Bank of America Aims to Meet Workers’ Push for Diversity

Bank of America knows it needs to focus on diversity and inclusion in its workforce, and its calling on workers to have frank discussions about their life experiences as a way to improve.

The financial giant’s commitment to diversity and inclusion efforts and practices may be an outlier in an industry that is playing catch-up on investing in workers from diverse backgrounds. Bank of America leads its peers in promoting women to management positions, according to Bloomberg Terminal data, but its employment of women as a percentage of its workforce has steadily declined over the last 5 years.

In the banking industry in 2016, women made up 61 percent of the workforce but accounted for only 2 percent of chief executive officers, research from Ernst and Young reveals. Only 5 percent of companies in had women in one-third of director positions, Ernst and Young said. Blacks and Hispanics made up only 20 percent of the banking workforce, the research found.

Citing instances of recent civil unrest throughout the country, Bank of America sought to tackle diversity and inclusion by launching an initiative to have “courageous conversations.”

The program provides opportunities to “open a dialogue for understanding around difference,” Cynthia Bowman, the bank’s global leader of diversity and inclusion, told Bloomberg Law Nov. 21.

For example, last December there was a panel conversation on social justice and racial equality. It was broadcast to more than 50,000 Employee Network—or employee affinity group—members and shared with all employees.

Opening the Conversation

Human resources departments have to “open up the conversation,” according to Bowman, “especially when it comes to addressing the issues that are happening around the world.”

As an overall strategy, the company wants its workforce to mirror the communities it serves, Bowman said. Diversity and inclusion efforts include a global women’s conference and leadership summits for employees with disabilities, LGBT employees, racially and ethnically diverse employees, and veterans. BoA also has employee networks for workers from diverse backgrounds, in which more than 100,000 employees participate, and career development opportunities for diverse workers, she said.

“External events and national dialogues are giving executives an opportunity to focus on diversity and inclusion issues and efforts,” Alexis McGill Johnson, executive director of the Perception Institute, told Bloomberg Law Nov. 20. Executives are searching for a better way to talk about race and diversity in the workplace “to ensure that a company’s values that promote belonging are true and real in practice,” she said. The Perception Institute is a consortium of researchers, advocates, and strategists studying diversity, bias, and discrimination.

A Recruitment Imperative

Regardless of the approach, diversity and inclusion will increasingly impact not only the banking industry’s recruiting efforts, but recruiting efforts in general, according to research from jobs website Glassdoor.

Nearly 60 percent of hiring decision-makers surveyed by Glassdoor stated that diversity is affecting their ability to get employees into the company, MaryJo Fitzgerald, community expert at Glassdoor, told Bloomberg Law. Moreover, 10 percent of the 750 HR professionals surveyed by Glassdoor believe that employees will voluntarily leave their organization in the next 12 months as a result of not having diversity and inclusion programs, she said.

Some 18 percent of hiring decision-makers reported that job candidates cite diversity and inclusion initiatives among the factors that have the most influence on whether they join an organization, but only 28 percent were optimistic that they would make more progress toward achieving their diversity and inclusion goals in the next 12 months.

The Millennial Influence

Millennials in particular have demanded diversity at work, Terri Hartwell Easter, principal of T.H. Easter Consulting, told Bloomberg Law Nov. 21. These workers especially want to see that in the leadership of the company. When such diversity is missing, workers may be willing to leave for a company that has it, she said.

But diversity efforts that start with leadership have to have roots in realistically changing day-to-day hiring, work, and employee interactions, Hartwell Easter said. HR must ensure that diversity and inclusion initiatives can “walk the talk.”

First and foremost, there needs to be “organizational readiness,” and employers have to be able to have authentic conversations about the state of diversity, employee expectations, and how best to involve current employees from diverse backgrounds, according to Hartwell Easter. Many companies today start with grand diversity and inclusion aspirations, but it may work better to start at the bottom and build diversity incrementally, she noted.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; Tony Harris at tharris@bloomberglaw.com