Diversity issues emphasise importance of the individual

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Her job is to ensure that SSSB 'attracts and supports a diverse staff base', and a measure of the perceived importance of this task is Fisher's location on the top floor of SSSB's London base, reporting straight to chief executives Edward Miller and Will Samuel.'This is a business imperative, not a 'nice to have',' says Fisher, who joined Salomon Brothers in 1997 as head of training and development and was subsequently responsible for launching diversity awareness programmes across SSSB.

The business drivers behind diversity are clear: a combination of the so-called war for talent and the very real fear of litigation as employees become more aware of their rights. SSSB itself is still embroiled in a high profile sex discrimination case brought by ex-Schroders analyst Julie Bower last year. Unless the case is settled out of court in the next few weeks, it is due to continue at an industrial tribunal in February.

Two days into her new job, Fisher is keen to steer conversation away from law suits and number crunching. Although she confirms that SSSB will continue to monitor the number of women it employs, the pay differentials between men and women and the ethnic mix of its workforce, she refuses to reveal figures.

'Diversity is not just about equal opportunities or quotas, but about making us an employer of choice. It's about valuing differences in people and reflecting our diverse client base. At this stage, we are focusing more on creating an environment in which all individuals can flourish. There are no targets. Our emphasis is on meritocracy and targets act against that emphasis,' she argues.

Much of what Fisher will be doing is raising awareness and getting feedback from different parts of the organisation. There are plans for employee attitude surveys and surveys of graduate recruits - those who joined the organisation and those who did not - plus initiatives to cast the recruiting net wider.

Her remit is Europe-wide, and unlike many diversity heads appointed to European arms of US corporations, she is British, not American. Her wide remit, however, makes the task much more challenging than the US diversity function on which her role is based. One cannot help wondering how investment bankers in Italy or France will react to the notion of a head of diversity.

Fisher is diplomatic. 'We are keen to reflect the differences evident in Europe and not to treat this function as a US import. I wouldn't want to stereotype the reactions in different countries.'

What Fisher can claim is that her diversity training to date has gone straight to the lion's den. SSSB has run workshops for trading floor staff with actors playing out realistic 'diversity dilemmas'.

Three actors play the role of a pregnant trader, a male colleague and their boss. The woman is concerned about how going on maternity leave may affect her career and the group is asked to brief the actors on how they should play out the scene. After seeing their advice played out, the group discusses the issues raised.

Fisher says: 'At the most positive end there are groups who briefed the manager to come up with reasons why the woman should stay in the organisation, by emphasising that the organisation is now more receptive to working parents, policies around childcare, and so on.

'At the negative end, some groups briefed the woman that she should leave. We had one group recently who got the woman to go, but she took her male colleague with her. It does make people think.'

Fisher hopes that such initiatives will help embed a culture of universal respect throughout the organisation. 'We will be working on the values of the organisation,' she says. 'It's tough because it takes time. But it would be hard to argue that, compared with a few years ago, things haven't changed already.'

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