Pam Kaur: Never measure your ambitions against other people

Pam Kaur, Group Head of Internal Audit, HSBC, was recently named among the top 100 ethnic minority business leaders in the US, the UK and Ireland in the UPstanding list published by the Financial Times. She talks about her career and the importance of ethnic diversity in the workplace.

What does it mean to you to be recognised among UPstanding’s 100 leading ethnic minority executives?

It was a pleasant surprise. But it has made me reflect on two things: firstly, more needs to done on the ethnic minority diversity agenda, and secondly, this recognition brings with it responsibility: what more can I do to take this forward within HSBC and the industry at large?

We should be the number one employer for people from different backgrounds

How can HSBC attract more ethnic minority applicants?

We need to do more. We should be the number one employer for people from different backgrounds. We have such a rich heritage of bringing together people from different countries. We need to reinforce that externally. When I first joined HSBC, I viewed it as a conservative organisation. I thought, how on earth am I going to fit in? I’m sure others may have asked the same question of themselves. Actually the organisation does give everyone the opportunity to succeed, no matter where you come from or how long you have been here. But that’s not necessarily obvious from the outside.

You recently relaunched the HSBC Embrace employee network in the UK. Why is this important?

There are lots of very good examples in HSBC where people are doing different things to support diversity. But there did not seem to be as many Group-led programmes providing support around ethnic diversity. The Embrace network is important because it’s saying, ‘we really want to include you’, and offers a place for colleagues to find support and to connect with people from similar backgrounds. It’s a positive step forward.

Why are there so few ethnic minority leaders in the corporate world?

I think the focus has not been direct enough: we have been more concerned with ‘do not discriminate’ and ‘do not exclude’ rather than ‘actually, actively include’.

Part of the problem is that the corporate world has not always been the career path of choice. For many of us historically, our parents have always told us we should become doctors or engineers, or stay with the family business. This means all of us in HSBC have to work harder to attract ethnic minority talent, as developing a pipeline does not happen overnight. This area needs more direct focus, similar to what we have done with gender diversity.

What is the Embrace network?

Embrace is one of seven global employee networks at HSBC that promote diversity within the bank. It focuses on ensuring that HSBC is a place where people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds can thrive.

Read more on our Employee networks page.

How did your ethnicity affect the way you approached your career?

When you are a minority, the first thing you ask yourself is – do I fit in? And it’s not necessarily how others around you make you feel; it’s your own self-consciousness. You have to say: ‘Just because I’m different, I’m not going to let it make me feel uncomfortable.’ That has to come from within.

You also have to adapt your style to the culture you’re working in. For example, even today, if I’ve been too vocal in a meeting, I say to myself, ‘Pam, don't take over the conversation!’ I think my background has something to do with me asking that question.

What advice would you give to young ethnic minority professionals?

Nobody’s career follows the same trajectory. There are times when your career moves very fast and other times when it slows down. My career has progressed quickly when I was willing to take the risk and get out of my comfort zone. How we define success should be personal. We should never measure our own ambitions against other people. I think part of my success has been down to the principle I have always lived by: whatever I do, I do it to the best of my ability.

And don’t hesitate to reach out to people as you go through life’s journey. You will be surprised at how many will make the time to help.

You can read the full UPstanding list of ethnic minority business leaders on the Financial Times website.

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