PwC Partner Mohib Yousufani and Susan LaMonica, Chief Human Resources Officer and Head of Corporate Affairs at Citizens Financial Group, discuss how diversity and inclusion has evolved in the banking and capital markets industry.
Susan, diversity and inclusion (D&I) is an important issue in the banking industry. You've been with Citizens Financial Group for a number of years, and prior to that, spent several years at JPMorgan Chase. How has D&I evolved in the banking industry during that time?
Diversity and inclusion is a topic that I am passionate about, and it's one I've been involved with for years. D&I has been on the financial industry agenda for as long as I can remember, and we have been making progress… but not as much as we would have liked. I think that in the past year we’ve seen an acceleration which has given us an opportunity that feels like a real inflection point to drive meaningful D&I progress. At the end of the day, colleagues want to be part of a company and culture where inclusion is really embedded into the fabric of the company.
Yousufani: The past year has definitely driven progress on this issue, with many organizations introducing D&I programs and educational opportunities. What steps has Citizens taken in this area?
LaMonica: About four years ago, we launched a formal D&I effort by taking a top-down and bottom-up approach. Since our D&I work focuses on inclusion, we tap into our network of business resource groups (BRGs), in which almost a third of our employees participate. We also promote accountability and transparency throughout the company. D&I efforts often stall when they are siloed, but we think about D&I as part of an ecosystem that includes workplace, colleagues, customers and the community.
Yousufani: How has your recruiting and talent approach become more diverse and inclusive over the past couple of years?
LaMonica: We're committed to ensuring that our leaders understand that D&I is not just about improving the numbers, but that it's about creating an inclusive environment for all our colleagues. Our education efforts focus on valuing uniqueness, building a sense of belonging and making decisions fairly. People want to join an organization with a compelling value proposition, where they see an opportunity to grow and develop their careers but also has a mission and purpose that they connect with.
To focus on each of these D&I processes, we had an outside party look at our HR processes and policies — to see if there was any bias. To provide a level playing field, we strive to equitably identify, assess and select talent. For example, 50% of candidates we interview for senior-level roles must be diverse. As a result, we've seen an uptick in the number of diverse candidates we hire. We also created developmental initiatives targeted at women and people of color — both as individuals and as groups.
One of the ways that we measure our D&I progress, in addition to looking at more traditional things like demographics, is to also consider cultural dimensions, and we use an engagement survey for that. When we began using the survey in 2014, we were in the middle of the third quartile of companies which participated. When we ran the survey last fall, we reached the top quartile for the first time, which is significant because top quartile companies outperform others 3:1.
But it's not just about the numbers. It's about creating a culture and environment where people experience the company in a similar way, and they feel good about their opportunities, how they're treated, and feel that they are respected and valued.
Yousufani: Susan, can you tell me about the work you're doing that relates to diversity and inclusion in the community?
LaMonica: To make true D&I progress, we have to make an impact on society, but that requires partnership. We're working closely with our partners (including academic organizations, universities and government entities) to build necessary capabilities in the communities in which we operate. That enables us to create a pipeline of future talent, but it also helps to ensure that those communities are thriving. We aspire to be a trusted and active advocate for a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace and society. Through our community initiatives, products and colleague programs, we are bringing our commitment to life every day.
Yousufani: I'd love to hear how you're thinking about diversity, equity and inclusion for your customers.
LaMonica: We're helping businesses and individuals gain access to much-needed capital. We also provided minority owned businesses and entrepreneurs with grant funding, consulting and mentoring support to help them solve business problems.
Yousufani: The pandemic made it clear that some groups of employees want to work from home more than others as we start to head back to the office. How is Citizens handling this issue?
LaMonica: We recognize that certain groups of people experienced the pandemic more acutely than others. The big learning for us was the power of flexibility, which is the overarching framework guiding our return to the office strategies. We look at all our colleagues and understand that they need different degrees of flexibility.
For example, a manager may treat one employee somewhat differently because of his or her personal needs compared to another employee. That can be hard to do because some people may think it’s not fair. But fairness doesn't mean sameness, and that can be a hard concept for some of our managers to understand and embrace.
We're not going back to the way we operated in the past. Instead, we’re embracing a hybrid environment. There's real value in bringing people together physically for meaningful purposes, but there's also a place for remote work, and some jobs will lend themselves to being remote more than others. We’re encouraging our managers to find the best approach for individual employees while confirming that business and team needs are met.
One challenge is having part of a team physically in the office while another part is working remotely. Managing that dynamic can be tricky, so we're preparing our leaders to manage in a hybrid environment — one that is inclusive, regardless of where employees are physically located.
Yousufani: What's next at Citizens regarding D&I?
LaMonica: What's next is increasing accountability. We’ve put important building blocks in place, but within the past year, we began driving greater degrees of accountability across D&I areas — customers, colleagues, the community and the culture — and we’ll continue to increase accountability in those areas.
I'm really excited about where Citizens is today — and our plans for the future. Everything is lining up so that we can make meaningful and sustainable progress, both at Citizens and in our communities.