Comment: Inclusion is a responsibility for us all

Posted: 08/03/2019

Sue Fox_HSBCOn International Women’s Day, Sue Fox (pictured), CEO of HSBC Channel Islands and Isle of Man, says diversity is about the inclusion of everyone and valuing people because of – not in spite of – their differences 

As a female CEO, I’m often asked about diversity and gender diversity in particular. I was brought up an only child in a working-class family. I often joke that I was ‘my dad’s only son’. He brought me up to believe that I could be anything I wanted to be, regardless of background or difference – particularly gender.  

I have had a successful career, but it’s fair to say that there have been challenges along the way. I didn’t have many female role models to look up to when I started out. This made it easy to feel limited – by myself and others, and I have seen unconscious bias in action.

I have succeeded by being resilient, pushing through barriers and wanting to change the status quo. I believe in role modelling the change I want to see.  

Valuing difference

Diversity and inclusion, however, is much more than gender balance. It’s about valuing everyone because of – not in spite of – their differences and nurturing an open and inclusive environment where people feel safe to bring their whole selves to work.

While the percentage of women working in financial services is far higher than when I started out 30 years ago, there is so much more we can do to support women, to ensure they feel able to progress their careers to the most senior levels, especially when they may be juggling family and work commitments. 

However, the same can be true for men, too. We no longer live in a world where it should be assumed that women will do the majority of the childcare or that the family unit is the typical 2.4 children.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is Balance for Better and that couldn’t be more in tune with my own beliefs about how to create a brilliant business. Here’s a short story to illustrate why this is so important. 

Tackling prejudice

In my previous role in the UK, we established a new Diversity and Inclusion Board and relaunched two of our Diversity and Inclusion committees – ‘Outstanding’, representing our LGBT community, and ‘Respect’, to help support those with both visible and non-visible disabilities. 

During the first event, a colleague talked about her previous employer and how they reacted when she came out as a gay woman and introduced colleagues to her girlfriend. She spoke about how attitudes towards her palpably changed; she would be excluded from meetings she was previously invited to and people would go quiet when she entered the room.

She also told us about her car being set on fire outside her house when she and her girlfriend moved in together. I was horrified, and angry. 

I also felt guilty. Not because I had ever behaved in such an appalling and discriminatory way – but because I was completely unaware that these attitudes still existed and were displayed in mainstream workplaces and society. 

As a result of this, I became more resolute to ensure that all colleagues in my business felt safe, secure and completely free to be their true selves, both in and out of work. You cannot expect anyone to be at their best if they cannot be themselves. 

Sue Fox2_HSBCSharing stories

One way I knew I could encourage progress was to give people a platform to tell their stories. In doing this we were demonstrating that it’s always ok to be you and that we’ll value you because of, not in spite of, your differences. This is what inclusion is. 

These stories included people from all different backgrounds, religious backgrounds, ethnic minorities, those who have faced discrimination due to gender, those who face or have faced mental health problems, people facing personal difficulties such as fertility issues as well as others dealing with prejudice. 

What I know now, having lost that naive view from all those years ago that prejudice and discrimination only exists in the extremes, is that inclusion is an ongoing responsibility for us all. 

For me, diversity is so much more than gender; it’s about inclusion of everyone and ensuring that everyone feels able to bring their whole self to work.

So, while we celebrate International Women’s Day, it’s the responsibility of all of us to take a moment to think about what we can do to help our businesses Balance for Better.

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