Organisations need to focus on specificity in their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives even if that makes them feel uncomfortable, said Leanne Mair, CEO & Founder of Benefactum Consulting, in the latest Reboot episode.
Mair also shares feedback from Black women and what they expect from their employees, why groups are overlooking the power of employee resource groups and her number one recommendation for firms to improve DEI.
ESG Clarity and Reboot have teamed up for this video interview series to celebrate ethnic minorities making a mark on the corporate world.
Please note ‘reboot.’ has rebranded to ‘Reboot’.
To see the full Reboot. series run by ESG Clarity click here
The full transcript of the video is below:
NK: Hello and welcome back to this ESG Clarity video series in conjunction with Reboot. I’m joined today by Leanne Mair, CEO & Founder of Benefactum Consulting. Thanks so much for coming over to see us today.
LM: Happy to be here.
NK: So, first of all, can you talk a bit about your career and where you’ve got to today?
LM: I started out originally in asset management, it feels like ages ago now, but in 2007 and then I stayed up until 2012, then I took a year out (we can talk about that afterwards) and then I started again back at PIMCO in Munich, and I was there for eight and a half years.
Then, in 2021, as a culmination of experiences, expertise and everything else, I launched my own consultancy that seeks to help financial services really commit to their gender equity strategies in looking to retain women, but with a very explicit focus on how that impacts Black women in the organisation.
See also: This month’s ESG Clarity digital magazine cover story on tackling racial inequity
NK: Okay. Tell me about that year out.
LM: I know we don’t talk about mental health all the time, but the year out was, I just reached a point where I needed to take a break from the industry and I didn’t necessarily have a plan, but that plan still helped form eventually,once I got my clarity back, to kind of move me into the next stage and the next phase, which is a really important part of who I am today.
NK: Thank you so much for sharing that with us. And can you talk a bit about what you’ve found with the business since you founded it? What have you been discussing with some of the companies that you’ve been talking to?
LM: The year before last we launched Closing the Chasm. It looks at the experience of Black women across Europe and is industry agnostic. Each year we get an overwhelming representation due to my background from financial services. The results of the first year look to specificity; what is it that Black women expect of their employees?
What came back was DEI initiatives are not serving Black women within organisations. It’s specificity that came out of it. A lot of the work that we were doing last year has been around operationalising DEI committees, but also socialising this concept for a lot of organisations that they need to be specific in solutions, even if they do have a general foundation when it comes to being specific to addressing DEI issues, they have to kind of get used to it. And around that there’s a lot of discomfort, especially when you’re talking about race.
See also: – ‘In 10 years I hadn’t come across another black woman in PE’
NK: What would you say are the barriers to progression for ethnic minorities in terms of career progression? Maybe you could share some personal challenges that you’ve come up against.
LM: So this is an interesting one. I didn’t necessarily realise at the time when I was younger that my race and my gender played a role, that came much later in terms of being able to articulate it, but from personal experience, looking at it from the other side, not so much of the barriers, but what has helped me and has also helped me even with starting my own business, is understanding that everything you do is about relationships, whether you are in a business or whether you decide to start your own business.
It’s about building strong relationships that help you have a network, both within your organisation but also outside. And I think sometimes it’s the access to networks, and this is also what’s come out of our report this year, access to networks, access to sponsors, access to mentors is sometimes difficult. I was lucky that I had a sponsor very early in my career who guided me in so many different directions and helped me build a network that I still have today.
NK: As a consultancy what would you recommend companies do? One key thing that they can put in place that would make them more inclusive?
LM: This is going to be a controversial one.
NK: That’s ok, we love that!
LM: I still think a lot of organisations are still overlooking the power of employee resource groups. And I always say that an employee resource group should have three functions; to celebrate, to complain, but also to be part of the business’s overall strategy. I think for any organisation that has employee resource groups now, even if you have them, think about them practically and take a step back: you’ve probably got the celebration part down, you probably have the complaint part down, but how are you operationalising these groups to make sure that their experiences are being heard and that you are also implementing the required changes in your business? Because that doesn’t necessarily always require external interference. It could just be you talk to them and say, ‘Look, this is what we’re trying to achieve, what do you need in order to feel more part of the business?’ That would be my number one recommendation.
NK: Great. Well, let’s hope they’re listening. Thank you so much for coming in today and sharing your insight. It’s been great talking to you.
LM: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.