Stereotyping is not inherently bad, but it is undoubtedly restricting. Most especially in the industry of finance and professional service where such limitations can be detrimental to one’s career. In this article, the author highlights the importance of shifting from a perspective of general categorisation to embracing – as well as protecting – diversity in the industry.
Some sectors have a popular stereotype attached to them. We identify tech start-ups with bright young millennial things. We almost certainly all have the same image in our minds when someone mentions a banker. And when it comes to finance and professional services – we probably think of people in blue suits.
Stereotypes are hard to shift. They are not necessarily negative – but often they don’t reflect the full picture, seizing instead only an aspect of the reality. For example, there are lots of millennials in start-ups, but there are also lots of people with decades of career experience. Similarly, there are a lot of people in blue suits in finance and professional services – but that isn’t the whole story.
Firstly, I want to point out that there’s nothing wrong with a suit – I defend dressing appropriately when required, and I know from personal experience how differently (rightly or wrongly) people treat you when you’re dressed ‘professionally’. That said, it’s the associations that people make between finance and suits that I want to challenge, and the idea that you can summarise a whole industry in a simple trope.
The concept of ‘suits’ is often a negative one. There are bars in London that don’t allow people wearing a suit in! There’s a popular connotation between suits and men of a certain age, certain ethnicity, and certain class. This is obviously absurdly simplistic and far from the truth, given that plenty of men (and women) of different backgrounds may wear suits for a range of reasons. But beyond that, those who wear suits and conform to certain backgrounds and cultures offer a huge amount to my sector. There are reams of talented, dedicated men of a certain age in the financial and professional services industry, doing committed and excellent work. Sometimes, they might wear suits while they do it.
But as much as they contribute, they are only part of the story. There are also many women, people of different nationalities, young people, people at the ends of their careers, people in the middle, people just starting out. My 120-strong team at Accordance speaks more than 30 different languages. We have people from right across Europe, our average age is 32 and though our outlook and culture is liberal, we’re happy to be home to people of a range of different political views.
We have to move away from this simple categori sation, no matter how tempting it is to fall into. Although Accordance bucks some industry trends, finance and professional services in a general is a broad, diverse
church – and that’s cause for celebration. Being proud of diversity doesn’t mean denigrating what was previously the norm – all those who made and continue to develop this sector are integral to it. But as times change, as societies change and as life changes, we must embrace – and encourage the outside world to embrace – the full breadth of who we really are.
As the female head of a company in a sector still dominated by men at the upper echelons, I feel this very keenly. Making the industry more diverse at senior levels depends on a multiplicity of factors, and raising our voices about who is operating in the industry and making it succeed is a crucial part of evening the scales in the long term. As well as this, diversity brings benefits and richness in terms of attitudes, management styles, and beliefs. It’s not about surface changes either – greater diversity is better for bottom lines, and adds value to the UK economy.
Diversity also needs to be protected. We are living through troubled political times. For non-UK nationals in the UK workforce, this is a period of great uncertainty. National policy is extremely hostile to those without passport rights. Barely a week goes by without news of another person who has made the UK their home being told to leave arbitrarily. On top of this, Brexit is looming and has cast a great shadow of doubt over the future of European nationals in the UK. At Accordance, more than 60% of our staff are European. The last three years has left many feeling unsettled and undervalued. Some people have even decided to leave for reasons that are nothing do with Accordance, but simply because they want to feel ‘at home in Europe’ again. The challenges that this poses to us as employers but first and foremost as people, is immense. We’ve put in place a series of measures to support staff, from employment and immigration lawyers to provide legal advice and guidance, to Brexit briefings to decode the Westminster chaos in a way people can understand. I personally, have also marched on two ‘people’s vote’ campaigns, and intend to do so again on the 19th in the interest of diversity!
But this still isn’t enough. Simply put, I believe we should stay in the EU, and I believe my workers and the EU nationals living in the UK have a right to live, work and reside here as long as they choose without uncertainty about their positions and xenophobia in the discourse around them. Finance and professional services is just one of many sectors that couldn’t exist without the work of our foreign national colleagues. That’s why over the last year I’ve put my head above the parapet and made my position on Brexit as an individual and as Managing Director clear. It’s a way of advocating on behalf of my workers and it’s a way of demonstrating my commitment to diversity. I want our EU friends and colleagues to keep on contributing to Accordance and other businesses in the sector – and I want to show them how much they are valued.
For me, working to change the face of the sector I work in is about lifting the curtain on what it is really like, and showing its truth. It’s also about advocating in favour of diversity. Fundamentally, we have to keep diversity on the forefront of people’s minds as an issue. In industries which lack diversity at the top, we have to keep reminding who is driving things forward and why they must be more represented.
At Accordance we welcome people of all walks of life and persuasions. Our UK, EU and worldwide colleagues are what makes us – and whether they come to work in a suit or not they will be forever welcome.
About the Author
Lucy Franklin was appointed MD of Accordance at the beginning of 2019. She has a vision for Accordance which puts people at its heart – to harness its experts at every level of the business, enabling people to reach their potential, and facilitating business growth through their empowerment. With two decades of managerial experience, her strategic thinking and knowledge of the developing VAT landscape ensures that Accordance can drive greater trade, harmony and understanding across Europe.