in the category of “friend,” your audience are looking for someone that is like them. Are they one of my tribe? They want to see some of themselves reflected in you. This is entirely based in evolutionary behavioural psychology.
It’s not about asking Financial Planners to code shift, morph their accents and body language in order to imitate the client in question, hoping that they’ll be your “friend.” That would be ridiculous and likely very offensive. Please don’t try it. To succeed, you would need the transformative skills of an outstanding character actor to fully inhabit the inner and outer life of that person. Alas, my acting days are behind me. This is not the role to bring me out of retirement!
There’s a simpler, far more authentic, and less deceitful way.
Build an industry that reflects the cultural diversity of our society, and absolutely allow yourselves and your colleagues to be entirely authentic in the way that you communicate with clients. There’s no need to conform to any imagined conventions in terms of tone of voice, body language and behaviour. If there is a convention, (and there shouldn’t be) I’ve often noticed a tendency towards being a bit dull and stilted (sorry!), looking, sounding and feeling like people pulling back from their instincts. People want to see themselves reflected back to them. They want an industry that “gets them.”
Of course, you can’t change the make-up of the industry by yourself, over-night. But that doesn’t equate to: “ah just leave it then. It’s too big a problem.” We can all make a huge difference if we all commit to incremental changes.
So, what can we do?
- Acknowledge the problem- the challenge with unconscious bias is that it’s unconscious. By becoming conscious of it, we have the power to change it
- Don’t get defensive- rather than defending the status quo, our energy is better spent listening openly and gaining a better understanding to progress
- Take action- where you see prejudice or bias, in yourself or others, take whatever steps you can to counter it. All of our small contributions can add up to a big change over time.
- Be Yourself- Commit to expressing yourself as authentically as possible. Role-playing or conforming to conventions also massively reduces diversity. Even within the rather narrow cross-section of society that is currently represented, there is room for far more nuance, personality and the glorious idiosyncrasy that people being themselves inevitably throws up.
The more that the financial services industry, and every industry for that matter, reflect the huge sweep of diversity in our world, the more that society will see you as “friend,” rather than an irrelevance, or worse, potential “enemy.”
By Chris Wickenden, 16th April, 2019