2020 will be etched in our memory forever. A year of societal upheaval whose repercussions will be felt long into the future.
The pandemic has impacted everyone, but it has affected the disadvantaged and communities of colour disproportionately.
Meanwhile, the protests following the death of George Floyd, and the soul searching that followed them, have shone a light on racial injustice and systemic racism in many places. The reaction to these events by our black colleagues and friends has been of anguish and pain. We stand together as a firm in condemning racism in all its forms.
But out of this tumult has emerged a powerful consensus. That we have not done enough to tackle prejudice and racial inequality in our society.
As a firm, we have had to take a step back and ask ourselves whether we are doing enough.
And we must accept that the answer is no.
At the International business of Federated Hermes, we have worked hard to build a professional, progressive and diverse work force, to not only reflect the society we live in, but also because it leads to better business outcomes. While we have made progress, this has not been matched in the representation, particularly, of the Black community.
At the time of writing, the number of black colleagues in our London office is around four percent, significantly below the proportion of black people overall in the English capital. This is just one small indicator of the current inequalities both in our workforce and wider society.
If we are to be part of the solution in addressing racial inequality, we must fix this.
However, it’s not only about numbers. It is also about our mindset. Over the last few months, we have had an extensive internal dialogue with black colleagues, in particular, and sought counsel from outside.
As a person of colour myself, these discussions have had a particular resonance. It has brought home to me how much further we need to go if we are to eradicate prejudice. How we cannot just condemn racism – but to work actively to end it .
This year we signed the Race at Work Charter; subscribed to the 100 Black Interns Program; supported the Diversity Project’s Talk About Black catalyst after school programme; and are a signatory to the CBI’s Change the Race Ratio initiative.
All excellent initiatives that need everyone’s support.
However, change must start from within and so we are setting out our own set of commitments and measures, as we put energy and focus into widening opportunities for, and building representation from, ethnic minority groups.
- We have set a goal to at least double the actual number of permanent black employees in our workforce by the end of 2022, and with the most senior levels of management to be held accountable to deliver on these metrics.
- We are launching our own Investment Trainee Programme for school leavers in the UK, where we are headquartered, which will give places for up to ten trainees each year from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, with a particular emphasis on encouraging applications from under-represented ethnic minority groups. They will, initially, spend a year with us with the aim of transitioning them onto a formal apprentice programme after that time. An initial pilot programme for up to four trainees is launching in January 2021.
- With the help of a specialist consultancy, we are working with colleagues from ethnic minorities to build a better and deeper understanding of challenges they face in the workplace. This will inform our work to create an environment that promotes and supports all ethnic groups and addresses any current shortcomings.
- We will also undertake a facilitated inclusion change programme, involving learning and development for leaders and managers, to enhance their race fluency and address bias and prejudice, whether conscious or unconscious, in the workplace. The programme will also include training and coaching for our black colleagues to equip them with the skills to navigate specific race and ethnicity-related challenges.
- Our line managers and HR team are working with external specialists to undertake a review, and then revised application of, people-related ‘employment lifecycle’ practices and procedures, particularly in support of progression and retention of talent within the business.
- Finally, we will review our own supply chain to ensure we are working with appropriately diverse organisations and we will ramp up our engagement efforts with, and support for, companies in building fully diverse organisations.
The measures we are committing to represent the start of a process. What we hope and expect is that they form the basis for a radical change in how we manage both our approach to and delivery of a more diverse and inclusive workforce.
Our goal is to create a culture of belonging for everyone – one that can attract people from all backgrounds and goes out of its way to reach out and offer opportunity to those areas of society often overlooked.
Diversity comes in many forms and the challenge we are setting ourselves is to meet this with a will and the pioneering spirit which we have brought to our commitment and promotion of responsible investing.
Saker Nusseibeh, CBE
CEO, International at Federated Hermes