This article is the first in a series of interviews with leaders within M&A, Corporate Development and Finance focused on key issues and thought pieces.
Eustace Xavier is an experienced finance leader with a background of M&A, Commercial as well as finance leadership within International environments. In this interview he shares his thoughts on the challenges, benefits, and best practises for the cultivation of diversity in the workplace.
Tell us about yourself and what your role is in the company?
I am the Finance Director of a division for a large international organisation. My career started as an auditor and have since held roles in M&A Lead Advisory as well as Commercial Finance.
I am also a husband to Ali and father to two children, Jacob and Gabriella. In my spare time, I like to go for a run or swim. If my diary permits, I enjoy doing a Tuesday night House and Garage spin class.
How would you describe Diversity and Inclusivity (D&I)?
D&I is Utopia. An environment where all individuals irrespective of race, gender, faith, sexuality, ability, social class, age and background feel valued, respected and welcomed. D&I enables an individual to be their authentic self, fulfil their potential and have freedom to share their ideas.
What D&I is NOT is:
- Labelling individuals
- Excluding individuals
- Creating barriers (physical or invisible)
- Preventing individuals to fulfil their potential.
How important is diversity to you?
Diversity is important to me because I am a firm believer in a just, equal and fair society. Recent events have increased awareness on race and social disparities for some communities. 2020 has shone the spotlight on the need for social changes as well as for under-represented communities to have equal opportunities. D&I is at the forefront of driving this change.
From a personal perspective, D&I has been key to my social mobilisation as well as the realisation my work career potential. Without it being embedded in institutions that I have been educated or worked in, it would have been difficult for me as a young black youth from a council estate to go on to audit listed businesses, complete M&A transactions, conduct sales bids to international Media organisations on yachts in Cannes, be involved in commercial negotiations with some of the leading global FMCG suppliers, spend time in San Francisco working on a Class 1 acquisition as well as be the lead of a finance division. I want others from under-represented sections of our society, who have the capability, to have the support and opportunities that have been afforded to me. Otherwise, the world is missing out on talent.
In my seventeen years as a finance professional:
- I have only met two other black individuals who were either a FD or CFO; and
- For the departments that I have worked in, I have usually been the most senior black person, even when I was in junior roles.
I do find the above difficult to comprehend because I have always lived in London. The London I know is cosmopolitan and a beautiful blend of people with different backgrounds and abilities. In addition, it has been nearly 80 years since my grandparents and their generation came to the UK in the 1940s and 1950s to support the rebuild of the country following the end of the World War II. The low proportion of black FDs and CFOs is a clear indication that there is still a lot of work to be done in improving representation of the black community within senior finance roles in the UK.
Diversity plays an important role in helping to remove imposter syndrome. The diverse workforce was a key reason why I joined UHY Hacker Young. It had a broad spectrum of people working in the audit department including a high proportion of females as well as people of different faiths, nationalities and classes. It was an environment that I could identify with and I felt that it would be the best place for me to be my authentic self. My personal view is that many talented black individuals opt for careers in law or medicine because there is a better representation of black senior postholders in those professions. Other than Tidjane Thiam, I cannot think of any other UK listed black CFOs during my lifetime. I do believe that if there were more black senior finance postholders then this would be a catalyst to inspire the future generations to enter finance as well as believe in the possibility of reaching the most senior posts.
As a father and uncle to children of colour as well as God father to three girls, I want the sole factor determining whether they fulfil their career potential to be capability. Thus, the need for more diversity in businesses is very important to me.
What value does it bring to your team?
Diversity brings a lot of value to my team. You get a variety of thoughts and points of view on issues; people are more innovative and have different ideas. It increases creativity and helps us to tackle the status quo. My social and cultural awareness has improved because of being part of a diverse team. There are numerous reports that show that diverse businesses have higher profits. This reflects the best performing teams that I have been a member of.
What can companies do to support a diverse and inclusive workplace?
Companies must adopt a zero-tolerance stance to all forms of discrimination.
Companies must have a genuine long-term commitment to D&I. 2020 has witnessed support for movements such as Black Lives Matter, with numerous corporations and business leads backing the movement. However, the sustainable success of D&I changes will require their long-term support. Support which is more than a black square on Instagram. This support comprises meaningful company policy and cultural changes.
To assess the impact of a company’s D&I policy, it is important that companies publish reports on gender pay gap, ethnicity pay gap, social mobility results, and board diversity statistics. Companies need to show that they are making progress in D&I as well as share their strategies on how they are going to improve.
Another way companies can support D&I is by having robust mentorship programmes. When you are from an underrepresented community, it can be difficult to find a role model in the industry or profession that you would like to work in. This is particularly important for those who may not have a network or contact(s) to help guide them navigate their career.
Like Health & Safety, I believe all employees should have D&I training. Companies should endorse this type of training.
When hiring, I ask recruiters to get me a diverse pool of candidates to see the very best that is out there irrespective of their race, faith, gender and sexuality. I think companies should follow suit and be proactive with their recruiters or with their internal talent acquisition team. It is important to have a recruitment process in place that encourages diverse candidates to apply. Where possible, companies should try to ensure that their own interview panels are diverse during the process. This should help to combat any unconscious bias.
What are the qualities of an inclusive leader?
There are multiple qualities an inclusive leader should have, here is a list of some:
- Long term commitment – The need for a leader who is going to be genuinely committed in changing and improving D&I in the workplace.
- To be curious and proactive in improving their knowledge – Read books, articles, attend events, speak to colleagues to learn more about D&I. This shows eagerness to learn and interest in people. Also, leaders will be better prepared to understand, support and lead their staff. How can you lead people that you do not understand?
- Culturally Intelligent – The leaders that I respect are the ones that have been knowledgeable of the different cultures within their organisation and have sought to engage with their workforce in those conversations.
- Facilitators of conversations on D&I – Some of the best conversations I have had in terms of learning about others and diversity has been in the workplace. Leaders need to foster and encourage those conversations. They need to create safe and open forums where people can discuss topics which touch on D&I. Great leaders will not only discuss it but also be proactive in trying to improve D&I within their organisation.
Disclaimer: The views held in this article are Eustace Xavier’s and do not represent the opinions of any entity whatsoever with which he has been, is currently, or will be affiliated.