Black History Month Q&A: Tangible change happens at the top

Pimfa's Oris Ikomi says engagement with young Black talent is key but senior leadership buy-in is essential

Inclusion in the workplace has become a more mainstream conversation, but fundamentally senior leadership buy-in is key, as well as events in the finance industry that bring people together to share their lived experiences.

This is according to Oris Ikomi, early careers engagement manager for Personal Investment Management and Financial Advice Association (Pimfa), who sat down with ESG Clarity for Black History Month.

Joining Pimfa in August this year, Ikomi strives to educate financial organisations on how to engage with young people, from primary and secondary school students through to university graduates, to improve diversity among new starters.

From discussing how to inspire young Black individuals and amplify their talent to providing insight on what the financial industry can do to further diversify its workforce, Ikomi made it clear that educating both underrepresented groups and hiring managers is key.

How does Pimfa actively support and celebrate Black History Month?

Authenticity is key for Pimfa. That is, hosting events that align with our overall aim to promote diverse talent within the industry. For example, inviting panellists of a Black heritage who work in the financial industry to talk at events is a good way to break down stereotypes and inspire Black talent.

Last week I attended and spoke at the 1000 Black Boys event, designed to empower Black young boys to build their confidence and career aspirations. One of the panel sessions was made of three teenagers who had been on the 1000 Black Boys programme, and talked about their experience and career aspirations. Events like these help inspire underrepresented groups to aspire for a career in finance.

Why do you think Black History Month is so important?

Over the past years, people have begun to acknowledge people of Black heritage in the UK, for example, by looking at their success in the workplace. The conversation has shifted from “let’s get companies to recognise Black talent” to something more mainstream. Black History month helps to keep the conversation going and continue working towards a more inclusive environment.

How can companies foster an inclusive environment for Black early career professionals beyond Black History Month?

There are a number of things companies can do beyond this month. For example, internal employee resource groups are useful to focus on the needs of Black talent, such as the organisation culture in a workplace. This ensures that there are equal opportunities and policies within the workplace. It also enables companies to help Black talent progress by introducing mentoring programmes that ensure individuals have full support along the way.

Fundamentally, there must be a buy-in from the senior leadership team. It must be part of their overall long-term strategy – something they consciously think about – not just another thing to tick off their list. Transparency is key. Also, asking the why is important. Why do companies want to represent young Black talent? This helps eradicate this tick-box mindset.

What is the best approach to acknowledging Black History Month in the workplace?

Events that helps give people the platform to share and exchange their lived experiences in the financial industry, for example, a panel chat, is really beneficial. An effective way to gage insight is by focusing on the lived experience of people of Black heritage as it helps companies acknowledge and implement initiatives.

For example, for the Pimfa D&I awards last year, Pimfa launched the Make It Campaign. This is a series of videos that gave testimonies of people from different backgrounds that would help employers recruit different generations across the board. Knowledge – and sharing that knowledge – is so important. When you come from an unrepresented background, a lot of time there is no one to provide information on how to get into the industry. These events can help change that.

What issues prevent young Black talent from being represented in the financial industry?

It is not because people from underrepresented backgrounds do not want to work in the financial sector, but the way people are hired. There is a lot of nepotism, which is the main reason why you see the same people working in the industry. But now I am starting to see an increase in work experience programmes available to all and an increase in blind recruitment. Many firms do not have a standardised, objective selection process. When this is not in place, bias influences decisions, which worsens racial equity in the sector.

Bias majorly points to the lack of representation in the financial industry. There is bias among clients – many people hire those who are from a similar background to them – and also among underrepresented groups thinking they do not belong in the financial sector due to lacking representation. Educating young Black talent about opportunities in the industry and what specific firms specialise in, is key.

For there to be real tangible change, it needs to happen at the top. A decision must be made by senior leaderships about what they do as an organisation to ensure everyone is represented. That is the long-term goal. If you focus on positive action initiatives that sustain Black talent without doing things at the top, it won’t be sustainable.

The ultimate goal is to reach inclusion, equity and get to place where psychological and physical barriers are removed.

How do you encourage Black individuals to apply for early career roles within finance?

Firms that run Positive Action programmes, insight days and mentoring programmes are good starting points. The outreach element is important. When you reach out to people, you must take the time to form relationships with young Black talents. A lot of recruiters host careers fair days which is good, but it is about forming a connection with prospective workers that is beneficial.

Social media is a useful tool here, for example, by collaborating with influencers who already work with young people. More people of Black heritage are being acknowledged as successful – you have so many celebrities that represent this. It is the sector’s benefit to represent Black talent to bring in potential new clients.

Policy messaging is much of what we do. Knowing the challenges within the industry, we want to take a lead of taking Black talents on a journey to change their perception and own biases about the industry.

Are you seeing any improvements in racial diversity in the industry?

The industry has to reflect the society it serves. There is still a lot of work to do, but we are going in the right direction as conversations are being had and people want to open up the industry.