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A Sign of the times – How the finance industry is embracing STEM professionals

August 28, 2017

This article is written by Amy Meadows from Diversity in Action, link to original post. 

In recent years, the finance industry has been transformed by technology. Gone are the days of simple banking and commercial transactions. “Fintech” innovations have become the norm, and information technology has taken center stage for financial companies of all types and sizes. STEM professionals have become an integral part of the workforce in the finance arena, and they do everything from develop software and applications to provide data analytics. In fact, many finance companies no longer even consider themselves to be finance companies – they have become tech companies that provide financial services.

The shift in focus has created and an array of new opportunities for STEM professionals who are seeking employment, as doors open at companies that have not been part of the equation before. According to an essay written by Michael Bodson, president and CEO of financial services company The Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation (DTCC), “Industry research says that jobs in banking and finance requiring STEM skills will increase by 21 percent in the next 10 years, while all other jobs will increase by only 18 percent.” Change the Equation, a coalition of corporate members that is dedicated to promoting STEM literacy in schools and communities, notes that jobs in computing will increase by 14 percent and opportunities in engineering will climb 7 percent by 2027.

While this seems to be a hugely beneficial situation for those in STEM fields, there are still challenges regarding the level of diversity found among the individuals who are being recruited and hired into those coveted positions, particularly in the finance industry.

“Finding diversity in STEM is the biggest challenge as it relates to hiring,” explains Amy Zimmerman, head of people for Kabbage Inc., a burgeoning global fintech company that provides funding to small businesses through an automated lending platform. While jobs are available, companies in this sphere have to work diligently to recruit and retain a truly diverse group of individuals. They have to be creative in how they approach the process, and they must endeavor to retain the talent they find. Fortunately, many firms have taken proactive steps to ensure that their STEM-based staffs not only include women, people of color and people from underrepresented communities, but also that they become long-term employees.

Employees at Bloomberg LP, one of several fintech companies where diverse professionals are making their mark on the financial services and technology industry, serve on a UK Black Tech panel.

Engage and employ
For finance companies, recruiting diverse STEM professionals must be viewed from both an internal and external perspective. Not only do these firms need to have hiring practices in place to identify talent, but they also have to look outside of themselves to boost their efforts.

“We have 20,000 employees across the globe, so we employ people from all different countries, backgrounds and cultures,” notes Jeanette Bashford, global HR manager for engineering and research and development at financial software company Bloomberg LP. “Yet we are always striving to be better and do better. Like many, we see our population becoming more diverse, and we want to see more women and underrepresented groups in engineering.”

For a company like Bloomberg, which employs 5,000 software developers in its engineering department alone, finding diverse talent is imperative. That’s why the company has a diversity plan in place as it relates to recruiting. First and foremost, the company requires any recruiting agencies with which it works to provide a diverse slate of candidates. What’s more, the company’s plan places great emphasis on partnering directly with historically black colleges like Howard University, as well as programs like Women in Computer Science at North Carolina State University, to help the organization identify up-and-coming talent in the STEM arena and introduce them to the opportunities at Bloomberg.

“The talent pool is small and highly competitive, so researching and building relationships are our goals in this area,” explains Bashford, who also notes that the company sponsors a variety of conferences, including the Out for Undergrad business conference for high-achieving LGBTQ students, which was held at Bloomberg’s tech offices in downtown San Francisco, and the Tapia Conference, which promotes and celebrates diversity in computing. She adds, “We’re always looking for more creative ways to raise awareness both internally and externally.”

Kabbage also strives to work with colleges and universities to ensure that the talent pool of potential candidates is not only large but also diverse. “We’ve joined multiple task forces because it starts [in the schools],” observes Zimmerman, who recently attended a meeting with institutions like the Georgia Institute of Technology and Georgia State University to discuss the opportunities available in the industry. “These schools were wondering what they need to do from a curriculum standpoint to make the education for college students more relevant,” she says. “And what they really need to do is to attract more women and minorities into their programs. There are opportunities from companies like us that are looking to hire diverse people. We are looking for more options so we can hire diverse employees.”

When talent has been identified, the attention then turns to the interview process, which is an equally important element in the overall recruitment process. According to Bashford, Bloomberg is dedicated to having diverse interview teams. Jonathan Charlery, a senior software engineer with the company, can attest to this. According to the St. Lucia native, who now works in London, “All of the people who interviewed me were diverse. It gave me a level of comfort. It makes you feel like you won’t be judged. You can be comfortable with yourself and the company. It felt very accommodating to me.”

Jeanette Bashford of Bloomberg LP says the firm is “always striving to be better and do better” with diversity.

Charlery had such a positive experience that he now serves on the company’s campus recruiting team so he can pay it forward to other potential employees. With Bloomberg’s support, he also helped launch an outside group, UKBlackTech, which champions diversity within the UK’s tech industry. “I wanted to be involved in recruiting because I wanted to be able to take my experience and continue the tradition,” he says. “I want to tell others that they will be able to be comfortable. We’re not looking for someone to fit our mold. We want that diversity. That’s what makes us great as a company.”

For Kabbage, the interview process is crucial, which is why the company provides training about interviewing bias. “In management training and interviewing/hiring training, we talk about bias and how to protect against it,” Zimmerman says. “The key to hiring a diverse workforce is to ensure that we don’t hire only people that ‘look like us.’ Being aware of unconscious bias is incredibly important to us since we are committed to actively building a diverse environment.”

Work from within
Creating a diverse work environment for STEM employees is really the first step for today’s financial services companies. Maintaining that diverse workforce is just as significant, and many companies have both formal and informal ways of sustaining their efforts, focusing on everything from internal training opportunities to recognizing cultural differences for employees.

For DTCC, employee networks play an important role in retaining its workforce; in fact, 30 percent of the company’s employees participate in one of its seven business professional networks (BPN), from the Asian BPN and Black BPN to the WINS (Women’s Initiative for Networking and Success) BPN. For STEM professionals within the company, an attractive option is the recently established Emerging Talent Program for Women, which was designed for those in its global operations, client services and information technology departments, and provides participants with structured learning and business experiences that support their individual development.

“It allows us to recognize our skills and prove our skills,” says Elizabeth Hepburn, a UNIX/Linux engineer who has been with the company for 18 years. “We also partner with others to receive and provide coaching to get to the next level. It’s a way for the company to support our advancement and growth.”

Diversity communities are part of Bloomberg’s culture as well, and many involve mentoring. Much of that mentoring surrounds the more technical jobs within the company, which allows employees from any department to learn new tech skills and possibly move into other areas within the organization. “Anyone who is interested and has a tech background can learn computer science and development. They can learn to develop our products,” Bashford says.

Charlery adds, “You can take advantage of the training program whether you have programming experience or not. If you have a STEM background, you can think analytically. The company then says, ‘We can teach you. You can succeed and excel.’ It allows you to have mobility within the company and be part of another division if you want to. That kind of thinking helps us grow exponentially.”

While Kabbage does not have formal employee resource groups or networks, it does strive to welcome and support the cultures and backgrounds of all of its employees as part of its retention efforts. Of its more than 150 STEM-based employees, more than 51 percent are minorities (a number that includes the members of its team in Bangalore, India). And wherever those employees reside, the key for Kabbage is to honor them whenever it can.

“We celebrate all culturally diverse holidays as part of our company culture,” says Zimmerman, who points to the organization’s company-wide recognition of such observances as Holi, the Hindu spring festival in India that’s known as the “Festival of Colors.” “It’s a fun way to learn about other cultures and an opportunity for our folks to get to know each other better. We’re committed to [honoring] diversity because we know that a diverse environment makes for better business results and a cooler culture.”

Throughout all of its offices, Kabbage is dedicated to corporate giving. The company established Kabbage Kares to further its commitment to giving back to the community. Pictured is the team from Kabbage Kares India with Dream a Dream, a charity for at-risk youth.

The sum of all parts
The reason that companies in today’s changing finance industry are willing to embrace diversity in all areas, including STEM, is simple.

“In my experience, any time you have different experiences and perspectives thinking about how to solve challenging business problems, your chances of having higher-impact, innovative solutions improve materially,” Zimmerman says. “When you go outside of your comfort zone, the ability to expand and learn and grow is exponential – and adding different perspectives into the mix is the catalyst.”

Hepburn agrees, stating, “When you only have one mindset, you don’t have the opportunity to see where the possibilities are.”

Bashford adds: “Promoting diversity is the right thing to do. There’s a lot of research that shows that when you have more diversity, you have more innovative thinking. Our client base is diverse, and we need to be able to relate to them. When you have diversity of thought, and all types of education and backgrounds come into play, then you can build amazing products and serve your clients better.”

When those efforts are encouraged and supported by senior management, it permeates a company and becomes part of its fabric. And that’s something financial services firms need to keep in mind as they head into the future. “Demographics are changing. The industry is changing,” Charlery says. “The world is moving forward, and companies are moving forward too.”

Inclusion will remain a core focus at Bloomberg. “Diversity is not a special project to us,” Bashford says. “It’s ingrained in everything we do.”