Carolyn Van den Daelen, managing partner and chief of staff at capital markets consultancy Quorsus, discusses how to best build an inclusive culture, ensuring the right values are set in place right from the start.
When we started Quorsus, a financial services consultancy, at the beginning of last year, high on the list of priorities was making sure we didn’t propagate the negative traits associated with the financial services industry.
We were all familiar with the statistics – one example being that in 2021 there are less than 30% of women in fintech, and less than 5% of them are CEOs. Thus, it was vital that Quorsus took steps to ensure we were not part of the problem.
For many established firms, these issues are obviously much harder to unpick and make right, as they are deeply embedded and often chalked up to being institutional in nature. So, realising the gift we had with an entirely fresh slate, and keen to avoid the conscious and unconscious biases we hear about all too often and unfortunately, in some cases experienced first-hand, we were quick to build a positive inclusive work environment immediately.
From the start we made sure we actively approached candidates across different backgrounds, working with recruitment agencies that specialise in diverse hiring in the financial services space to ensure we get exposure to a broader group of candidates. We also ensured we had ongoing open communication channels to enable continuous feedback from our people from day one.
We hope that sharing more detail on the steps we have taken might help guide other new firms as they take off. Who knows, hopefully it will help some more established firms change old habits too…
When you start a business with just a handful of people, like we did, it is relatively easy to have consensus in terms of the approach the company wants to take to diversity and inclusion. But how do you ensure those values are shared when your new people start to jump on board? Especially when you factor in how complex and niche the fintech industry can be.
There’s no doubt about it – finding people with the right skills sets to work for you can be tricky. Add finding people with your specific set of values to the list of attributes you are looking for? Well, that hikes levels of trickiness up several more notches. But for us it is non-negotiable. And not impossible.
Take one of our recent new hires for example. Not only was the candidate a former executive director for derivatives regulatory operations at a world-renowned blue-chip firm – indicating a huge amount of experience – but they also took the time to gain a qualification in mental health first aid. This means they can assist colleagues who are experiencing difficulties in reaching the right support. With this training they have sharpened their skills around listening non-judgementally, approaching colleagues who might need help, and creating an inclusive environment in which everyone feels respected, showing the alignment to our values.
It can be easy to let this additional element of the recruitment process slide, especially when you are growing rapidly, and you just need people to get the job done. That said, the same excuse can be made when things are not going so well, as you could be keen to just get the right brains in the room in the hope that they will turn things around.
Either way, in our experience when growing your workforce, it is crucial that you take the time to confirm any applicant possesses the same values, ethics, and enthusiasm for your vision. After all, while knowledge can be shared and experiences can be gained, these innate qualities cannot be taught.
Creating safe spaces
There is some debate about what constitutes a safe space and how valuable they are, with some critics claiming that they can infringe on free speech. To be clear, what we mean when we use this term is the exact opposite – what Lauren Girardin outlines in her article, How to Create Safe Spaces at Work: “safe spaces give people a place where they can share their ideas without fear of repercussions… without facing discrimination or harm and can help organisations confront and deal with toxic dysfunction and inequity permeating your office”. In fact, this is exactly the kind of activity that will help us create the kind of culture we are aiming for. And why we created two such spaces as early as we could.
The first is Quorsus Women’s Network – a monthly forum for female colleagues to share experiences and receive direct career and life coaching from each other. In the short time we have been running there have been a number of meetings hosted by a variety of employees, with one based around the non-fiction book, “Lift as You Climb: Women and the Art of Ambition” by Viv Groskop. The session got conversations flowing from everyone around a number of different topics.
The second is the All Hands Meeting, in which members of staff can share experiences, positive or negative, without fear of judgement and the aim of passing on key learnings that could improves our culture overall. An example was one employee spoke about their journey and how it has influenced their thinking on both gender rights and issues.
We are extremely proud to say that participant engagement is always high at these meetings, and a wide variety of opinions are always shared. They have also proven to serve a second crucial purpose during lockdown, giving social (albeit virtual) outlets for all staff – many of whom are yet to meet in person. We foresee these forums not only continuing post-lockdown but gaining in momentum with the formation of other groups as we grow.
Autonomy at all levels
We recognise that cognitive diversity can often bring opposing opinions, which we actively encourage because our main ethos has been that we must not agree to disagree. Everyone’s opinion is important, and we must find a way to ensure alignment, which is why it is so important for us to call out any overt displays of ego when we see them.
It also means we need to make sure junior members of staff as well as new starters feel empowered enough to speak up. One way we do this is that we involve our people in every major decision that effects working life at Quorsus, such as how we proceed post-lockdown. We also discuss how to combat imposter syndrome, the importance of boundary setting, and how to trust your gut.
For new starters, we conduct 60- and 90-day check ins to gather their feedback to get an understanding of their experience and any learn of any improvements we could make as part of our structured week-long onboarding programme. All of these factors contribute to a feeling of autonomy throughout the organisation.
Growing as we go
We have seen a demonstrable impact on how our values have directly helped our business succeed and how they provide our people with an environment to accelerate growth and enable further potential so far. But we are still in the early days of our business, and we fully accept we aren’t perfect – but then, we don’t see that as a bad thing.
We accept that things go wrong, and failure is inevitable in some cases, but it is how you respond and learn from it – often about having the right people around who will get stuck in to help solve issues and be resilient as a firm.
Growing an organisation’s culture should be a work in progress, keeping up with the changing times and adapting accordingly. That said, a company’s moral compass should be firmly in place. We believe you can’t go far wrong if you stick to your values and beliefs and do the right thing by both your people and your client.