Celebrating Black History Month
In commemoration of Black History Month, members of Societe Generale Americas's Black Leadership Network (BLN) shared their insights on a variety of topics, such as their own experiences in the financial services industry and their observations on how the industry can improve opportunities for black professionals. The third interview in this series is with Larry Lawrence, Global Markets, Sales.
As the chair of the Black Leadership Network, what do you see as its primary role?
The BLN – like any other Employee Resource Group – helps people understand and appreciate inclusion and diversity and why those concepts matter. Resource Groups are an opportunity for all employees, whether as members or allies, to show their commitment to a diverse and inclusive culture.
I hope that one day we'll get to the point where we don't need groups like the Black Leadership Network because everyone will be able to bring their whole self to work all of the time. But to get there, you need to be cognizant of, and honest about, where you're starting from. BLN provides all of us with a platform to do that.
What is BLN doing to commemorate Black History Month?
We celebrate Black History Month every year. This year, we're presenting a history wall in our New York office that will detail the journey of blacks in finance, starting with the first black person to have a seat on the New York Stock Exchange up through such business titans like Reginald Lewis, who built TLC Beatrice; Robert Johnson, founder of BET; and Ken Chenault, the longtime CEO of American Express.
What improvements have you seen for black professionals in finance over your career?
In general, you continue to see some progress, but it's a continuing journey. We need to focus more on getting black talent in the pipeline and then letting them know there is a path forward for them. The industry statistics on difference in pay, in advancement – you name it – are appalling. People think we've come so far – and we have – but it's very sobering when you realize how much more there is to do.
At Societe Generale Americas, we’ve seen a greater focus on recruiting and developing the careers of black professionals, thanks in large part to our CEO Slawomir Krupa's commitment to diversity in the workplace.
How could the industry accelerate progress?
You need to see diversity – people of color, women, LGBT, members of all groups – at very senior levels because that gives people below them in that pipeline something to shoot for. Without that representation, you're sending a very different message.
When I say senior people, I'm talking about on the board, running businesses, and so forth. Diversity at that level is essential because it gives all employees something they can aspire to, and it is good for business. It is proven that businesses with diversity at senior levels have superior performance by any number of measures.
It's not enough to identify the problem. We need to take deliberate action. Talking about change and hoping for it is not enough.
Also, more and more of our clients have diversified teams, and it's critical that we reflect our clientele. The people who we speak to on a daily basis need to know that Societe Generale is a diverse place.
Are client needs around diversity explicit or implicit?
Both. We're beginning to see clients during the due diligence process detailing and documenting the steps that institutions are taking from a diversity standpoint. They want to know it's more than just checking a box.
What is your call to action?
When I recruit for my team, I make sure that I draw from a diverse and inclusive pool, and I try to make certain that my team is that way. That is deliberate, but it's not a matter of favoritism. Merit is vital. They must be extremely qualified and competent professionals.