The importance of Diversity, Inclusion and Understanding in the workplace
Having worked in finance for over 15 years, Laura Roberts, Legal Director of Liberty Leasing is passionate about diversity within the workplace. As a woman, a mother and a wheelchair user, Laura offers her unique and honest insight on how perceptions are changing as well as how the industry is making efforts to embrace equality, diversity and inclusion.
A chance meeting
My first experience of the finance industry was back in 2001 when I completed a placement year with State Securities whilst studying at Bournemouth University. However, my first ‘proper’ job after graduating began with a chance meeting whilst on a train. I met a lady who was curious about the logistics of travelling on my own in an electric wheelchair, as her son was also a wheelchair user. She encouraged me to send over my CV for their Graduate Scheme at Bibby Financial Services, which is how my career started in the finance industry and where I was dealing with invoice finance. However, States Securities enticed me back as I was able to progress and complete my Legal Practice Course (LPC) with them to become a qualified solicitor, which had always been my goal before going to university. I was really grateful as they had to implement quite a few changes in order for me to do my training contract.
A shift in attitudes
I’ve always been treated equally whether that be by my family, friends or work colleagues. However, there have been times where it was very clear that my disability was causing an issue. I once attended an interview where the interviewer spent the majority of the interview talking about how their fire evacuation procedure would need changing, rather than finding out about me as a potential candidate and my relevant skills. I attended a Money Laundering Course in 2007, but I was the only female in the room and the youngest by far. Although people have always been accepting at these sorts of events and conferences, I have at times had to politely smile off a few comments like “you are too young to be here!”, or “are you able to understand all of this?”.
More women and younger people attend these sort of functions; as I deal with accountancy and legal firms, I’ve witnessed a more even mix of men and women in senior positions in these sectors. From encounters and dealings with individuals at the early stages of their career, I have found them to be respectful, open minded and they seem to genuinely value and thrive off the experience and knowledge of their senior colleagues. So, even though the finance world does appear to have a bit of catching up to do, there are definitely positive efforts taking place and steps in the right direction being made.
Diversity & Inclusion Research Programme
This year I became a contributing member to the Diversity & Inclusion Research Programme, which is designed to understand diversity and inclusion in business finance organisations. Something like this is certainly a step in the right direction and the aim is to identify barriers and opportunities, uncover best practices and pinpoint interventions that work.
“We think it’s important to get under the surface of what inclusion really means. That’s why we have designed our research to not just identify what people are doing in promoting inclusion, but also to understand how effective current interventions are in terms of how people feel included. To do that we are not just talking to those who are taking the lead on promoting inclusive workplaces, but as part of our research inviting everyone in the industry to tell us what works and what doesn’t – and why. We’re looking for a way to help companies move beyond talking inclusion, to doing inclusion brilliantly.”
People first approach
Being involved in HR and Recruitment, one aspect I really admire about Liberty is its ‘people first’ approach. The focus is on ensuring Liberty employs people who have the right attitude and personality who will fit in, with any training needs being secondary. But when it comes to training, instead of adopting a ‘one size fits all’ training programme, we identify their needs and come up with a development plan that is right for them and their career path. I’ve recently hired a legal assistant and, although there were candidates with relevant experience, and the lady I employed came from a retail background, it was obvious she was the right person and fit for Liberty and my team. We are going to support her through her legal training leading to a qualification and I believe this investment is worthwhile for her career and to Liberty.
The Knights Foundation
Liberty has become a patron of The Knights Foundation and this is an opportunity close to my heart, which is a great illustration of the importance of diversity and equality in the workplace.
“My daughter Sophia has Cerebral Palsy and now as a young teenager she has worries and concerns about what she will do with her life when she grows up. Like any parent I encourage her that she can achieve anything she puts her mind to regardless of her physical limitations. She actually wants to be a Lawyer and with her sharp mind she will be fantastic but until I met Laura I had no one to say to Sophia ‘look at what this person achieved, you can do the same’ but now I can. One aspect of the work we do at The Knights Foundation is to work with businesses and speak to them about how they can make accessibility adjustments and improvements. It shouldn’t be about having to employ someone with a disability, but more about not missing out on the right person for your business due to an accessibility issue or the additional cost of making adaptations.”
For there to be positive changes and to move forward, we need to be honest and realistic about the current situation and hopefully things like the Leasing Foundation programme will help open eyes and alert to the need for change.
Recruiting people on merit, their skills and attitude is far more important than ticking boxes, meeting quotas or potential PR reasons. Diversity and inclusion should be engrained into the company culture and represent a basic commitment of any company doing business in today’s world. In my opinion, it’s about dealing with people as individuals, with respect, without judgement and being understanding to our differences and accepting of them.