INTERVIEW WITH ALEX HENDERSON
Silvia Soannini interviews her colleague Alex Henderson, Senior Vice President at State Street, Head of EMEA Transfer Agency Operations, about how far the financial sector, and State Street in particular, have come in helping employees to bring their whole selves to work.
Do you believe that the banking/financial sector is inclusive of diversity? Was it inclusive towards you?
There’s been significant progress. Aside from the fact that providing inclusive environments is the right thing to do, there is a greater understanding of the fact that a diverse workforce drives innovation and creativity, and enhances our ability to serve our clients’ diversifying needs. This is an evolution, the momentum is there, and we can all still be actively making a positive difference in this space.
Personally, in my earlier career, I have experienced comments about how I tick a number diversity boxes with the insinuation it has fast-tracked my career – I was a young, female in a leadership role, without a university degree, and married to a woman. This used to affect my confidence – you do wonder if you’ve been considered for something because you represent a minority group. Today, I’m confident that I am in my position due to performance alone.
How would you define identity? Is it relevant in the workplace?
Personal identity is who you are, and self-identity is how you perceive or define yourself. We find greater alignment between our self-identity and personal identity, and in my opinion happiness, in places that are open, accepting and inclusive – where you can be you. Identity is a very relevant topic that should drive dialogue about everyone bringing their whole selves to work and thriving. Having to compromise or hide who you are can be damaging, and all businesses have a duty of care to their people, so identity needs to be a leading topic of conversation.
How can international groups and companies be more inclusive of all employees’ identities and increase their sense of belonging?
International organisations must consider how they build awareness, provide access to education, nurture dialogue, and train and promote Human Leadership. They must be vocally, consciously and actively aware of their people’s diverse needs so they can support their physical and psychological safety. At State Street, the Employee Experience, which focuses strongly on Inclusion, Diversity & Equity, is a foundational pillar of our organisational strategies. The focus our organisation has on this topic is working. Prior to joining in August 2021, I was interviewing at another company. The roles were not dissimilar and I chose State Street purely due to the people I met through the interview journey and the way they made me feel.
What do you think prevents some LGBT people – particularly women – from freely expressing their ‘difference’, even in an inclusive environment that protects and encourages freedom of expression?
Firstly, not all societies or cultures are the same – it is often difficult and sometimes illegal for people in the LGBT community to be transparent. I worked in Malaysia for 8 years and the company I worked for had a very inclusive culture. I could not be open or freely discuss my personal life, because of the laws in Malaysia. Over time, people discovered that I was married to a woman; I didn’t talk about it, but I didn’t actively hide it, either. That created an open door for a few colleagues in the office to be open and discuss their personal challenges with me.
I have also seen people in the LGBT community suffer from low confidence because of negative experiences with family, their social environment, their culture, and the law. Even in the most inclusive environments, it can be challenging for people to trust the inclusivity if they have had prior negative experience and that is why it is important we can all foster an environment of belonging – and build that trust!
What projects and policies has State Street adopted that deserve to be talked about?
Inclusion and diversity are embedded in our culture, values and behaviours.
We prioritise making sure that every employee feels they are represented, embraced and celebrated, and our global force of leaders represents the diverse markets we serve. We are very proud of the inclusive and safe environment we have created at State Street.
We empower our employees through employee networks, which play a critical role in creating an inclusive culture. Our Pride Employee Networks promote events and programmes that highlight challenges for LGBTQ communities across the globe. They include the Better Banter campaign, which highlights the impact of non-inclusive language in the workplace, and a reverse-mentoring programme that involved LBGTQ role models working to make the workplace safer for LGBTQ colleagues, women and minorities. In 2022 our Poland Pride Network hosted an event where our LGBTQ role models shared their coming out stories. This was an incredibly powerful and emotional event that reinforced how far we have come.