Clinching an internship or full-time role in a leading firm in banking, private equity, corporate law or insurance is the pinnacle of career success for many early career starters, and rightly so. Working life in the City can be both professionally and financially rewarding.
At SEO London, we’ve been working with the banking, consulting, private equity and corporate law sectors for two decades to improve diversity. Progress has been made in that time. However, there is a long way to go before sought after elite career pathways are fully accessible to young people from minority and underrepresented groups.
An inclusive recruitment process is key and this is where a lot of focus is typically placed. But what more can employers do to level the playing field?
Change perceptions early
One barrier that prevents HR teams from improving diversity is that a high-flying professional career in the City or elsewhere may not even be on the radar for many young people. We know from our students and alumni that this untapped pool of talented individuals are either unaware of the scope of careers on offer or have simply never thought working for a leading management consultancy or hedge fund firm was for them, for whatever reason.
Individual employers have an important role to play in helping to change perceptions so that more underrepresented young people can embrace the full range of career opportunities available. One way to do this is to build relationships with key partners in the education sector.
A bank or private equity firm could partner with a local university and run a regular event to showcase the internships and full-time roles on offer to graduates in their final years of study. This will raise awareness across the student population and increase the pipeline of potential candidates coming through.
However, the impact will be even greater if the company targets schools or academy trusts with the campaign too. An initiative to increase children and young people’s understanding of the different roles and what career success looks like while they are still in school could help to nurture a much more diverse channel of quality candidates for the future.
While progress is being made at graduate entry level to improve diversity, employers can find it difficult to retain women and ethnic minorities as they progress through their careers. Ambitious career starters can be very quickly poached by competitor firms and people will move on very swiftly if career development opportunities or job satisfaction is lacking.
While financial incentives may help, there are other ways firms can improve retention rates too. Equal access to new challenges and opportunities to help them develop and progress within the organisation can encourage young people to stay longer.
This might be a three-month secondment to another team, the option to upgrade professional qualifications or the opportunity to run an organisation-wide charitable project. A fresh challenge can boost job satisfaction and foster a culture where employees are valued and encouraged to make a full contribution to the wider success of the business.
Foster a sense of belonging
Sometimes the reasons why employees leave an organisation soon after joining are more nuanced.
A firm may have a very inclusive recruitment and induction process but forget that support is required beyond the first few months in a job. Firms can tackle this by ensuring an inclusive working environment is at the very heart of the drive to improve diversity.
Mentoring schemes can help to develop talent and provide young workers from minority groups with support from employees who have faced similar challenges in building their careers. With visible role models across the organisation, young people will be more likely to feel they can get the same opportunities as everyone else to advance in their careers, improving retention rates.
Targeted training for line managers and senior staff is also key to removing barriers such as racism, gender bias and homophobia from across an organisation. By recognising and embracing societal, cultural and religious differences, people coming into the sector will see they are represented and valued.
Another issue is a lack of strong industry connections, which can be a critical in a young person’s ability to climb the career ladder. Not everyone has equal access to these networks or the same opportunities to build them.
Organisations can help to bridge these gaps by providing networking events that bring people from across different departments together where opportunities and new challenges within the firm can be promoted.
A more diverse society is built on the commitment of big business and industry to create a workforce that reflects the broad pool of talent coming through and provides them with the same opportunities as their peers.
Everyone deserves a fair and equal shot at career success. Those organisations that prioritise diversity and inclusion at every level will be those which benefit from a workforce that shares the vision and goals of their employer and are loyal, ambitious and driven to achieve them.
Nathalie Richards is CEO of Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, Ltd. (SEO London), a UK-registered charity committed to preparing talented students from underserved and underrepresented backgrounds for career success.