By Elizabeth Lumley
Originally published on LinkedIn
Director, Chief Digital Office at Deutsche Bank
London, United Kingdom
One of my life’s great joys is getting to sit down, have a chat and listen to the wide of range of stories and viewpoints and experiences of people in this industry. Recently, I sat down with my good friend Claudia Coppenolle, banker, blockchain enthusiast, FinTech maven and all around awesome woman to talk about an issue that is proving to have a huge impact on business success and profitability – diversity and inclusion.
Liz: Diversity has become more and more of a focal point for organisations across all industries? What does diversity mean to you?
Claudia: So here is the obvious – I am a woman working in banking. And even though it’s 2017, sadly the proportion of female representation is still fairly low. After 10 years in the industry, I have to admit that it still strikes me that you attend conferences and you immediately stand out. And you become automatically part of that 20%, even if this is unintended, minority. Gender diversity thereby is an obvious issue, and in all honesty, I think it’s what people naturally think about when they talk about diversity. However, diversity is so much bigger than that. There is age diversity, there is thought-leadership diversity, there is cultural diversity or talent diversity – the list is extensive. And when you try to leverage the benefits that diverse teams and organisations can create all of these topics are relevant. That’s actually why I think it is more accurate to talk about inclusion rather than diversity.
Liz: So what triggered your decision to get actively engaged in the topic?
Claudia: I think diversity is one of these topics that always get a serious nod when you mention it. Whenever, you bring it up, everybody agrees “yes, definitely, super important”. But in all honesty, I sometimes wonder if people – and let’s be clear this is not only a banking industry issue – really see it that way. My personal view is that people across all industries still consider diversity as a CSR topic, a nice to have if you wish, but not necessarily a must have – something that can actively drive growth and revenue. And even I have to admit that until probably a year ago, I have not really thought about this topic in much depth. Yes, I attend diversity in banking conferences, I support initiatives that support diversity, but I have not necessarily understood the business impact of diversity – or its absence – could have on organisations.
Liz: So what happened that you changed your view or more precisely why did you decide to get engaged?
Claudia: The start of the digital transformation of our industry happened. With topics such as digitalisation and FinTech on the rise, all of a sudden the topic became, let’s say, much more tangible for me. I think the trigger was attending a conference and finding myself in a situation where my ‘minority role’ (aka being a woman) all of a sudden shifted. Though I was still one of the few women in the room, all of a sudden I was also the only banker in the room, and interestingly I was also one of the older – or let’s say more experienced – people in the room. During the discussion we had in one of the meetings it became very apparent that the diverse nature of this group in age, gender, cultural and business background allowed us to discuss issues in an entirely new way. The opportunities this type of interaction and problem-solving creates are incredible. I think that was my ‘light bulb’ moment.
Liz: Let’s stick with the FinTech/digitalisation topic for a minute, do you think this new digital arena will also change the diversity debate?
Claudia: I would hope so. If you follow the digitalisation developments, there is no getting away from the fact that this will have a huge transformative impact on how organisations interact and facilitate business. I mean look at developments in the Blockchain space for a minute. Over the last year we have seen numerous collaborations and partnerships arise. Just take the R3 consortium, the Linux foundation or Enterprise Ethereum Alliance – we are talking about more than roughly 150 members in each of these forums coming together and jointly trying to figure out how best to adopt and apply this new technology. In the financial services industry a collaborative approach like this is just not heard of. And key here is that collaboration in itself is a form of inclusion. The very nature of these partnerships between incumbents and FinTech allows for an increase of diversity that happens almost naturally.
Liz: So are we potentially witnessing a tipping-point in the diversity debate?
Claudia: I don’t think we are quite there yet. Bear in mind that digital collaboration and thereby the creation of inclusive, diverse teams where everyone has a voice and purpose is currently mostly happening outside of organisations. It’s not as if banks have hired a bunch of tech guys over night, or that start-ups are pro-actively poaching bankers. If you think about huge organisations and their cultures you can almost think of them as cargo ships – traditionally any form of manoeuvring might be a little laborious, slow and changing course significantly requires a lot of effort. So organisations need to start thinking and acting more like sailing boats, meaning that with a couple of simple touches you can change course swiftly and effortlessly. I therefore think that the cultural and organisational mindset shift that needs to happen to enable an inclusive and diverse ecosystem within organisations is likely to take another couple of years. But to stay with my example: The right course is set and the digitalisation debate is helping here.
Liz: So who do you think is currently benefiting the most from the digital transformation and collaboration?
Claudia: It’s what you would call a classic win-win situation. FinTechs equipped with these new innovative technological solutions and creative ideas need the global network and stabilising foundation of an existing, well-governed infrastructure for financing, risk management, regulatory and compliance requirements. Conversely, banks can leverage FinTechs’ unique perspective and ability to develop creative technological solutions and added-value offerings for merchants and end-consumers. So collaboration makes sense for everyone and I firmly believe that in order to maximise the impact of market innovation, diversity and inclusion – be it within or across organisational teams – will be key.
Liz: Do you think that FinTech/digitalisation will also help with the gender equality debate you brought up initially?
Claudia: It is funny you say that, as women seem to be that missing piece in the FinTech diversity jigsaw. Somebody recently said to me “isn’t it funny that FinTech’s refreshingly un-bureaucratic approach has the power to lure senior bankers out of their suits and ties, yet falls into the same trap when it comes to gender diversity”. And it’s so true. I really would have thought that in this crowd the gender debate would be one we won’t need to have, but it appears for now that we do. The ratio of male and female representation is just slightly better than the one you find within the financial services industry of recent days. Innovate Finance published a gender diversity report in 2016 and if you look at the male/female ratio within the companies featured in the report it is still pretty much on average 65% (male) to 35% (female). I find that surprising. On a positive note there seems to much more diversity with regards to cultures and even professional background. And to add, I think that numbers are definitely improving.
Liz: So why do you think we still see the gender gap?
Claudia: Well, historically finance is a male dominated arena and traditionally so is technology – create FinTech and by the nature of things you end up with an industry predominantly overseen by men. That’s the one reason. The other reason is – in my view – that gender diversity or inclusion is still not perceived by many – across various industries – as something that tangibly creates value. If you bring somebody into a team with a different set of skills or expertise, as we currently see it happening in the digital space, then the benefit from this might feel more tangible than for example if you bring in a woman instead of a man. However, there are plenty of studies that statistically prove the point. They showcase that companies with female representation on the board outperform those without by roughly 20%–40% measured in terms of return on equity, operating results, return on invested capital and return on sales. It is also proven that those companies with greater number of female leaders do better in times with higher economic volatility and it is even a proven fact that companies with female representation on the management board are less likely to go bust. In my book these are pretty compelling reasons to hire, promote and support more women in leading roles. But I guess we will need to wait and see.
Liz: So what is the solution? How or what do you think can change the gender imbalance?
Claudia: I think simple steps can already make a big impact. In the end it all comes down to awareness and acceptance. Let me give you an example: Every time I go to a conference people feel the need to point out to me when there is an increase in female panelists or attendees. And until people stop doing so, simply because it is the norm that there are as many women as men in meetings, board rooms and in other business related forums, until then we have a diversity issue. What we need is a mindset shift that affects society overall and I think for that to happen we all need to be very patient. So the solution? I am afraid I don’t have an answer for you on this – not yet at least. But as we are facing a digital revolution maybe somebody can work on one – a digital solution which drives inclusion.
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