When you think about the biggest challenges in building a more ethnically diverse and inclusive organisation, some of the answers are obvious. Recruitment, of course. Retention, definitely. Progression, absolutely.

Would you be surprised, though, if I said one of the biggest barriers to achieving our ambitions is... lack of data?

The data I’m talking about – is ethnicity disclosure data. It’s the data that tells us the true makeup of our organisation. The data that shows us how diverse our workforce is and where we need to improve representation to better reflect the communities we serve. The data that allows us to be transparent about where progress is being made, and ensures we hold ourselves to account.

Now, at HSBC, we respect everyone’s right to choose whether or not to disclose their ethnicity to us and when people do choose to disclose their data, we’re absolutely committed to keeping it safe, anonymous and protected.

But still, while disclosure rates are high in some of our markets, many colleagues haven’t shared their data yet. This means the picture we have of our workforce is patchy and where our data sets are low – it can really stand in the way of change.

Like looking in a mirror, if the data set that’s staring back at you is incomplete, it’s like looking at a foggy reflection of yourself

Taking targeted action

I wish I was able to show every concerned colleague what we really use their ethnicity data to do.

For example, in the US, our data tells us that we have a representation gap in terms of the number of Black heritage and Hispanic colleagues we have in senior roles. So we are changing processes to allow us to address this imbalance directly.

In the UK, because of people disclosing their data, we know that Black heritage women are less satisfied with their career development opportunities than other groups. So that’s a clear area for us to work on, and as a result, we’ve launched a targeted career progression programme.

Across our markets in the Asia-Pacific region, meanwhile, we believe that local talent is under-represented in senior leadership roles. This is an impediment to our ethnicity representation ambitions. To be sure we need more employees to voluntarily share their diversity data with us.

Four key steps

To help us become more diverse and inclusive, we’re taking action in four key areas:

  • Fair and inclusive recruiting
  • Progression of under-represented talent
  • Building an inclusive culture
  • Supporting an inclusive society

Capturing diversity data

Like looking in a mirror, if the data set that’s staring back at you is incomplete, it’s like looking at a foggy reflection of yourself. You’re not seeing the picture as clearly as you could otherwise be and that’s going to limit your ability to achieve the change that you want to have.

It’s not actually possible, for legal and cultural reasons, for us to capture employee diversity data in all of our markets. Still, over 90% of employees can voluntarily share their ethnicity with us. Currently, just 52% have shared their ethnicity data. To put that in perspective – that’s 100,000 people.

Sadly, there are many areas where our data is low. Some markets have a disclosure rate of more than 95% - but others can even fall below 10%.

The reasons for that variance are as complex and differentiated as the individuals involved. Remember - each colleague is making a personal choice about whether they want to share their data with HSBC, or wish to take the time to disclose it. In some of the markets we operate in, we’re taking a leading position by being one of the first employers to start capturing this information.

One of my goals is to raise that disclosure rate in places where it’s hindering us. To build trust that we’re using the data in the right way, and use it to create effective local solutions in the markets and for the roles where we aren’t diverse enough. There’s always a disclosure option ‘prefer not to say’ if people do not wish to specify, and that’s also valuable information.

Going beyond our commitments

Our actions go beyond the ethnic diversity commitments we made in 2020 by outlining specific goals in the UK and US, where Black heritage colleagues are particularly under-represented. In addition, we’re comparing our employee diversity data with available external census data in each market to identify any representation gaps and taking action:

  • If there’s insufficient or no employee diversity data, we’re encouraging employees to voluntarily disclose their ethnicity where legally and culturally permissible to do so
  • If there’s sufficient employee data, and when compared with external data there are representation gaps, specific goals will be put in place
  • If there’s sufficient data, and when compared with external data there are no representation gaps, we’ll regularly monitor for any changes

With more than 200,000 employees in 60 markets around the world, improving ethnic representation and inclusion at HSBC is a complex ambition.

The vast majority of action that works is local to a place, specific to a business and targeted to address real barriers directly. That’s what we need the data for.

It’s about standing shoulder to shoulder with other companies and unlocking the potential for people in the world. It’s as simple as that.

How we’re improving diversity at HSBC

Hear our US and Americas CEO Michael Roberts, and US Head of Inclusion and Culture Ralph Jardine, discuss the action we’re taking.

Our diversity data

We’re creating an accurate and transparent view of our workforce so we can effectively target our actions and measure our progress.

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