In today’s Leading Through Our History episode, Todd Sears sits down with the Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at HSBC, Birgit Neu. Todd and Birgit discuss Birgits early professional days, how a company can take the next step in being an active corporate ally as well as how Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) in companies is changing and how it will continue to change in the future.
Prior to her current role, Birgit was the Head of the Private Banking Initiative in Global Commercial Banking and was the COO within Global Banking and Markets at HSBC. Her financial services experience includes roles with Atos Euronext Market Solutions and institutional brokerage Instinet. Before financial services, Birgit worked in the digital and book publishing industry in New York City.
Her path down D&I all started when she was in a meeting and her boss asked, “why are there so few women in the room”, Birgit quickly raised her hand and explained to her boss, and everyone else in the room, why that is. This moment led her to start and lead the “balance network” at HSBC which is an internal initiative aimed at leveling the playing field between men and women in the workplace. This ultimately led her to start thinking more about D&I in a broader lense, instead of just men and women. She understood that the issues that POC, women and the LGBT community faced were all issues that were commonly clumped together and not individually focused on enough within D&I.
The common struggle that Todd and Birgit ran into, especially 10 years ago, is the fact that the D&I department was not a priority for many companies. Todd explains that, for the first couple years the events that OutLeadership would host were populated mainly by people in HR that were the token D&I representatives. Corporations did not have a culture that emphasized D&I as an important attitude to adopt. Birgit was able to change the corporate culture at HSBC, she made sure that HSBC was not just being a passive corporate ally but an active corporate ally. She ensured that HSBC was focusing hard on diversifying HSBC’s workforce as well as expanding the D&I mindset to every facet of the company. She explains that diverse representation in a company is an important step but also only the first step to becoming an active corporate ally.
Birgit also recognized how impactful the ripple effect is when you start changing the corporate culture. She explains for example, putting in a gender-neutral bathroom is not just for those who would prefer to use that bathroom, it helps spark a conversation within a company that can create a more accepting culture overall. It is the responsibility of allies to help foster and lead that conversation. The responsibility of creating a safe space for marginalized groups should not completely fall on such groups, much of that responsibility is on the allies within the company.
Birgit and Todd also spoke about how leaders in a company cannot just delegate the responsibility of D&I onto a couple people. The c-suite needs to make sure that D&I is a part of the very fabric of their company and it is up to the leaders to emphasize this mentality. Allies in a company need to come out as allies to their coworkers and stand up for them when offensive comments are made. Birgit explains that another key part of being a good corporate ally is continuing to collaborate with other companies to make sure that they are each doing their part in creating a more inclusive workspace. This is also why Birgit values the work that OutLeadership does because she has a place she can reach out to to find that network to collaborate with as well as learn more about how to be more inclusive.
Wrapping up the episode, Birgit emphasized how important it is to keep our foot on the gas in terms of making the workplace more inclusive for all. She explains that we’re all just humans and we need the support of others. We must network, collaborate and use the platform that we each have to create a better world for each and every one of us.