Sofia Merlo: Diversity, a tremendous source for enrichment
#Corporate News — 30.04.2020

Diversity, a Tremendous Source for Enrichment

By Sofia Merlo, Co-CEO / BNP Paribas Wealth Management

Sofia Merlo I CO-CEO I BNP Paribas Wealth Management

HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE THE WORD DIVERSITY?

 

There can be a lot of definition of "diversity". I have always been very much inspired by Gandhi who has a golden rule: "Conduct is mutual tolerance, seeing that we will never think alike, and we shall see Truth in fragment and from different angles of vision.” Diversity is for me a source of tolerance, and it is also a source of performance when applied to business.

CAN DIVERSITY TAKE DIFFERENT FORMS?

 

Of course! When we talk about diversity in the sense of differences, there are several different kinds. There is gender difference, one of the first you see. There is cultural difference, which is not always visible because it could depend on ethnicity but also on where people were born, lived. I am Franco-Moroccan, I lived all my youth in Morocco and therefore necessarily, that is a cultural difference. There is the difference of sexual orientation. There is also physical difference, in particular those who are differently able, visible or not. And of course I would mention age difference, which is fundamental. I always say "this age difference, ultimately, is the diversity that everyone will achieve one day!” These different illustrations of diversity influence the way we look at our community, how we analyze behavior. The ideas we share are obviously nourished by these differences. This is what I find rich in diversity.

HOW IS IT AN ASSET FOR BUSINESS?

 

It’s an asset for several reasons. Very often in a company, there are people with roughly the same education and the same qualifications. They are formatted to analyze challenges in the same way. In my opinion, the important thing is to have employees who look at projects with a different point of view, with a different analysis which we hen will have to synthesize. With this synthesis, we are less likely to make mistakes because we will have taken into account a myriad of different visions. If we only take one vision from people around us who have been educated in the same way, by definition, we will miss another angle. It's the same with clients. When we are thinking about a product, we often think about it in relation to ourselves. It's natural, it's human. Likewise, if we don't have several people around the table, we're not going to think about it from their point of view. It’s pretty blatant with gender. Sometimes we will think of a product in relation to a given - often male - and then we will forget that women can have other desires, other ambitions, other visions. And so, we cut ourselves off from part of our clientele.

WHAT IS YOUR PERCEPTION OF THE ACCESS THAT WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS HAVE TO FINANCING?

 

Just a few years ago, we found that women entrepreneurs did not use credit as much as men entrepreneurs, just as they did not open up the capital of their company. This is quite striking for private equity funds that invest in female-led companies: they represent only 7%, a very small percentage of total women entrepreneurs. It is clear that in a certain way, there may not be the same desire, capacity or ambition in mind. We must manage these three core subjects. For desire, it is sometimes giving them visibility on role models. For capacity to do, it may be necessary to provide them with information and training. And for the capacity to bring meaning, "do they get contrary opinions?" Here the bank has a role to play. We must make sure that when a banker analyzes a credit request from a woman, the banker must not bring bias to the analysis. In the past, there were biases such as asking a woman for a guarantee from her husband or partner, when this request would never have been asked of a man. This is not normal. We all have biases because of our education. You have to make sure that people are aware of their biases, and that they make an effort to analyze the request with impartiality. This requires very significant training efforts, which we have implemented, on gender and on cultural and societal differences.

YOU JUST JOINED FINANCI'ELLES, A DIVERSITY PROMOTION NETWORK IN THE FINANCIAL SECTOR. CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THE NETWORKS THAT MATTER TO YOU?

 

The Financi’elles network brings together female networks in the finance sector, mainly banking and insurance. The objective is to ensure that there is indeed a breakthrough for women in the field of finance, especially at the highest levels. This is one of the problems, because in the financial sector overall, there are almost as many women as men. On the other hand, the higher you go, the fewer women there are. Financi’elles particularly works on the legislative side in order to change certain practices. The network also publishes benchmarks and this can have a positive ripple effect on companies in the sector. I think this is very important. Outside of the sector, I participate in Club XXIe siècle focusing on ethnic and cultural differences. Created in the early 2000s, this club offers French society a positive vision of diversity and equal opportunity.

 

At BNP Paribas, we have many networks aimed at guaranteeing equal treatment based on an employee’s skills and performance, regardless of origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or age for example. If I had to mention some that are close to my heart, I would mention Afrinity, open to all employees wishing to share their affinity with the African continent. Its ambition is to make Africa better known, for its business and career possibilities. The Mixcity network promotes professional equality, present in more than 20 countries and bringing together nearly 8,000 women and men, including 1,600 in France. Our Pride network, open to everyone, brings together LGBT + employees and their allies, with networks active in the United Kingdom, the United States, Belgium, Italy, Portugal and many other countries. Finally, I also find very interesting the recently created WeGenerations network, open to everyone, with the ambition to promote exchanges between young and senior staff, through "mentoring" and "reverse mentoring". It works pretty well while building links between generations.

 

In my opinion, our differences make us all actors of diversity.

WHAT IS THE IMPACT FOR PRIVATE BANKING CLIENTS?

 

Diversity has a positive impact on two levels. First, how we offer products or services to clients. We must bring together people of different profiles, to be sure that our range of products and services meet the needs of a very international clientele. In private banking, our private bankers in contact with clients are on the same wavelength, so that they understand what the client wants. We must ensure that, in a way, the private banker has a culture that is compatible. Why am I telling you this? We are a large international group. When an employee wishes to go to a foreign country, he or she must be aware that to succeed and understand his client, it will be necessary to understand and adopt certain new codes. In my opinion, the key to success is to develop a certain cultural bond within the company.

 

Finally, we do expatriate employees to other countries. I always say that it is important that the employee undergo training in the culture of the new country in order to learn of the cultural differences compared to his or her own. This sometimes helps to avoid missteps both in everyday life and in business.

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