Damian Smith's opinion piece on diversity and inclusion


It's easy for many in the corporate world to get caught up in diversity buzzwords. But the reality is that for today's companies to compete and succeed, it is a necessity - and it goes well beyond a feel-good marketing story.

Companies that truly believe and walk-the-walk of diversity and inclusion see benefits that ripple throughout the organization. And many of these benefits are now established and measurable. The McKinsey Report "Diversity Matters" broke new ground in 2015, establishing the statistical link between diversity and a company's performance. McKinsey’s updated 2018 report shows that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 21 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability. That’s up from 15 percent three years ago.

And for ethnic/cultural diversity, there was a 33 percent likelihood of outperformance in the 2018 report, which is comparable to the 35 percent figure from the 2015 report.

It is clear that diversity is not just the right thing to do, it has become a business imperative. While it’s easy to get excited by such numbers, there needs to be a clear strategy, with deliberate focus and action to truly capitalize on these benefits, particularly in Financial Services where the war for talent is heating up.

In my experience, the most successful diversity and inclusion strategies exhibit the following:

It starts at the top

At Societe Generale Americas, executive leadership has made this a priority. They hired me to serve as chief diversity officer and report directly to Slawomir Krupa, CEO, Societe Generale Americas. My mandate includes the development and execution of a diversity and inclusion strategy, with clear goals for the entire organization. These goals also align with strategic priorities and core values. Slawomir has emphasized the importance of diversity in meetings with his leadership team and in town halls with all employees, plus senior management has helped set the tone for the organization through consistent engagement on the topic. In addition, all managers at SG are required to set a personal performance objective directly related to diversity and inclusion.

But it succeeds from within

To make diversity and inclusion work within an organization, employees truly have to be part of it, having a voice in the discussion and being actively engaged in diversity initiatives. At Societe Generale, we created Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) which are voluntary, employee-led groups that include an executive committee member as a sponsor. We now have eight ERGs: Americas Women’s Network, Asian Cultural Exchange, Black Leadership Network, Societe Generale Diverseabilities, supporting employees and families with special needs, Pride and Allies, Vamos!, our Hispanic ERG, Veterans Network, and RE:Generation, which is focused on juniors and multi-generational diversity. These groups are open to all employees and are fully funded by SG. Employee Resource Groups can have an enormous impact on an organization by helping with recruitment and retention of diverse talent. These professionals can be our best salespeople by spreading the word on the culture and opportunities at Societe Generale Americas. They can also serve as strong mentors and assist in career development. Internally, ERGs are a critical voice that deliver vital information to leadership. And the education and cultural awareness they help spread throughout the organization is invaluable.

It aligns with corporate values and goals

Diversity and inclusion are also clearly linked to our Corporate Values: Innovation, Team Spirit, Responsibility and Commitment. For example, we know that diversity of thought and experience help to create more innovative solutions, and we actively partner with Employee Resource Groups to participate in Innovation Sessions. By linking diversity and inclusion closely with our values and strategic priorities, we hope to deliver on our Diversity & Inclusion Mission to enhance our competitive position and deliver innovative solutions to our clients.

And ultimately leads to a cultural shift

This all matters on multiple levels. A diverse and inclusive organization helps better understand the diverse needs of clients. And by the way, clients are also getting more diversified themselves and asking questions about who they are dealing with. A great work culture helps attract and retain top talent in the industry. And as more Millennials move into the workforce, culture is becoming more important than simple compensation. All these are drivers that help create a culture shift and ultimately deliver a better performing company.

But with much work still ahead

While we have built this framework over the past several years, there is much work and many challenges ahead. The fact is, there are not enough women in top leadership positions in Financial Services and, as an industry, we've seen a drop in the number of Black leaders on Wall Street, just to name a couple of examples.

We know that progress on diversity and inclusion will be a journey, but our recent successes in achieving a perfect score on the HRC Index and endorsing the UN Standards of Conduct of Business reveal that with effort and commitment from employees at all levels, real change can happen. Societe Generale is moving in the right direction, and this endorsement reflects our desire to be seen as an employer of choice not just in the Americas, but globally as well.

The goal of building a fun, productive and engaging workplace doesn't happen overnight. But we are making strides and there is positive momentum. At Societe Generale, we say that we are “Stronger Together.” If we make our culture as diverse and inclusive as possible, we will stay ahead of our peers while making Societe Generale a great place to work and an employer of choice. That is a win-win we all would like to achieve.