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​Embracing Gender Diversity: A Discussion with Joy Rhoades

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Embracing Gender Diversity: A Discussion With Joy Rhoades

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A single glance at Joy Rhoades’ CV will leave you feeling inspired. From kickstarting her compliance career in Hong Kong for Jardine Fleming Asset Management to working all around the world as a Managing Director at JP Morgan to publishing two successful novels influenced by her family’s history, Rhoades’ journey shows how one really can do it all.

It also shows how one can see it all: with more than 20 years of experience within financial services acquired all across the globe, Rhoades has been able to see first-hand how the industry has evolved over time, and how different cultures would adapt themselves to those industry shifts.

One of these shifts: the increasing importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. What used to be a mere consideration in financial services has now become a proper business priority for a large number of firms. We recently sat down with Joy Rhoades to discuss the matter in depth, as she has seen the evolution of Diversity & Inclusion within the financial services world throughout her professional journey. What we have learned: even though we can salute all the efforts and work done in the last decades, there is much more to do when it comes to truly embracing diversity in the workplace.

Joy, having been in the compliance and legal sector for a few decades, you surely have witnessed the increasing importance of Diversity & Inclusion in the workplace. What are the main differences you have seen over time in terms of D&I within your industry? And where do you think we stand right now when it comes to making the workplace more diverse?

The great news is that Diversity & Inclusion is now a thing, a BIG thing. It was very much a fringe “HR only” issue when I started out my career. Naysayers did not quite believe that diverse boards get better returns. But now, it is much more widely studied, reported, and accepted. Other strong positives are getting airtime too: diverse firms have better employee retention, and so on. The list is long and getting longer all the time.

But these results are where firms get Diversity & Inclusion right – where there is both diversity in hiring and inclusion when people are onboard. One doesn’t work without the other. While firms increasingly are committed to diversity, I believe more work needs to be done on inclusion, to ensure diverse hires thrive once on board.

We recently published an article on our website talking about the massive gender gap that currently exists in FCA-regulated firms: in 2020, 83% to 86% of SMF16/17s in the UK were male. Do you think firms are doing enough to support gender diversity in financial services?

No – there is no other answer. While the UK’s Gender Pay Gap Reporting Regulations have done an enormous amount to increase awareness of the problem, more commitment from more firms is needed. The reporting means that firms who are publicly committed to equality can now be measured on their progress – and that is a good thing. But the 2020 pandemic has, of course, meant that gender equality is no longer necessarily at the forefront of a firm’s planning. Firms like McKinsey have found that women are more vulnerable to COVID-19 related economic effects because of gender inequalities: it is clear that COVID has had a devastating impact on equality.

For these reasons, equality must be at the heart of effective recovery planning, whether by firms or governments, along with sustainability.

What measures do you think companies and senior professionals should put in place to encourage more diverse individuals to be part of financial services?

There is no single answer. From intake to promotion to retirement, the employment life cycle needs to shift to recognise the challenges facing diverse candidates. For example, at intake, there are real issues with the absence of role models. Diverse candidates just may not know anyone, whether parent, neighbour or friend, who works in financial services. The challenge is to ensure, whether through outreach summer internships or apprenticeship programs that enable employees to earn-as-they-learn, that is overcome so that candidates make that mindset leap.

What advice would you give to women in the early stages of their career who are looking into moving up the corporate ladder? What kind of challenges should they be prepared to face? How can they overcome them?

Be yourself, but aim to be your most professional, focused self. Be career strategic. Identify what you want, role-wise, at intervals of say two years, and then work towards each of those promotions but aim to build skills and valuable experience, not necessarily titles. Be objective and mercenary about skills: if you have a skill gap, go after closing it and the sooner the better.

Identify sponsors too – executives with whom you have rapport who will help you rise. Mentors are great but you also need people who can find you the next role.

Lastly, bring people along. The most rewarding aspect of my career by a country mile is the opportunities I have helped bring about, for people who work for me and with me.

After roughly 20 years into your career, you decided to take a professional break to be with your family – but also to become a full-time author. What was the overall reaction of your peers when you made this decision?

Some colleagues were clearly disappointed. Because in giving up what you have worked so hard and so long for, is a loss. The firm, to their credit, worked extremely hard to try to find ways for women MDs to stay with the firm. But the intensity of the work at that level - its almost 24/7 nature - made it impossible for me to have a family life and provide time and energy for my small children. So, I had two drivers: I wanted to see my kids and I wanted to have a chance to write, so giving up my day job for a few years achieved both ends. I did indeed find time to write, as well as be with my girls. Penguin published my first novel in 2017 and my second in 2019. After that, with my girls in high school, it felt like the right time to go back to paid work. For as wonderful as writing is, the returns are tiny even for successful authors and getting smaller. I still teach creative writing as a volunteer for London libraries, and squeeze in some writing when I can. But I love being back in Compliance work too – the problem-solving aspects and the variety of work have enormous appeal to me.

These are extraordinary and difficult times for many firms in the City. Do you think the pandemic will change the way we work? Our approach to D&I?

I have been so pleased to see and hear of City firms working hard for both their employees and the wider communities in the pandemic. From employee mental health to supporting local communities, firms are stepping up and at such an uncertain time. And I can’t see us going back from this point. This is a watershed, crystalizing the importance of sustainable food choices and environmentally conscious communities. In the City, firms with strong ESG profiles will steadily increase their draw, not just for new graduates but all people at all stages of their career. And D&I is a part of that.


Jackson Baker is a Manager at Rutherford, the executive compliance, financial crime, legal, cyber security and change & transformation recruitment specialists.
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