Guest Blog - Q+A's with David Wicks - Northern Trust

1.Your job role is ‘Head of Operations & Technology EMEA’. Are there specific challenges to improving race equality in this sector?
The challenges are attracting people from across the full spectrum of ethnic talent. Some ethnic groups naturally gravitate into this industry and specialism and others don’t. Role models are critical in helping to attract talent and people tend to apply to companies where they think they will be successful. I believe organisations have a role to play in influencing the choices of young people before they determine their career paths. Education is critical in helping different segments of society appreciate what opportunities are available and how they can access them.

2.‘Walking the talk’: what action have you taken to contribute personally to race equality in the workplace?
I am the executive champion for our Black Business Resource Council, one of Northern Trust’s eleven employee networks. I got involved because I saw opportunities to attract, develop and retain black employees. These same drivers led me to join the board of Race for Opportunity, of which Northern Trust is a member.

I currently mentor eight people at Northern Trust although I have mentored many more throughout my career. I learn so much about people’s culture, experience and context, it’s an opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes, so whilst I am helping them to grow and develop I find myself doing the same. It helps to shape my views and broaden my perspective. The individuals that I mentor come from a broad cross-section of the business, ethnic grouping, corporate title and age range, many aren’t from the business I am responsible for, which is great for me as I get so much intelligence from other parts of the business.

As a senior leader I am obliged to be accessible, inspirational and provide coaching. I have a responsibility to groom the next generation of leader coming up through the ranks and mentoring is one vehicle which gives me access and visibility to a broad range of people. In this small way if I can help someone succeed through my experiences of the business then the organisation is all the richer because of it.

3.What have been your biggest learning’s in diversity, and how did they come about?

Whilst it may seem obvious, one of my biggest learnings is that BAME is not a homogenous group; Asians are not all the same and neither are black people! Each ethnic/national group has its own challenges and opportunities which impact differently, and, whilst logically this makes sense, I think organisations still have a long way to go to really appreciate the differences and put relevant interventions in place.

I ran Northern Trust’s operations in India for four years, which was in itself a learning experience navigating culture, religion and customs. Additionally, for the first time in my career, I was the minority and that had a powerful and life changing impact on my perspective. Our operations in India support all of our regions around the world, therefore we needed develop a way of working which promotes and values the Indian culture and complements the UK, Asia Pacific and the United States. Helping our colleagues around the globe to understand the role of the India operations and learn to collaborate across cultures posed its challenges. However, ultimately, the impact was, and continues to be, extremely positive and rewarding.


4.What are the key achievements of Northern Trust in progressing equality?
We ensure that all our employees undertake diversity and inclusion (D&I) training, which is mandatory for everyone. In fact you cannot complete your probationary period unless you have undergone the training. Our employees are clear what is expected of them as regards D&I and the mandatory nature of the training reinforces that it’s important for our business.

Last year we joined a number of membership organisations, including Race for Opportunity and Opportunity Now, and because we take D&I seriously, we joined as Champion members to learn from some of the best and to engage in thought leadership on the topic. Recently, and for the first time, we entered The Times Top 50 Employers for Women and were delighted to be amongst the winners.

As regards ethnic diversity, we have collaborated with the University of Greenwich to provide speakers for their business speaker series and provide mentor to students at the Business School. We recognise that to achieve race equality we have to consider recruitment from universities that we and other companies traditionally wouldn’t recruit from and typically ones with a greater concentration of diversity. The University of Greenwich has a rich and diverse pool of talent and it makes sense that it would be a university we want to be affiliated with.

We also partner with the HEBE foundation which targets BAME youngsters to develop their talents and skills to better position them for a successful future. We support their Junior Young Apprentice competition, by hosting and participating in the boardroom event. We also offer the winner an opportunity to gain work experience with us. This, we believe, will ultimately either provide a springboard for the candidate to enter financial services or secure employment with us. We believe that the small but considered steps that we make towards achieving workplace diversity will make a difference and secure diverse talent for the future.

5. Northern Trust gives its employees one day off each year to volunteer – what is the impact on diversity in your organisation?
Northern Trust launched its corporate volunteering programme, Northern Trust Community Partners, in EMEA in 2009. It gives employees one paid day out of the office per year to participate on corporate team challenges. In 2009, 150 employees took part. Our target for 2012 is to exceed 1000 employees.

Our corporate focus is children, education and environment and, since the launch, we have built relationships with over 40 charitable organisations and support from our employees for these activities is outstanding.

The impact on diversity is huge. Our groups are made up of employees from all levels, ages, backgrounds and business areas. The charities that we work with support a very diverse range of causes, people and communities. A programme that we are piloting in 2012 will provide children aged between 8-11 years at the Sandringham Primary School in Forest Gate, East London with mentors. The school, which is 100% ethnically diverse, is seeking mentors from the business world to help their children to appreciate the importance of education and being committed to their studies.

6.In the current climate – what does it take to be a responsible business?
The current climate poses all manner of challenges. Companies have little resource, their employees are being asked to do more with less, and seeking budget is a constant headache. Fortunately, at Northern Trust, our management group is extremely supportive of, and committed to, our Corporate Social Responsibility strategy – be it diversity, the environment and sustainability or the community. Despite all the negative headwinds, we all recognise that embedding the principles of CSR into the overall strategy for the business is critical and reaps really positive results.