This is a write-up of one of our sessions at our Private Client Exchange at the beginning of October in Chateau Saint-Martin, France. 

We decided to do something a little bit different with this session given the opportunity offered by the size and seniority of the delegates, and hone in on our firms’ diversity and inclusion (D&I) practices and where we can improve. It was a wonderfully candid discussion with much to take away, full of self-reflection and self-analysis both for ourselves as individuals and for the culture of our firms. 

The discussion began with the quote, “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” 

The focus of the conversation was on how we can challenge our thinking patterns and practices to improve the environment for people in our firms. It was stated early that we would be referencing diversity of all kinds – certainly gender, but also race, cultural identity, religion, physical ability, socio-economic background and opinion. As someone in the discussion said, ‘a large part of diversity is just making sure you’re thinking about it.’ 

The conversation can be divided as such:

  • Why does D&I matter?
  • How are we dealing with D&I in our firms already, and what ideas can we take to our own firms?
  • Why aren’t we attracting diverse talent, and how can we do better?
  • How do we cope with our clients while maintaining our integrity and focus on D&I?

Why does D&I matter?

  • Having different points of view on a team was noted as being nothing but an asset as a team with diversity of experience and thought will approach tasks and challenges differently and efficiently. 
  • Fostering a supportive corporate environment will lead to individuals feeling like they can reach their full potential, which will help with the attraction and retention of talent.
  • We all have a diverse client-base, and it is imperative that we can offer diverse advisors in order to reflect that. 
  • To remain competitive as we move towards 2022, firms will need to have a proven strategy and track record in the area of D&I in order to sustain their external reputation.
  • In addition to financial and business implications, a consideration of D&I is increasingly being viewed as a moral responsibility.

How are we dealing with D&I in our firms already, and what ideas can we take to our own firms?

A few of our delegates informed us that their firms already have someone in a full-time position whose sole responsibility is overseeing D&I. It was discussed that this is often best when it is indeed their only responsibility, and that this person should not also be an acting lawyer.

Apprenticeships have been gaining popularity over the last couple of years as young people look for an alternative for university given the increase in their fees. As it is now possible for apprentices to qualify as lawyers after a few years, it is an excellent opportunity to attract and support talent from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and is something several delegates said their firms are using to target diverse talent. 

With regard to gender disparity, our delegates discussed the problem that many firms face in that their gender diversity may be very good at associate level, but at departmental level it is still a trend that more women will step down from partnership because it is incompatible with family life. Many admitted that their firms still have a way to go and are ‘soul-searching’. The ideas around helping level this out were centred on tackling firm culture on a deeper level; keeping the humanity we found during the pandemic, maintaining flexible working as a viable option for those with families and confronting unhealthy working patterns as much as we can. It was noted that it is as important for male colleagues to help reset expectations, something which is much more common post-pandemic as trends say that men are taking on more family responsibilities and recalibrating their work-life balance.

On the subject of firm culture, the subject of corporate values was also brought up. Someone mentioned that their firm is one of the main sponsors of a key LGBTQ+ charity, and how this is a good way to show those within the firm that this is a priority and that they are an open and inclusive space. Another suggested training for concepts like unconscious bias, not only to senior staff and partners but to whole teams. A third suggested weekly or monthly focus groups, where a cross-section of the firm would be invited to share their ideas on ways to improve the firm’s approach and direction. 

Why aren’t we attracting diverse talent and how can we do better?

If firms do not already have practices in place to support D&I or are not already reflecting upon their corporate culture, they may find that they face a huge waste of potential as those who do not fit a narrow cross-section of workers may leave quickly for competitors who have and are. 

Our group spoke at length about imposter syndrome, and the resultant need for good role-models. The senior women in the room agreed that they still face imposter syndrome even today, and discussed how they are trying to be the role-models they wish they had had when they were just starting out as trainees. They reflected on how important it is to think about what sort of an example they are setting now that they are women in positions of leadership.

It was noted that this is often a cultural problem. A delegate from an Italian firm, for example, noted that culturally in Italy it is far more common for women to feel that they need to take on all of the work around childcare and the home, and that it would be considered emasculating for men to do so at all. As an example, it was noted that while Sweden has almost 50% of their parliament as being women, Italy has closer to 30%. An idea to combat this came from a delegate from a  Swiss firm, who told us that they offer part-time associate positions to people who may need to be at home with their children for a few years with the guarantee that, when they come back to the firm, they will have the same position if not higher. 

With regard to cultural and racial diversity, those who had immigrated to the UK discussed the importance of trying to avoid pressures to anglicise oneself, but to remain true to their authentic selves as a lesson to those more junior that they can be happy with themselves. 

In our discussion on socio-economic status, the importance of being aware of our own unconscious bias was raised. It was mentioned that we can be too critical in an interview setting and expect people to be ‘finished’, when in actuality people can learn polish – we should be looking beneath that for brains and talent. An important step in this is to make sure that interviewers and recruiters are diverse themselves.

How do we cope with our clients while maintaining our integrity and focus on D&I?

International private wealth advisors must, by necessity, have relationships with people around the world with different cultures. Having different viewpoints is therefore essential to understand clients and their points of view. 

There is also a generational aspect to this – the NextGen of clients are different to their parents. This new generation are far more engaged with the language surrounding diversity and inclusion, and have a much better understanding of what it really means on a granular level. Having a diverse workforce is already becoming key to maintaining client relationships as a result, as if you do not present a diverse team it is becoming increasingly likely that those clients will go elsewhere.

However, what about when a client goes against these viewpoints? Clients sometimes have ideologies that can be viewed as problematic, such as preserving bloodlines and favouring male beneficiaries over females. What can be done as an advisor, and how far is too far? Regulation authorities were mentioned as being key in this area for driving change, as well as client care letters and codes of conduct for mutual behaviours. If all else fails, it was noted, never be complicit – there will always be more clients, and your team must come first.