It is not very often that I am genuinely blown away by a corporate approach to diversity.
I have done a lot of work around equality. My previous role was at an LGBT publication, where gender and anti-discrimination issues were woven into the fabric of the everyday. Here at WatersTechnology, I am fortunate to continue that advocacy by leading panel discussions and webinars on equality initiatives within financial services. I have taken part in hundreds of conversations on the topic, and have witnessed earnest blunders, outright sexist dismissiveness, and all of the ways in between in which clumsy attempts to address inequality—no matter how well intentioned—can fail.
So I was pleasantly surprised to learn about Refinitiv’s deliberate and dynamic approach to diversity. I spoke to its newly minted head of talent, leadership and inclusion, Audrey Campbell, after the data giant was named WatersTechnology’s WITAD 2019 Best Company for Diversity (Vendor) and I was assigned to write its profile.
Refinitiv is in an interesting spot. The company was created in early 2018 when Thomson Reuters sold 55% of its Financial and Risk division to a consortium led by Blackstone, which rebranded the unit as Refinitiv mid-year. Although not a new company in the traditional sense, spinoffs provide a chance to assess and forge an individual identity. Refinitiv is prioritizing diversity, but rather than doing it in the usual way, through quotas, data and salary figures, Campbell says it’s taking a broader view by paying attention to the impact of bias.
It is a data company, after all, but rather than using data as a mere benchmark for a quota, Refinitiv is using data to help understand leadership decisions, identify misalignment, and most importantly, help leaders to bridge the gap between their good intentions and the actual impacts of their actions.
So often, the burden of fighting for equality is placed on the oppressed. Women are scolded for not negotiating salaries hard enough or taking maternity leave, and hiring managers bemoan a lack of minority candidates without addressing why the prospect of certain industries might be unappealing to marginalized groups. Refinitiv’s approach is remarkable because it is systemic, placing the mandate for change in the hands of the leaders, who of course are the ones with the most power to enact change.
As Campbell puts it, the approach “moves away from a model where we ‘fix’ women and moves toward a model where we say, ‘In terms of how bias impacts decision-making, how do we understand that, and how do we address that in a holistic way? How do we support women, but also how do we support leaders to be more inclusive in the way that they naturally lead?’”
So far, she says, the approach feels right because beyond addressing the system, it addresses the unwritten rules within the system that can influence decisions and—whether intentionally or not—foster bias.
The company has set a target of having 40% of senior leadership roles held by women by 2020. Yes, that’s a quota, but Refinitiv is even being progressive in how it plans to reach that goal—it treats it as non-negotiable. There’s no faffing around on deciding whether women with enough talent exist in the company, or requiring advocates to make a business case for diversity, exercises that Campbell says tend to lead to micro-aggressions. Once the mindset switches from “should we,” to “how do we,” the conversation becomes more about access and how to level the playing field, she says.
There are several key pillars that bolster the company’s efforts toward its diversity goals. First, Refinitiv is deliberate about its use of language in order to ensure a clear understanding of targets and timelines. Second, the ownership of diversity and inclusion goals becomes a normal part of how staff report to the CEO and an accepted part of performance management. Third, the firm is looking inward in order to pay more attention to the feel of the Refinitiv team. Campbell says it is currently rethinking its employee surveys and is updating HR systems so they can more accurately assess how different groups feel about the company, an approach Refinitiv plans to ensure becomes central to the way it analyzes and reports survey data, as well as part of how it solves any issues revealed by staff responses.
By setting such a progressive, forward-thinking strategy in its journey toward diversity and equality in financial services, Refinitiv is truly a leader. It will be interesting to see whether other influential corporations follow suit.
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