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Karina's Column

An insider’s view on the City of London and beyond

Diversity and Inclusion


Church warnings: How to win the battle for talent

The Catholic Church in Guatemala is on a downward spiral. The magnificent Easter processions that fill the streets of its towns with penitents in purple robes and enthusiastic spectators disguises its decline from a monopoly position to under 50% of the population. The Church’s fall from grace holds at least three lessons – and three warnings – for companies a world away that are struggling with diversifying their workforce.

Leaders: Pope John Paul II was instrumental in the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. The charismatic Pole was also key to the collapse of the Catholic Church in Guatemala. His ultra-conservative brand of Catholicism reversed most of the advances made at the liberalising Vatican II Council and, more importantly for Central and South America, led to ostracism, if not ex-communication, for large numbers of priests who subscribed to Liberation Theology. These local priests worked for the poor and against abusive right-wing governments. The bishops and cardinals, meanwhile, had no qualms in bedding down with the army-supported authorities.

A CEO delivering rising profitability may be looked on as favourably as Pope John Paul II was in Europe, but without a commitment to Diversity & Inclusion policies those profits won’t be sustainable, given the battle for talented labour. Head hunters Korn Ferry report that London will be facing a shortage of more than half a million workers in financial and professional services by 2030. The tone from the leader of a firm and their interest in delivering more diversity are instrumental in attracting and retaining the best workers. And the more diverse the workforce the better the firm’s chances of survival in our fast-changing world.

Communication: On my recent visit to Guatemala, I watched the wizened, ancient priest celebrate Easter Mass in Antigua town’s main church. The audience of indigenous Indians and mestizos (60% and 35% of the population, respectively), listened to a sermon from the lips of this very white Italian – most probably a good man – who looked as though he had one foot in the grave. He, and his sermon, were uninspiring.

Compare that with the dynamic communication of the Pentecostals. They have radio channels dedicated to national music like salsa and merengue, laced with religious lyrics. They, and other arriviste movements from after the 1870s (the Catholic Church has been around from the 1530s) own TV channels with indigenous, brown-skinned Guatemalans preaching lively, relevant sermons. They are adept users of social media.

From job ads to websites, how you communicate and where you send out your message matters. A company that writes about its Diversity & Inclusion policies only on the recruitment page is missing a trick. The power of certain words is nowhere more evident than in those words that will attract men only, and those that will attract both women and men. “Aggressive” and “competitive” are a red light to women. The words that Schroders has on its website are a green light to all: “Find out about our people and how we value, nurture and celebrate them.”

In the last year, the FTSE-100 asset management firm has seen female applicants increase from 20% to 30% through a transformed communication strategy, CEO Peter Harrison told a May breakfast meeting of the Lord Mayor’s Appeal Power of Diversity programme.

Agile competitors: Evangelicals, Mormons and similar groups have made huge inroads into the Guatemalan population by targeting local leaders – a teacher, the owner of a local store, the midwife – and helping them become the preachers of the new religious message. Every convert morphs into a recruitment agent. The religious movements help local populations with projects to do with the export of tilapia fish or macadamia nuts – taking care of both spiritual and material needs.

The City, my professional home, is facing recruitment competition from companies like the infinitely-more-fashionable Netflix to all sorts of start-ups, while the headwinds of Brexit drive foreign workers away.

The firms that will thrive are those that take care of the spiritual and material needs of their workforce. For instance, ambitious millennial men expect to spend more time with their children than their fathers did with them. At Virgin Money 60% of Dads are taking shared parental leave of 11 weeks, infinitely more than in most firms, and sending out a clear message that time out for a baby does not mean a career on hold.

All managers use a pay and bonus tool that allows them to see in real time the impact of their pay and bonus decisions on the gender pay gap, noted Emily Cox, Director of Public Affairs at the financial services group, another speaker at the Lord Mayor’s Appeal breakfast.

Governments are important too. Some of the Evangelical churches have been supported in their Guatemalan adventures by the US government, which sees them as an arm of US foreign policy.

The UK government, mainly via the Treasury, took the lead in pushing the Women in Finance charter, to which 205 firms have signed up. Why? By attracting and retaining more women in the financial and business services sector, it expects to improve the UK’s sorry productivity numbers.

In adaptation lies survival. The Catholic Church, instead, went to sleep on its Guatemalan throne. Many City firms are transforming themselves. Those who don’t, risk following the Church’s sorry fate.

*Clydesdale Bank announced a bid for Virgin Money as this column was published. Let’s hope the merged entity applies the successful Virgin Money Diversity & Inclusion strategy.



catherine phelps