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Driving success through embracing equity

Sarah Pritchard author image

Sarah Pritchard

Executive Director, Markets

How we all have a role to play in creating a more inclusive world.

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We do not all start at the same place

Equity – this year’s focus for International Women’s Day – means creating an inclusive world; one where we recognise that not everyone starts from the same place.

We all have a role to play, wherever we work, and whatever role we have. And we are all able to drive change. We can do this by asking questions, by challenging whether our organisations are driving change, by focussing on data, by highlighting good practice, by looking at our talent pipelines. At a personal level we can share our stories, speak up on behalf of others and get to know the people we work with. We cannot truly focus on equity if we do not know our people.

Why do we care and what we are doing about it

Why does wider diversity matter to us as a regulator? Diversity and inclusion are essential for healthy firm cultures. There is growing evidence that a diversity of perspectives and thought, when part of an inclusive culture, results in better judgements and decision making. 

We have made improving diversity and inclusion in financial services an important part of our ESG plans under our FCA strategy. Diverse and inclusive cultures enable firms to deliver better outcomes for consumers and markets, help firms to ensure that products and services cater to the diverse needs of their customer base and help firms to attract and retain talent. 

Last year we finalised rules requiring listed companies to report on the representation of women and minority ethnic groups on their boards and executive management on a comply or explain basis – making it easier for investors to see the diversity of their senior leadership teams.

"Change starts at the top. But it must not stop at the top and must continue with all of us."

The first set of reporting under that new regime will kick in for accounting periods from 1 April, 2022 but we are already seeing change. Just last week, FTSE 350 companies hit their target to have 40% women on boards – three years ahead of schedule.

In December we published the findings from a review of 12 financial services firms – highlighting areas where firms are doing well, and areas where more needs to be done.

Internally we have set our own targets for female and minority ethnic representation in all of our senior roles seeking 50/50 parity on gender by 2025. All of our senior leaders have a commitment to support diversity and inclusion in their performance objectives. 

We were one of the first signatories to the Women in Finance Charter and, with other members, developed the Women in Finance toolkit which provides really practical steps that organisations can take to drive greater diversity and inclusion. I look forward to discussing the progress made next week at HM Treasury’s event to launch the sixth Annual Review of the charter.

In making diversity and inclusion a priority for the firms we regulate, we are also challenging ourselves to improve and do things differently too.

What can we all do individually?

We all have a role in driving change – whoever we are and wherever we work. If we see talented people who do not realise how talented they are, we can encourage them privately and champion them publicly. We can lift as we climb, speak up for those less confident and less visible. We can share our stories, highlight good practice and poor practice, and critically, for those of us who manage people, we can get to know them so we can understand their starting point and their needs too.

My career journey has not been a straight ladder

I never thought I would end up working as an executive director in financial regulation. My family were mainly teachers. It wasn’t my calling. I tried teaching English to 6-14 year old Hungarian children when I left school. They did not learn much English from me but at least there are a group of millennials in Hungary who know all the lyrics to the Spice Girls’ B-sides and De-La-Soul.  

I have had seniors tell me very firmly you can’t have children and a career – when taking on a new job with 2 children under 3. I’ve faced assumptions that I wouldn’t travel internationally with young children, when in my experience there is nothing like young children and an addiction to coffee to make international travel across time zones relatively straightforward.

I have heard senior lawyers say that a female lawyer couldn't expect to leave work early on a Friday afternoon when she came back from maternity leave, as that would be unacceptable. I have had very senior people ask me to sit in the back row of meetings wanting me to be a note taker rather than attend a meeting as a senior equal – when I was already in a senior role. This happened in front of peers, none of whom intervened. To my eternal regret, I was so shocked, I sat in the back row.  

What has helped me carry on, has been the men and women, both more senior and more junior, who have believed in me and encouraged me along the way. They have given me opportunity, and courage to try new things. They have shared a coffee with me, as well as thoughts on how to navigate children and career.

"By creating healthier firm cultures, by driving higher standards of conduct and unlocking talent, we believe the UK will become an even more attractive and competitive place to do business."    

They have listened to me on a bad day, and got to know me and my interests – looking at the potential of my skill set, rather than pigeon-holing me based on the experience I have had to date. I have taken opportunities where they have presented themselves and built strong teams behind me, so that they could deliver and thrive, not just survive, without me. I admit it takes a certain amount of energy and confidence to do that, but building strong teams behind me has enabled me to take opportunities I would never have envisaged.  

These are just some of my stories – you’ll all have your own – but my encouragement is to speak up and share – and to get to know the people you work with so that you can embrace equity.

Looking forward

The FCA will publish its Consultation Paper on Diversity and Inclusion in the financial sector this year, building on an earlier Discussion Paper. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on those proposals. We also look forward to the update in the coming days of the Parker Review, which examines the ethnic and cultural diversity of boards. 

Change starts at the top. But it must not stop at the top and must continue with all of us. Getting it right can improve outcomes for everyone: for consumers and for markets. By creating healthier firm cultures, by driving higher standards of conduct and unlocking talent, we believe the UK will become an even more attractive and competitive place to do business.