‘Implement trans and non-binary DE&I or risk putting off Gen Z talent’

Legal case for DE&I on the horizon too, according to St James’s Place manager


Christine Dawson

The investment sector risks failing to attract the new talent of Gen Z unless it can be an inclusive space for transgender and nonbinary people, according to a report by LGBT Great.

In Turning the corner Shining a light on trans and non-binary diversity, equity and inclusion, LGBT Great found 1.8% of Gen Z identify as transgender – higher than any previous generation. It also stated 94% of trans and non-binary talent will only join an employer if they are visibly supportive of trans and non-binary employees.

To address the issue, investment companies need to ensure they have appropriate gender identity and corporate allyship in diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) strategies, LGBT Great said.

Speaking at a panel discussion hosted by LGBT Great on 19 November 2021, BlackRock director of US and Canada DEI client engagement, Erica Seremeta, Fidelity associate, Ember Overal and St James’s Place programme manager, business change, Emma Palethorpe, explained why gender identity – rather than just sexual orientation – and corporate allyship are crucial.

Why is trans and non-binary DE&I so critically important in the industry?

Overal: It is just the right thing to do. And it is very important for the generation that is coming in to the workforce now. You don’t want to cut yourself off from that talent and you don’t want to cut yourself off from LGBT and non-binary talent.

Palethorpe: [There is the] moral case and the business case. I think there is a legal case as well.

The Nasdaq listing rule change that happened earlier this year states that all companies have to have at least one director who self-identifies as either a minority or LGBTQ+.

There is a Financial Conduct Authority consultation currently underway that is on similar ground. So it is a matter of time before there is also a legal case for being diverse.

It is very well documented that there are going to be skills shortages in the coming years as more folk leave the workforce than enter it. Tie that in with the number of Gen Zs who are either in the workforce now or will be in the next few years. If a company is going to thrive, if it wants to achieve its strategic objectives, it’s got to create an environment where trans and non-binary folk feel they belong and can be effective.

How are you driving conversations within your company and with clients?

Seremeta: One initiative was driving a presentation we built for a lot of our retail advisory engagements and just helping them to understand who we are. Because a lot of times there are misconceptions, and look there are some unique challenges we face as a community… whether it’s [prejudices around] excessive spending habits, whether it’s some of the healthcare speciality needs – the educational aspect as well as understanding pronouns and what LGBTQ stands for can help lessen that awkward conversation at first.

Palethorpe: We do diversity data collection at St James’s Place (SJP). We had a 72.3% response rate and the data isn’t anonymous. We attach it to the employee record. It’s anonymous in use but not anonymous in collection. So, what we can do is merge that data with salaries for example, or location or project or velocity through the organisation.

It gives us a richness to understand when we’re attracting diverse talent, how they are going on at the organisation, and whether they are staying.

The other thing that we’ve done is change our recruitment forms. When we have applications externally for new recruits, for example under gender you can now say male, female, non-binary, prefer not to say or prefer to self-describe. You can just send a free text so we can get that richness of data that is going to help us to influence the senior management within the organisation by saying “look at the people that are coming to SJP we need to create an inclusive space for them.”

Seremeta: Don’t forget about the bathrooms. That’s probably one of the most awkward things for someone who’s starting to transition or during transition or post transition.

That feeling you get around going in to the right bathroom or being questioned whether you should be there or not. Having those gender-neutral bathrooms really does help out.

What are the top barriers you have faced in financial services?

Seremeta: In the beginning I was my own barrier. So, I was in an organisation… I think I had come to an understanding of who I was and who I was becoming for real now.

And it was almost like “where’s the female voice in finding my new female voice?” My presence, my voice in being who I am in the room, being accepted. It’s just like any other female out there. And that’s always been a barrier in financial services – that glass ceiling has been there for decades and it is being broken now by many, many facets and races too.

That was me just overcoming my own fear and realising I’m capable of doing this. Now I can help people do this as well.

Palethorpe: I want to look at that question slightly differently and think about the enablers. It took me a long time to find the right organisation where I felt I could transition. One of the signals I got from an organisation was the was the fact they’ve appointed the head of diversity and inclusion. And that, to me suggests that this was a place that takes diversity seriously, actually wants to make a difference.

And then off the back of my transition, I’ve been able to set up an LGBT network. I’ve been able to create a transgender policy, which includes medical support, which isn’t common in the UK, but we got that through.

What else can companies and colleagues do to be allies?

Overal: When I started at Fidelity there were some process issues. Things like changing your name if you told us that you were trans was much more difficult than changing your name if you didn’t tell us. Those were things I made sure to get fixed as soon as I’d noticed it. And it’s the kind of thing that unless you are thinking about you don’t go looking for.

We are working hard at the moment to update the ability to have a non-binary pronoun. A couple of non-binary colleagues I work with, that is a big, important thing for them that their post goes to mx as opposed to miss or mister.

And on the backend we have started promoting having your pronouns in your email signature.

It is not just trans colleagues who are doing that, I have cis colleagues doing that hand it helps normalise it and make people conformable with that concept. That’s a great move we’ve made and I am allowed to do that on external emails now. That was something I was a little concerned about.

Seremeta: Be part of the network, educate yourself. Get a little flag, LGBTQ flag, put it on your desk make a representation. Probably most importantly be a proactive ally. When you hear something that’s disingenuous, educate that person when we’re not there.

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