Of course, managing diversity is an intrinsic approach to human resources management. However, diversity management is a strategic process that can succeed only if the company’s leaders take up a collective goal and commits to the diversity strategy, agenda and targets. We need to move away from value statements and go beyond policies in order to create a culture of belonging and trust, where all employees feel free to bring their full selves to work and to contribute.
Laura, could you share with us some key milestones in the D&I journey of BCR?
We could say that our journey started more than 200 years ago, when a key milestone for diversity and inclusion was set in Erste Group’s founding document of 1819: to grant everybody access to prosperity, regardless of age, gender, social background or geographical origin. Diversity is rooted in the DNA of our Group and continues to be an integral part of our purpose. Other milestones closer to the present moment were: signing the Romanian Diversity Charter, defining a group D&I strategy and agenda, creating dedicated functions in BCR like Diversity Manager and Anti-Discrimination Officer, committing to our new targets for women in top management positions and recently, setting a Diversity Council in BCR, with the purpose to debate the strategy and D&I major initiatives in a more formal and structured way.
What aspects of diversity management have the highest priority in your company?
BCR, as employer, strives to ensure equal opportunities of development for all employees. In order to establish this level-playing field, the following fields of action are considered the highest priority in our Bank:
Ensuring a non-discriminating and harassment-free environment, as the basic prerequisite for establishing an inclusive working culture. For this purpose, clearly defined policies and processes for dealing with discrimination were adopted and transparently communicated across the Bank; Gender neutral remuneration policies were implemented, with the purpose to ensure that all staff, independent of their gender is equally remunerated for work of equal value. Training and awareness raising measures on preventing discrimination and harassment are provided on an ongoing basis to all our employees.
Moreover, in order to enhance transparency and equal opportunity, we ensured that selection processes and criteria focus entirely on the individual’s qualifications and level of excellence. Talent pools and development programs are open to and include qualified employees of all ages, genders and backgrounds.
Supporting female career development constitutes another priority for us; in order to succeed in target-setting process for women in leadership positions, several accompanying measures have been decided upon. These include a clear focus on female career development, the reconciliation of private lives and careers, as well as a SMART approach to target setting (quantitative and qualitative targets that are measured and monitored on a regular basis).
Which D&I activities have been implemented in your organization so far?
During the past years, we have implemented training programs and awareness raising measures on topics like anti-discrimination and harassment etc. Considering the direct correlation between levels of bias and feelings of inclusion in the workplace, a special focus in 2021 is put on a Group-wide roll-out of unconscious bias trainings for all employees.
In 2021 we set new targets for women in leadership – increasing the target numbers for women in top management as well as introducing, for the first time, targets for women in middle management (to be achieved by 2025).
Recently we’ve just set a local forum, called BCR Diversity Council - comprised of Board Members and Executive Directors, acting as diversity ambassadors. Our purpose is to debate the D&I strategy and major initiatives, identify the priorities and facilitate their implementation, support the adoption of the new targets for women in leadership positions, etc.
Another initiative that we are preparing to implement is a Diversity Dashboard for our executive managers, aiming to make more transparent for each of them the status quo / trends on diversity evolution in his or her division. The first dimension to be address is “gender” with the possibility to add other dimensions in a later stage, in connection to data available in our database.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by your sector in creating a diverse and inclusive workforce?
One of the challenges was to overcome the traditional image of a very exclusive and almost closed sector, welcoming mostly employees having a certain educational background, skills and experience in the financial industry. The adequate professional experience in a financial institution is certainly valued and for some positions is required by the regulator, but we must also consider the limitations of this approach, currently causing a narrowing talent pool and not enough social mobility in our industry. The role of people is inevitably shifting and changing as banks go digital and we will need more cognitive diversity and fresh perspectives, if we want to reinvent ourselves and remain competitive.
Another challenge has been to keep the diversity on the agenda during the past year, when most organizations, have been struggling with the effects of the pandemic crisis, focusing to adapt to the “new normality” (by accelerating the digitalization, protecting the health and wellbeing of the employees, defining the New way of Working etc.). In difficult times like these, business continuity and people’s safety have top priority, but at the same time we had to acknowledge the importance of diversity, as the crisis demonstrated the utter importance of being prepared for transformational processes ahead of us.
What business benefits do you see as a result of increasing D&I?
A diverse organization is better able to connect with and understand the heterogenous backgrounds and needs of the customers and consequently find the right answers or new solutions for them. Moreover, a diverse workforce is driving excellence and innovation, being well known that the best ideas arise where people with different mindsets, experiences and skills work together. Cognitive diversity makes us more robust and more resilient, strengthening our capacity to face the unexpected (a critical asset these days). We will be able to adapt sooner to the new reality if we have a wide range of perspectives to pull from and the means to choose the best ideas and act upon them. In connection to all the above, diverse and inclusive organizations are proven to achieve better business outcomes and profitability – a matter of interest to our investors and other stakeholders.
Can you name three diversity challenges that companies have to pay attention to?
A common challenge comes from the wide spread idea that diversity is mainly about having the right practices and policies in place and it should be mostly HR responsibility. Of course, managing diversity is an intrinsic approach to human resources management. However, diversity management is a strategic process that can succeed only if the company’s leaders take up a collective goal and commits to the diversity strategy, agenda and targets. We need to move away from value statements and go beyond policies in order to create a culture of belonging and trust, where all employees feel free to bring their full selves to work and to contribute.
Other powerful disablers of diversity, we should pay attention to, especially these days, are groupthink and in-group biases. During crisis times people try to join forces, and usually feel more comfortable by surrounding themselves with others having similar thinking styles, values, background etc. This is a natural tendency, but we must not forget that a work environment that becomes too homogenous may become a powerful enemy of innovation.
In the current context, managing diversity in hybrid teams may be also a challenge. Hybrid working model is generating new types of biases and trust issues. People working mostly remote could feel less visible and possibly treated unfairly compared to those working mostly onsite. Others might also think the workload is distributed unevenly or their performance might be overlooked. This situation requires sensible managers with strong leadership, EQ and communication skills, able to making every member feel included.
What do you do to convince your colleagues to see the value in diversity management, or even more to truly get them on board?
Our colleagues and business managers understood that having a D&I strategy in place and acting on the diversity management not only leads to better consumer connections or helps in stabilizing balanced corporate growth, but also has a significantly positive effect on other aspects like: employee morale and engagement, bank‘s reputation, employer branding, talent retention etc. Diversity well-managed promotes versatility in an organization’s functioning, generates better problem-solving abilities and more innovative outcomes. Of course, getting more and more colleagues on board requires constant communication and awareness campaigns, ensuring that everybody understands not only the practices and policies, but also the benefits of diversity. The involvement of the top management in defining the D&I strategy and agenda, acting as role models and sponsors of the diversity programs was crucial in helping our colleagues to understand the importance of the topic and take steps to embrace genuine diversity.
Interview by Dana Oancea, Romanian Diversity Charter