Beyond being a force for greater good, higher workplace diversity can help businesses score with clients too. Image Credit: Shutterstock

The GCC’s private banking industry stands at a crossroads. For too long, homogeneity has been the default setting in the upper echelons of private banking, with boardrooms echoing the same perspectives in the same accents to the same clients.

In the GCC, wealth whispers in a multitude of languages, from Arabic and Urdu to French, Russian and Mandarin. Just like the GCC, whose landscape reflects a mosaic woven from diverse cultures, genders, ethnicities, beliefs and aspirations, so should our workforce. Our efforts to achieve the full potential of the private banking industry should start from within, by embracing the very diversity that defines the region we serve.

For all the ink spilled on diversity in recent years, it alone is far from sufficient and should not be expected to immediately spur leaps in a private bank’s performance. While a solid foundation, diversity without inclusion risks being counterproductive, creating an environment where diverse opinions exist but are not respected and potentially creating a feeling of alienation and marginalisation within the workforce.

It is inclusion that unlocks the true potential of a diverse workforce, ensuring that thoughts are not just voiced, but that all voices are also heard, respected and amplified.

Diversity cannot be an after-thought

Fostering diversity and inclusion should not be a passive endeavour or an afterthought. From revamped job descriptions, inclusive interview panels and targeted recruitment programmes to unconscious bias trainings, mentorship initiatives and flexible working arrangements, nurturing a diverse and inclusive work environment demands a relentless pursuit, extending beyond HR policies and top-down directives, instead requiring a shift in the cultural mindset and the very fabric of our organisations.

The benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce in private banking are not merely cosmetic; they are deeply integral to the success and resilience of the organisation and are key to building an equitable society based on meritocracy.

The business case for diversity and inclusion has been substantiated: diversity pays, as highlighted by research conducted by ‘As You Sow’ which analysed 1,641 US-based and publicly traded companies between 2016-22, and found a positive correlation between diverse management teams and companies’ financial performance.

Perfecting the right fit for clients

Notably, an organisational culture of inclusion serves to attract and retain skilled individuals from all walks of life, leading to a stronger talent pool and ultimately a more diverse and fulfilled workforce. In turn, such a workforce brings varied viewpoints to the table, fuelling creativity, challenging conventional thinking and crafting solutions that are both innovative and fit-for-purpose.

Think AI-powered wealth management models trained on data sets encompassing regional family office structures, designed by a Jordanian private banker raised in Switzerland, or Sharia-compliant investment portfolios managed by an Emirati woman fluent in the intricacies of Sharia law and the requirements of Emirati family offices.

Considering different viewpoints also makes teams less prone to groupthink, ultimately leading to better more informed, decision-making.

Outside the organisation, the role a diverse workforce plays in building long-lasting, trust-based relationships with a private bank’s clientele can also not be understated. Picture a Saudi entrepreneur, seeking guidance for his family business, finding a relationship manager who shares his cultural values and business acumen.

Or a young Qatari HNW woman embarking on her financial journey and finding mentorship and confidence in a female advisor who understands her background, considerations and aspirations. While mere individual anecdotes, these success stories would not be possible without a workforce that mirrors the multiculturalism of our clientele, who can understand their background and offer personalised banking solutions that resonate with them on a personal level.

Banks can lead the way

Lastly, it’s important to note that cultivating a diverse and inclusive workforce goes beyond economic benefits; It’s not just good for business, it’s also a moral imperative.

Incorporating diversity and inclusion at the core of everything we do elevates not only our banks, but the very communities we service, setting a standard that ripples across the organisation and is reflected in every townhall, recruitment presentation, client relationship and investment strategy.

As the regional head of a private bank in the Middle East, I see this approach not as an obligation or a strategic advantage in a competitive landscape, but as a moral imperative and the very lifeblood of our industry. This approach transcends traditional diversity initiatives, embedding a deep cultural intelligence into the fabric of our organisation.