COVID-19, Diversity, and Innovations in Inclusivity

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With a growing consciousness worldwide on the topic of systemic racism, corporations are doing everything from pro-diversity affirmations (arguably not enough) to mass board resignations (arguably far too much) in order to stay (or get) on the right side of public opinion on a key issue for many of their customers.

We took a look at some of the ways those fighting in favor of a more inclusive financial services and fintech sector can learn from the successes of the women’s movement a few days ago. Here, we offer a few more specific examples of not just what financial institutions can do to help promote ethnic diversity in their companies, but also what financial institutions and fintechs are actually doing.

Celebrate Diversity

With Juneteenth taking place this Friday, some financial institutions have decided to treat the date – which marks the moment African slaves in Texas in 1865 learned of the Emancipation Proclamation – as the official occasion many African Americans have always believed it to be. Fifth Third Bancorp and Truist Financial are among a number of companies that have elected to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday for their employees and customers.

“As we consider the tremendous significance of this day and what it represents, it also reminds us of how far we still must go to have equality and inclusion for all,” Greg D. Carmichael, chairman, president and CEO of Fifth Third Bancorp said earlier this week. “As we observe Juneteeth, each of us should pause, reflect, and contemplate its significance and what it meant 155 years ago, what it means today, and how we might take action to make tomorrow better for everyone.”

Fifth Third will close its offices early on Friday, shutting down at 2pm local time. And while a number of other major financial institutions have made similar commemorations, Fifth Third is believed to be the first FI to offer its employees Juneteenth as a paid holiday.

Show the Money

The $40 million Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and his wife Patty Quillin have announced they will donate to the United Negro College Fund, and a pair of historically black colleges Spelman and Morehouse, is an example of the kind of “put your money where your mouth is” act that many pro-diversity advocates have called for.

Some of the biggest financial services companies and banks in the United States have unveiled similar initiatives. Citi, for example, announced that it will direct $8 million to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, the National Urban League, and the National Fair Housing Alliance.

Also pulling out the checkbook in the name of diversity are firms like Bank of America, which announced a $1 billion/four year commitment to help local communities of color at a time when the COVID-19 crisis is making a disproportionate impact on black and brown Americans.

“Underlying economic and social disparities that exist have accelerated and intensified during the global pandemic,” Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said earlier this month when the initiative was announced. “The events of the past week have created a sense of true urgency that has arisen across our nation, particularly in view of the racial injustices we have seen in the communities where we work and live. We all need to do more.”

People Who Need People

Honoring the past is important. And putting real resources to work to make opportunities possible for historically excluded groups is a critical component in achieving a more inclusive world. But, without putting too fine a point to it, the best way to promote diversity is to hire more diverse people.

Analysts looking at the barriers to increasing diversity have cited three chief hurdles: (1) finding diverse candidates to interview, (2) retaining diverse employees, and (3) getting diverse candidates past interview stage. And while the second two issues have a lot to do with the culture of a company, something that may not substantially improve until after diversity and inclusivity gains are made, the first challenge – finding good candidates – is one all companies and organizations should pledge to overcome.

For many companies, this may mean looking in typically overlooked places for otherwise untapped talent. Student organizations, including a very active African American collegiate and post-collegiate fraternity and sorority system, can be a an excellent way to reach today many of the people who will be leaders in their communities tomorrow. Diversity-oriented venture capital firms – such as Harlem Capital Partners, the Black Angel Tech Fund, and Base Ventures – are excellent sources for insight into black and brown entrepreneurship in the technology sector.

As Chamath Palihaptiya, venture capitalist and founder of Social Capital, wrote almost five years ago:

We need to recapture our potential and open the doors. Invite more people into the decision making: young people, Blacks, Latinos, females, LGBT and others who aren’t necessarily part of the obvious majority.  Surround ourselves with a more diverse set of experiences and maybe we will prioritize a more diverse set of things. Maybe we will find more courage to do the hard things.

Half a decade later, many of us in the technology community in general and the fintech world in specific are still waiting. But it appears increasingly the case that, for now, our communities are ready to act.


Photo by Mike from Pexels

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