After pledging disclosure, many UK banks still silent on race diversity data

·6-min read

By Sinead Cruise and Elizabeth Howcroft

LONDON (Reuters) - For many bankers, rising to seniority cements their status as a company insider. Citi executive Ireti Samuel-Ogbu never felt so out of place.

"I felt on the outside," said Nigerian-born Samuel-Ogbu, who has worked at Citi for 32 years. "I only felt that when I became senior because suddenly the fact there were so few people of colour helping to lead the organisation was brought into stark relief."

The world's biggest banks renewed pledges to improve diversity within their predominantly white ranks last year, after the death of George Floyd in police custody in the United States in May sparked global protests about racism.

Many British-based banks had already signed the UK's Business in the Community Race At Work Charter, which was launched in 2018 and obliges employers to collect and publish British staff diversity data, while others signed up in the weeks after Floyd's death.

A Reuters review of 14 top banks, most of whom signed the charter over a year ago, found eight had not yet published any UK ethnic diversity data as of December 2020. Three others disclosed limited information, while three published detailed figures.

The charter does not specify any time limit, but company insiders and equality campaigners said a lack of disclosure made it difficult to measure progress in financial services, a $104 billion cash cow that has historically generated about 10% of UK tax receipts and 3.5% of GDP.

"Action begins with recognising the starting point," said Poppy Jaman, CEO of the City Mental Health Alliance, adding that a dearth of diversity was causing significant stress for minority employees.

"Good intentions are no longer enough, they've never been enough."

Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse and Bank of America all said they collected diversity data, but declined to disclose it.

Citi and Societe Generale, which are not currently signatories of the charter, also did not provide data. Citi said it was collecting and intended to publish data while SocGen said it was unable to collect this data under French law.

Some banks said their disclosures were contingent on staff voluntarily declaring their ethnicity and that not enough people had done so yet.

Sam Okafor, co-lead of NatWest's Racial Equality Taskforce, said it was important that ethnic minority staff felt they could be themselves at work. "We still have examples of people changing their names to fit in," he added.

He stressed, though, that it was no easy task to redress inequalities, and that rushing into goal-setting was not the answer. Instead banks needed to take their time to understand the challenges faced by employees.

(For a graphic on Lack of Visibility - https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/xlbpgyxrdpq/eVj8s-lack-of-visibility-racial-diversity-at-uk-banks%20(3).png)

'BAME' CAN MASK DIFFERENCES

Three signatories - Barclays, NatWest Group and Standard Chartered - did disclose overall figures for "BAME", or Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic, staff numbers, but did not fully break this down into constituent ethnic groups.

While the charter does not specify what level of detail is required, Sandra Kerr, race director at Business in the Community, said the term BAME masked differences between ethnic groups.

Most banks said they were working towards publishing more granular data.

JPMorgan's EMEA chief executive, Indian-born Viswas Raghavan, said life for minorities had improved during his 40-year career but the industry remained less productive than it could be because too many people of colour felt they didn't belong.

"When I started, I didn't really give any thought to the fact that I had a brown face and whether it would lead to me being treated differently, but that's not the experience for everyone," he added.

"Society should hold the financial sector to account," he said, adding that JPMorgan was striving to address disclosure gaps and link management compensation with targets on racial representation.

Three banks – Lloyds Banking Group, HSBC and UBS – did fully break down BAME figures.

In HSBC's UK workforce, 2.4% of staff have self-identified as Black, but among senior leaders this falls to 0.9%. At UBS, 2.9% of its total UK workforce have self-identified as Black compared with 1.9% at senior levels. At Lloyds, 1.5% of UK staff are Black, but among senior management this falls to 0.6%.

Black people make up 3.4% of Britain's working-age population, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Half of the 14 banks surveyed did not disclose specific racial diversity targets for their UK workforces.

Those that did largely focused on management. HSBC, for example, aims to double the number of Black employees in senior roles by 2025, while Standard Chartered targets 5% Black representation in such roles by the same deadline.

A lack of Black staff in senior roles is a factor in a large pay gap. Lloyds reported its ethnicity pay gap data in December, based on figures from April 2020. It showed a 16.7% mean pay gap between Black and white employees and a mean bonus gap of 52.9%. The pay gap was more than double the Asian-white pay gap.

For a graphic on Black representation at senior levels: https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/rlgpdgbmbvo/QoRgp-black-representation-falls-at-senior-levels%20(1).png

'MICRO-AGGRESSIONS' AT WORK

Ghanaian-born Bernard Mensah, president of international at Bank of America, said his bank eventually aimed for full disclosure on its diversity. He said he wanted to prevent young people from minorities ending up in "professional cul-de-sacs".

"For some of them, yes, they're not getting the opportunities because they are Black. But for others, this isn't the case," Mensah said.

Samuel-Ogbu, who did not comment directly on Citi's data disclosure, said the new conversation around race following the Black Lives Matter protests gave her the chance to describe to colleagues the discomfort she had felt as a Black person in banking.

Now head of the bank's Nigeria business after years working in London, Samuel-Ogbu recalled experiencing racism in the form of "micro-aggressions" – subtle or unconscious remarks about how she dressed or styled her hair, or jokes about racial stereotypes.

"If you've never had to think about your colour, or be treated in any other manner because of your colour, you're in a position of privilege," she said.

Three minority financial-sector employees in their 20s, who were interviewed by Reuters, echoed this concern. They asked not to be named for fear of harming their careers.

One said he could go a whole month at work, and the only Black person he'd speak to would be a cleaner or cook. Another, a British-Nigerian bank employee, recalled trawling LinkedIn to see if he could find people of his ethnicity who had "made it".

Two of the employees described the small percentage of minority leaders as demotivating, saying they felt the small number in senior decision-making roles could hinder the diversity drive from making meaningful change.

A survey by NatWest in 2020 found that while 79% of all staff agreed with the statement "all employees have the same opportunity to advance in this organisation", only 50% of Asian employees did, and just 28% of Black respondents.

"It's important we reassure this cohort that they should give the City a go," said Mensah, referring to London's financial sector. "Can you eliminate racism or bias in every instance? No. But it's getting better."

($1 = 0.7281 pounds)

(Reporting by Sinead Cruise and Elizabeth Howcroft; Additional reporting by Iain Withers; Editing by Pravin Char)