FINBOURNE Interviews Julia Streets, CEO of Streets Consulting, tech champion and host of the DiverCity Podcast       

Culture and Diversity

FINBOURNE Interviews Julia Streets, CEO of Streets Consulting, tech champion and host of the DiverCity Podcast       

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Diversity, Equity & Inclusion is not a side project

On this International Women’s Day, the official United Nations theme for which is incidentally, ‘Innovation and technology for gender equality’, we talk to Julia Streets, tech and entrepreneurship champion and active campaigner for innovation, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).

Since incorporating her marketing and communications agency in 2007, Julia and her team have advised a wide range of domestic and international firms in the field of fintech, capital markets and payments innovation, across emerging technologies, including; blockchain, artificial intelligence, cyber and more.

In an industry dominated by male leaders, Julia’s sheer grit and determination have contributed to her steady rise and she now chairs many of the world’s leading conferences, drawing not only on her industry experience but also on her skills as a speaker, host and sell-out stand-up comedian.

In 2017, she launched her podcast series DiverCity Podcast, interviewing industry figures from all backgrounds, to shine a light on positive progress, call out areas that require more focus and offer insights and best practice to help listeners drive change.

In this interview, we reverse the roles on Julia, looking back on five years of her successful podcast series, the lessons learnt and where there is work yet to be done, to achieve a truly equitable industry.

Julia, firstly, congratulations on five years of the DiverCity podcast. Please tell us a little about the series and the observations and lived experiences you’ve had in the Financial Services industry, which led the launch of it?

Thank you so much. It’s been quite a journey and I’m always delighted to share insights and learning from the hundreds of interviews with guests from all around the world.

In 2017, I founded the DiverCity Podcast talking about DEI in financial services. Honestly, it all started out of frustration. I’d been at a reception at the House of Commons listening to banks and financial institutions bleat on about how committed they were to D&I, pronouncing that “D&I was in their DNA”, yet the lived experience from my 30 + years in financial services and technology just didn’t match the rhetoric.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting amazing people who are really driving change and the key question in my mind was: Why, when firms were telling us how keen they were to change and there are brilliant people making a difference, do we still have pay gaps? Why is ethnic minority representation, so lacking? Why are we falling short in supporting our colleagues with visible and invisible disabilities? Why do so many LGBTQ+ colleagues go back into the closet when they enter the workplace? And as an openly gay woman in the City, I’ve had my own personal journey.

The reason: change is complex and it takes time.

I lay awake that night turning so many questions around my mind and wondering what I could do. The very next morning I called a podcast producer and the brilliant Cynthia Akinsanya and the rest, as they say, is history. Now in series 15, we are so proud to have been listed as one of the leading DEI podcasts in the world by Feedspot for the fourth year running, welcoming listeners from more than 50 countries.

It sounds like an incredible journey. Can you tell us about some of the critical moments and insights raised on the podcasts?

It is hard to name just one as we’ve had so many amazing discussions on the show but I thought it would be useful to take a step back and share five key drivers that our guests tell us have the greatest impact:    

Organisational structure and culture

How is DEI embedded and embodied in every aspect of your organisation and reflected in your culture. As the adage goes, ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’.

Leadership and the characteristics of enlightened leaders  

This is important from the very top and right the way through the management layers.  How leaders were taught to lead is arguably outdated. The question now is ‘How do you stay fresh and enlightened and embody strong leadership?’

Hiring and retention

Holding your recruitment teams and partners to high account is integral. If they’re not finding you diverse lists of candidates, ask them why and make them try harder. Review your internal processes, job marketing and interview protocols. Are you unnecessarily and unintentionally filtering people out in how you recruit?  And when you have the ideal team members, how do you inspire, lead, engage and develop their career pathways, so that they stay with you to drive meaningful change and contribute to high performing teams?    

Role models and allies

Role models matter, as do allies. Ensure your leadership teams understand the value of engaging with people who may be different from them. Reverse mentoring can be an incredibly powerful tool, as is allyship. This is all about advocating and holding space for others, not like you.  Enlightened leaders are now beginning to step forward as allies and the key is to listen, because your employees will tell you what is needed, you need only ask.

Networks and intersectionality

Industry networks are important and I love the advice of a guest that decisions about employee groups should never be ‘About us, without us’.  Networks shouldn’t be siloes or echo chambers, they must welcome allies and also find ways to intersect with other networks and communities. After all, this is about identity and we all have many layers to our identities.

What are some of your favourite episodes on the podcast and why? Are there underrepresented DEI topics you feel the podcast has shone a light on?

Interviewing the Governor of the Bank of England, and the President of the CBI were great highlights. To have such influential voices driving initiatives and championing DEI is very powerful and their commitment is relentless, committed and infectious.

I also loved a recent episode, where I interviewed 14 -16 year olds, to ask them what they thought about financial services and whether it appealed to them, as an industry. The answer:  it doesn’t.  It’s an alien world to them, so we need to get out into schools to explain how vibrant the industry is, if we want to appeal to this important pool of future talent, especially when competition is fierce.          

You’ve seen financial services evolve over the last 15 years, what DEI change are you looking to see in the future of the industry and why?

Relentless momentum.  What I learned from one of our most recent episodes was that a great way to propel organisational change is to focus on serving your employees with both visible and invisible disabilities.  As it was described to me: get it right for people with disability and you get it right for everyone.

How can this be measured and what does success in this area look like to you?

We’ve all heard the saying, ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it’.  Leaders should be measured and compensated on this basis and the key is to bake this into appraisals, as a key performance indicator.

One of the biggest obstacles to progress is what’s commonly referred to as the ‘Permafrost layer’  or the ‘Sticky middle’ .  This is the layer of management that sits one to three layers below the ExCO Board level. There may be ambition at the top, but these layers of management may find it hard – or be reluctant – to change.  That’s where DEI managers can really help and focus their support.

Final thoughts?    

Diversity, Equity & inclusion is not a side project.  It’s a mindful acknowledgement every single day, in every division, every team, in every meeting. Who’s in the mix?  Who isn’t? Do you ask and understand why?

And hold steady. We’re all on a journey.  Change takes commitment and it takes time.  It’s not a quick fix, it’s a powerful, relentless pathway of change. The rewards are undeniable in terms of performance, culture, talent retention, customer engagement, regulatory sentiment (this falls under non-financial conduct, we know, because we asked the FCA) and investor satisfaction, particularly when considering ESG.

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