This Iconic Firm is Setting the Bar With a Data-Driven Approach to Diversity — Here's How

Sponsored by Citigroup

This Iconic Firm is Setting the Bar With a Data-Driven Approach to Diversity — Here's How

Photo courtesy of Citi

May 24, 2024 at 11:4PM UTC

The article below is from Citi’s 2019 ESG Report Executive Summary. It was written before the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though so much has changed in the last few months, the broad themes in this report continue to be key priorities for Citi.

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure” is a well-known adage that our CEO Mike Corbat uses often. It informs many of the business decisions made across our firm. Diversity is no different. 

Beyond just measurement, transparency is extremely important to our diversity efforts. That’s why Citi is making good on our commitment to disclose our continued progress on pay equity and representation. 

A recently updated analysis of our unadjusted (or “raw”) pay gap for women globally and U.S. minorities found those numbers had moved slightly, but in the right direction, in 2019 to 73 percent for women and 94 percent for U.S. minorities from 71 percent and 93 percent, respectively, in 2018. For us, the data reaffirms the importance of the goals we announced two years ago to increase our representation of women and U.S. minorities in senior and higher-paying roles at Citi. We know that is the only effective way for us to meaningfully reduce our raw pay gap over time. 

With close to 200,000 employees around the world, we can’t create the diverse and inclusive culture we are striving for through policies, goals and programs alone. We need to tell people what we’re working toward and encourage ownership – by employees at all levels across the firm. 

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To do so, we are working with managers to help them be intentional about how they delegate high profile assignments so that everyone gets to do their best work and meet their professional goals. And we are training managers to understand unconscious hiring bias so that we can ensure the diversity of our teams.

Beyond all this, I am most excited about the work that’s under way to examine what employees and recruits are or are not experiencing. In 2019, we built out our people analytics and insights capabilities to help better understand how to attract, retain and promote top talent and provide data-driven insights that can change the makeup of the firm. 

One of our initial projects was enhancing our employee survey — what we call Voice of Employee (VOE) — by adding more questions related to experiences and perceptions. Our VOE survey is one of the most important tools we have in understanding our employee experience. Itsignals that we care about how their experiences differ. This feedback, when layered with the demographic information we have, helps us understand where we need to focus.

Learning, Improving, Sharing

Recognizing that there is a gap is important, but effective action isn’t possible until you understand the root cause of a given gap. That’s part of why our efforts to collect and analyze more data are so critical. 

For example, we found valuable insight in a recent attrition study of employees, based on their VOE responses prior to leaving the company. We know that VOE sentiment can predict attrition up to three years in advance and, generally, the predictors are largely the same for men and women. However, men and women in more senior roles seem to leave for very different reasons. Senior-level women focus on items related to the company and leadership, while men focus more on their relationship with their manager. Understanding this disparity is an opportunity for further exploration and highlights areas where we can focus.

This study is one of many underway and offers the ability to either validate external research or glean unique insights about our own workforce. Collecting and analyzing data gives us a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t, which will undoubtedly improve the way we approach diversity company-wide.

The Hidden Power of Hiring Bias

In companies around the world, managers often hire applicants with skills similar to those of the person who previously held the position. This strategy often reflects hiring bias and prevents a company from hiring individuals with new or nontraditional skill sets, which can lead to a lack of diverse hires. The trend can also yield hires who may be a culture match but not a cultural add, the latter of which is more important when it comes to driving a company’s diversity — and success.

It’s also quite typical for managers to hire for similarity — that is, unconsciously or otherwise, they look for candidates with comparable interests, professional and educational backgrounds, social markers and other qualities. By favoring candidates with shared experience, managers can blindly disregard those with a skillset that’s more conducive to doing the job well. 

To tackle these challenges, we hold unconscious bias training sessions and host internal panels with a diverse range of voices, all with an eye toward encouraging our people to institute more even-handed hiring processes. Citi is also expanding the scope of hiring searches, in part by stepping up recruitment efforts at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the U.S. 

In 2019, we piloted a new approach to engaging HBCUs. We held our inaugural HBCU Innovation and Leadership Symposium, which brought together 85 first- and second-year students from 21 historically black colleges and universities for an introductory experience focused on helping students of diverse backgrounds understand financial services, gain technical skills and kick off the career planning process. The two-day immersive experience gave participants an opportunity to network with HBCU students from across the U.S. and participate in workshops to share and discuss the rich experiences of professionals at Citi. While we would certainly like the students to consider the possibility of a future with Citi, our primary goal was to provide them with helpful tools on their path to professional success without regard for industry or profession.

Uneven Opportunities

Even when underrepresented individuals join organizations, they may face a lack of opportunities compared to their white male counterparts. The same dynamics that generate hiring bias can take root as senior leaders — again, consciously or otherwise — assign new projects and give increased responsibility to individuals with similar backgrounds and experiences. 

When someone doesn’t have the chance to work on high-profile, challenging assignments, it can be difficult to build the skills and body of work necessary for promotion. To combat this, we are creating development plans for high-potential female and minority employees at all levels and especially in the middle of the organization. Various groups across the firm also invest in development programs that not only help us cultivate the skills of our diverse talent but provide exposure to senior leadership and opportunities for mentorship that can lead to advancement. 

While the change we want to see in our diversity across the firm is not immediate, these data-informed insights are driving notable improvements toward our ultimate end goal: A diverse community of committed and thriving employees all working together to enhance the work of Citi.

Read more on Citi’s ESG activities in performance in the full 2019 report here.

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