While employers in the financial services industry have made some progress in attracting diverse talent across the traditionally male-dominated sector, there’s still a long way to go.

To this end, BNP Paribas is widening its talent pool and supporting a diverse workforce through a comprehensive diversity, equity and inclusion strategy that encompasses recruitment, leadership training and workplace culture.

The strategy — which landed a win in the DEI program category at Benefits Canada’s 2023 Workplace Benefits Awards — was formally launched in 2020, says Laetitia Fouquet-Pimpin, director of DEI at the financial services company.

Read: BNP Paribas wins award for DEI-focused workplace culture, inclusion strategy

Diversity among the S&P/TSX 60

• 27% — The percentage of women executive officers

38.2% — The percentage of all board seats held by women, compared to 36.2 among the broader S&P/TSX composite index

10.2% — The percentage of board positions held by directors who are members of visible minorities, Indigenous peoples or persons with a disability

Source: Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP’s 2023 diversity report

“It goes back to having a diverse [talent] pool and an inclusive culture that impacts positively both the engagement and performance of employees and is also representative of the wider labour market. Everyone brings different ideas and perspectives and this can impact [the organization] positively in terms of innovation, for example.”

In 2023, the organization launched its neurodiversity hiring program and created a job board geared towards attracting First Nations talent. It also continued building up its nine-month mentorship program for junior employees in administration and senior clerical roles, established a leadership program for women and launched a targeted DEI social media campaign focused on acquiring talent from under-represented groups.

Leadership training is another important aspect of the strategy, she says. In 2022, BNP Paribas began incorporating DEI topics into its management training and launched a program to bridge and better understand intergenerational differences. “[Management training] truly was the first step. It includes having conversations with the managers on biases and how that impacts business and recruitment practices.”

Read: 36% of racialized, Indigenous employees reporting psychological safety concerns: survey

The strategy is supported by a framework that includes employee resource groups and external partners, including associations that represent equity-deserving groups.

“For example, in our efforts to draw [Black, Indigenous and people of colour] talent, we’ve been working with groups like the Association of Latino Professionals for America. For [increasing representation of] women, we’re working with different associations in areas like women [in information technology] and women in finance. [This approach] has definitely increased representation [among these groups].”

Moving the needle

For diverse talent, the financial services industry can be difficult to access for a number of reasons, says Sherilyn Trompetter, co-founder of MT Consulting Group.

“[Traditionally,] the sector hasn’t been that diverse and I think there are perceptions of elitism that makes it intimidating to enter. In addition, there’s a number of credentials and qualifications and security courses that you may have to obtain, which can be barriers to entry for people from different groups.”

Due to their size, many financial services companies also have robust employee referral programs, potentially locking out candidates who don’t have an ‘in’ with the organization, says Sky McLaughlin, co-founder of MT Consulting Group.

“When [companies] are searching for candidates through that channel, it’s totally natural for employees to refer people that they know and trust. That’s usually going to be people who have a lot of similarities [with the employee] so there can be a lot of affinity bias there.”

Read: Meridian focusing on flexibility, mentorship to promote gender equity, female leadership

However, there are encouraging signs that the industry’s DEI efforts are having some impact. According to the Canadian Credit Union Association, in 2023, women accounted for roughly 30 per cent of chief executive officers/general managers at Canada’s credit unions and made up 34 per cent of credit union boards.

A 2023 report by Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP found among S&P/TSX 60 companies — which includes Canada’s largest banks — women represented 27 per cent of executive officers and 38.2 per cent of all board seats were held by women, with that number dropping to 36.2 per cent among the broader S&P/TSX composite index. Still, just 10.2 per cent of board positions were held by directors who are members of visible minorities, Indigenous peoples or persons with a disability.

Last year, TD Bank Group was the first of Canada’s big six banks to conduct a racial equity audit, amid increasing pressure from shareholders. The audit noted the bank could do more on aspects like consistency and measurement.

As the sector itself adapts to increasingly cosmopolitan clients, exemplified by concepts such as investment funds that are sustainable or Shariah-compliant, diverse talent can help companies rise to the challenge, she adds.

Read: Women holding more board seats, but overall diversity still lagging: report

“If you have a diverse employee base who also shares those values or those goals and strategies, they can help you attract a more diverse client base and better meet their needs.”

Measurable results

The DEI strategy has been well received by BNP Paribas’ workforce, says Fouquet-Pimpin. A 2023 internal survey found 91 per cent of employees support DEI initiatives and 86 per cent said they see the organization as committed to the fair treatment of all employees, regardless of nationality, gender or sexual orientation.

For employers considering implementing a DEI strategy, she says it’s a journey that starts with education and a governance structure comprised of leaders and employees who are passionate about diversity, supported by external partners that champion diversity.

“It takes time and if you really want to be able to monitor your results, you need to measure and learn from your actions. You’re really looking at embedding inclusion everywhere, not just in talent acquisition.”

Blake Wolfe is the interim editor of Benefits Canada and the Canadian Investment Review.