Rebecca Tomes speaks with Belton Flournoy, Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI) Champion and Director of Protiviti, about her critically important work on increasing diversity in financial services. Belton reflects on how his experience as a black, gay man has inspired him to drive much-needed change in the industry – and to make all minorities feel comfortable and able to relate. to express. Belton also shares three tips on how IFA Magazine readers can develop DEI in the workplace.
RT: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role at Protiviti?
BF: As Director of Protiviti UK’s Technology Consultancy, I lead the Digital Identity team in the UK, covering everything from Identity Governance and Administration, Privileged Access Management and Cybersecurity . My daily work is very technical and cyber-related.
I have a passion for diversity and yes, it would be great to discuss how I embarked on this journey – and why it remains such an important part of my personal agenda today.
I’ve been involved in a variety of things, from setting up the ProPride network at Protiviti UK to working with Pride in London, and now sit on the advisory board of the London School of Economics Inclusion Initiative. This initiative seeks to use behavioral science to foster inclusion in professional and financial services. We are able to fund full-time researchers, through partnerships with organizations, and I help shape the research agenda to provide evidence that will ultimately drive positive change around DEI.
I also support the Tech Community for Racial Equality, TC4RE, through Protiviti. TC4RE is a collection of technology companies (e.g. Microsoft, Computacentre, etc.) working together to increase racial representation within the technology sector.
RT: Can you sum up what motivates you and give us some highlights of your professional experience and successes to date?
BF: I don’t believe that success is important in life. I believe the most important thing is to find a passion that drives you and helps you find yourself and the things you love to do.
I also find failure to be one of the best driving forces to start a fire under someone. I’ve had my fair share of challenges, but there’s one that stands out as the match that lit the fire under me. I had just delivered a program for a global investment bank and was invited to meet the global change manager because he was impressed with some of the work Protiviti was undertaking. On the way to the meeting, a client – whom we had worked with for several years – turned to me and, from a point of care, said: “By the way, Belton, don’t let him know you’re gay”. My response was“It’s not something I talk about at work; I’m here to do my job – and it doesn’t affect my performance.”.
So I went to the meeting, it went really well, and they said I was from Texas. However, afterwards I was talking to a friend, and they asked me what I would do if someone asked me to hide my race on a conference call. I immediately responded with, “Of course I wouldn’t do that”. Yet, at the same time, it was perfectly acceptable for someone to make that comment about my sexuality to me — and I was comfortable reassuring them that my sexuality had nothing to do with my job.
I soon realized that my sexuality is just as important as the color of my skin, or the fact that I’m from Texas, and hiding it doesn’t make me stronger. Instead, it eats away at your ability to be yourself at work.
This experience made me realize that I didn’t want anyone to feel like they had to hide who they are at work – that fear makes people quiet and less productive.
After that meeting, I spent no energy trying to create an alternative, hidden “me” at work. I move to become authentic myself, spending less effort worrying about the colors I wore or the depth of my voice in meetings – and as a result, my productivity skyrocketed. I wanted other people to go through this transformation too. To do this, I created the LGBT+ network at Protiviti’s UK office, to help everyone in the business feel comfortable, and due to its success, I started working with Pride at London, with the support of the Mayor, to create pride in the city and amplify the voices of LGBT people. Through my efforts with Pride in London, I was invited to number 10 and participate in a creamy market close on the London Stock Exchange.
My productivity was entirely due to the change in me – in that I no longer answered questions with cryptic answers about what I did on the weekends or if I was married – and when you are able to relieve the constant pressure to try to hide who you are, you are capable of being productive.
However, DEI is only one piece of the puzzle. At Protiviti, we ultimately work to try to find ways to make people feel valued and heard. And while increasing DEI is one important way to do this, there are many other ways as well. One of the things Protiviti has done is set up three innovation sites around the world, and we’ve worked hard to establish a culture of innovation among all of our staff globally. We’ve trained every employee – from consultant to CEO – in what we call “design thinking techniques,” which involve using a variety of techniques to brainstorm ideas that can help solve challenges. Additionally, design thinking allows you to simultaneously solicit anonymous ideas from everyone in the group, but in a non-invasive way. This method is an example of how organizations can harness and validate people’s thoughts and ideas.