In Focus: Diversity and inclusion – How one advice firm is tackling diversity and inclusion

2 min read 17 Feb 22

In the second and final part of our mini-series on diversity and inclusion (catch up on our first piece looking at relevant regulation), we sat down for a chat with Steph Mumford, People Advisor, from advice firm Paradigm Norton - an employee-owned certified B Corp which is very much leading the charge when it comes to diversity and inclusion. ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ very much applies to tackling diversity and inclusion in the advice profession, Steph explains, but that certainly doesn’t mean that real change isn’t possible if you take it step by step.  

Based on your experience tackling diversity and inclusion as a firm, do you think it’s possible for the financial services industry to improve its reputation in this area and do you see signs of this happening in the wider sector?

I absolutely think it’s achievable to greatly improve diversity and inclusion in our industry but instead of just rushing to tick boxes, we need to be realistic that what’s needed is a ‘slow and steady’ approach if we really want the changes to stick. In any professional service there are always going to be hurdles when it comes to widening out the type of people we attract into the sector and it will take time to work through these properly.

The good news is that we are already seeing improvements in the advice industry when it comes to gender diversity in particular, with more women joining the sector. At Paradigm Norton, we’re really proud of the fact that we now have a 50/50 gender split across our firm.

Paradigm Norton is a certified B Corp. Can you take us through the criteria around diversity and inclusion as part of this and some steps and actions your firm has taken as a result?

There is quite a lot of criteria to cover! But I think the most important thing for us is to try and meet this criteria organically rather than, again, it just becoming a tick box exercise. There are a number of key areas we can break this down into where we’ve taken specific actions:

Hiring practices

We’ve worked hard to look at our process for bringing new people into the business to make sure it’s fair and consistent. In practical terms, this means paying close attention to where we advertise our roles to ensure we aren’t just aiming job adverts at certain types of individual. We work with a recruitment partner and make sure they apply this type of approach too. And another important step we’ve taken is to use gender neutral software to eliminate any bias from creeping into the wording of our job adverts.  

Inclusive working environment

We now provide ongoing training for our teams around diversity, equality and inclusion. And we’ve also engaged an external provider to carry out another type of training that aims to unpick our unconscious biases – we’re so pleased that every single person in our firm has taken part in this training and has genuinely found it useful.  

Charity support

Also relating to recruitment, we are actively involved with a charity called Spear which provides support for those from disadvantaged backgrounds who have struggled to get into work or experienced other barriers to employment.

Policies and procedures

We try to ensure our policies and procedures are as diverse as possible. An example of this might be properly accommodating and supporting any team member who needs to take time off or make any changes to their work environment or pattern as a result of particular religious holidays, such as Ramadan.

Our board of trustees also monitor our list of suppliers to make sure there is a good level of ownership diversity in there too.

What are some of the realities, and even challenges, that you’ve come across while tackling diversity and inclusion as a firm?

It's not possible for all parts of the process to be comfortable. For example, the unpicking bias training was actually intended to be uncomfortable but fortunately everyone was up for this challenge.

And, as diversity improves within our firm, there are some potentially tough situations which we may need to be prepared for should we find that a client actually doesn’t treat our advisers in an inclusive way if, say, they would rather work with a white male adviser. Our initial instinct might once have been to not challenge this type of behaviour because of course they’re the paying client but this is where we need to have the courage of our convictions as a firm and address this type of situation head on should it arise.

In even more practical terms, how did you make this type of change happen in your firm? Did you make one person responsible for overseeing diversity, is it a team effort, or perhaps a bit of both?

Myself and our head of people, Judith Thorne, very much lead the charge when it comes to diversity and inclusion which comes naturally in many ways because it’s something we’re both passionate about. But it’s really important to stress that this isn’t something that has been enforced or that we’ve dragged people into – my career experience has taught me that this doesn’t really achieve anything.

From the very outset, we engaged volunteers from across our firm to have an initial, informal, chat about their thoughts on diversity and inclusion. We made sure it was a safe space, so people could be genuinely honest about their views or concerns and the great thing was that actually a lot of our best ideas naturally came out of these chats. And that’s because we took time to ask people for their views and involve them from the start.

What benefits do you believe greater diversity and inclusion is bringing to your business? Have you noticed any particular impact for your clients?

We are already seeing signs of greater diversity across our client demographics, moving away from a very typical or traditional profile of an advised client. However, we know that this is ultimately going to take time and requires us to network and get involved with different initiatives.

And this also means that our team are definitely realising the potential that comes with having a diverse workforce. I think everyone recognises that we’re all on this journey together – you can tell that because it’s a real talking point across our business – and we hope we can set the bar high and lead the way for other advice firms.