The Evolving Role of Diversity & Inclusion in the Finance Industry
This month, we're talking with Alisha Fernando, Head of Diversity and Inclusion (APAC) at Bloomberg, about why diversity and inclusion matters, how it impacts the finance industry, and what this all means for you.
Q&A with Bloomberg's Alisha Fernando
Can you talk to us about the importance of diversity and inclusion, and the role it plays in the finance industry?
When we talk about diversity and inclusion, there is a misconception that it's only for some of us, when it is actually for all of us. For all of us to feel included, I talk about four things: when starting at a new workplace, a person needs to feel welcome, safe, respected, and valued — respected for who they are and valued for their contribution to the workplace they're joining. We are working toward creating workplaces where everyone feels those four fundamental things.
Diversity is important because diversity of thought breeds innovation. If I'm going to talk to a group of CFA candidates, they would understand that the bottom line is important, and there's been great research that shows that when you have diversity in your ranks and leadership, there's a direct correlation to better business performance. When you have people of diverse backgrounds at the table who all bring a different view and a different lens, they might spot something that the others didn't see, or think of solutions that others can't find. Because of this, you will certainly see a positive impact to your bottom line.
A lot of us prefer to deal with people who look like us. Going into any type of organization, facility, or business, when I hear someone who speaks my language or knows someone is from the same cultural background as me, there's an immediate affinity. If you take that into the business world, you're already ahead by just understanding your clients' background and culture. You will find that you can better serve your clients and the community.
Why did you pursue a career in diversity and inclusion?
My background and upbringing are why I'm passionate about diversity and inclusion. My family were Vietnamese refugees who fled Vietnam at the end of the war. We were lucky to be granted asylum in Australia. I grew up witnessing firsthand what that meant for my parents — the isolation, the difficulty breaking into the job market. My dad is a computer engineer and my mom is a qualified accountant, and even they had trouble finding a job.
Growing up, I had the advantage of speaking the language and understanding the culture in Australia. Seeing the difference between my experience and my parents' experience made me want to ensure everyone has the opportunities to participate and engage regardless of their background, sexual orientation, ability, etc. Everyone deserves to have the same opportunities, and diversity and inclusion works to not "level the playing field," but actually create opportunities for people who didn't previously have them.
What does your role as Head of Diversity and Inclusion involve?
My role entails a few things. First, I'm responsible for developing our diversity and inclusion strategy, both internally and externally. Internally, I think about what matters to our business, what ensures our people feel those four things I talked about earlier, and how we use this to drive business performance. It all comes back to business performance. When people feel valued and respected, they're going to be more productive and willing to give 110%.
I work to develop strategy and design programming to deliver that strategy, while ensuring we're also focusing externally by sharing the lessons we've learned along the way. This is an evolving role, and we're all in the diversity and inclusion space to do the same thing. Unlike other fields where you want to have a winning edge, diversity and inclusion is a profession where the people in the field are open to sharing and collaborating because we all want the same thing — more diversity in workplaces and for everyone to feel included.
What parting words do you have for CFA candidates?
I want to highlight that now, more than ever, the job market is changing. Talent used to have to fight for jobs and take what was available. Now, there's more choice, and talent can be more choosy about where they go. As candidates thinking about your career path, remember that a job is not just a job — you join a firm for their culture, their vision and how they do business.
For example, at Bloomberg, diversity and inclusion is embedded in what we do. When we talk about diversity and inclusion, we talk about it from the top down. Our Chairman Peter Grauer is recognized among the top 10 of the 2020 Top 50 Ally Executive list by OUT Leadership and leading Global Champion for Women in Business by HERoes. Michael Bloomberg also founded Bloomberg Philanthropies, through which than 80% of our profits are donated every year.
When you think about where you want to go and what impact you want to make, be picky in going somewhere that lets you use your skillset beyond just what you see on your resume. When you look at a firm or a job, think about what you're passionate about and how that firm or job can help facilitate that. Think about how you can make an impact and choose a job that lets you give back to your community, not just pay the bills.
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