BYP had the pleasure of having an insightful conversation with Ayisat Alimi and we discussed her personal journey up the career ladder, employee activism, the importance of being your authentic self and why she believes HSBC is an employer of choice.
On Discovering HSBC And The World Of Banking
It was a happy coincidence! Although I studied Law, after graduating I had no real interest in becoming a lawyer and HSBC’s branding really appealed to me. I walked into one of their flagship retail branches and was struck by how professional the staff looked. A few days later, I applied for a personal banking position. Once on board, I was surprised at the variety of opportunities there were in banking. It was not an avenue I had previously considered at all but with over 200,000 employees across 64 countries there are so many reasons to join.
In my seven years of working with HSBC I have been promoted, on average, every 18 months. I've been fortunate to have had excellent management and mentors, which I think had a major impact on the trajectory of my career and generally plays a big part in an employee’s future within a company. At the same time, I am also hard working and believe that you create your own luck. This comes from speaking to people working in areas you are hoping to pursue a career in and actively developing skills for roles you would like to apply for before the opportunity comes.
I am ambitious and tenacious. When someone tells me that Black people can’t be in senior positions it motivates me. I'm competitive and love a challenge.
I have spoken with Black people who have experienced both overt and direct racism at work, which has impacted their mental wellbeing and their ability to push for promotions. We must continue to rise above this, be excellent, believe in our abilities and speak up when we see incidents of racism or discrimination. I am under no illusion that this is easy. That’s where finding a community within the organisation comes in, such as an Employee Resource Group.
On Why She Believes HSBC Is An Employer Of Choice
I’ve met fantastic people at HSBC. I remain confident that HSBC can continue to provide me the opportunity to grow and have a fantastic career. I’ve worked with incredible people, which has enabled me to develop on both a professional and personal level. At such a large organization, in my experience, you can change role at any time as long as you are willing to put in the work and you are able to establish a network and nurture that network. For example, I was able to move from Client Management to Risk Management which are completely separate areas, albeit within the same business, requiring completely different skill sets, but I had the freedom and support to do that.
I have always picked the teams I've moved into very strategically. I need to be in an area where I am appreciated for who I am, like my current team. I can be my authentic self and I don’t have to worry about hiding my culture and identity in the workplace. I am pleased to say that all the teams that I've worked in thus far have allowed me to do that. My hope for the future is that every other Black person that comes in is also allowed to be their authentic self. After all, it is counterproductive to not be able to bring your best self to work.
On Her Varied Role As A Business Risk Manager Within Global Liquidity and Cash Management, HSBC
The bank is split into different businesses and functions. We have Global Banking and Markets, Commercial Banking, and Wealth and Personal Banking, plus Legal, Finance and many other functions. I currently sit within Global Liquidity and Cash Management (GLCM), a Global Product Line within Global Banking and Markets. We mainly provide liquidity and payment solutions to corporations big and small. GLCM helps clients move and invest their cash and have visibility, control and access to it. I sit in the Europe Chief Control Office (CCO). Presently I look after six countries from a risk perspective. My team focuses on managing operational and resilience risk which includes Financial Crime Risk (AML, sanctions, anti-bribery and corruption), Regulatory Compliance Risk, Information and Cyber Risk. We ensure that GLCM Europe is conducting business within the HSBC Group risk appetite and in line with HSBC Conduct Pillars.
On The Fact That Less Than 1% of HSBC UK’s Senior Employees Are Black
I was pleased when HSBC published the data and provided a renewed commitment to improve opportunities for Black colleagues and boost the diversity of its senior leadership. Sadly, the number itself did not surprise me, HSBC isn't an anomaly. The statistics are consistent across multiple industries and also our government and Civil Service. It hits you hard when you see it printed, however it is not something that we did not anticipate. You don’t need to read a report to know that you are often the only Black face in the room. Whilst it’s not surprising, it is still shocking. It brings the issues home. We have made some strides in gender diversity but we still have miles to go when it comes to racial diversity. There are more women and Asians now in senior positions and on boards than ever before yet it is still not commonplace to see a Black person.
Nevertheless, I prefer to think about what actions I can take to ensure Black people are afforded equal opportunities in the workplace. To that effect, I am part of committees and employee networks which engage Senior Leaders within the organisation to voice their views and the opinion from the ground with the purpose of driving change and influencing HSBC’s D&I ethnicity agenda. Another initiative I am extremely proud to have been part of is the launch of the Embrace mentoring programme, which provides colleagues with the opportunity to be mentored by senior leaders who are committed to championing diversity and nurturing the wealth of diverse talent we have in HSBC.
Whilst myself and others have been speaking up about issues for some time, it was George Floyd’s murder that pushed a lot of organisations to expedite action on their ethnicity agenda. At HSBC, a group of Black employees came together and knocked on the doors of the CEO and other executives, and their doors opened.
We initiated a conversation with Noel Quinn, HSBC’s CEO following which, I am cautiously optimistic that there is going to be a real change and HSBC has committed to improving opportunities for Black people.
On Engaging Management In Difficult Conversations And Employee Activism
When you know that you are doing the right thing and know it is something that will make a difference to your community, it gives you strength. George Floyd’s murder evoked a flurry of emotions…pain, mental anguish, sadness, anger. Seeing images of police brutality and the injustice suffered by a human being because of the colour of his skin was heartbreaking. It brought together a group of thought leaders (Black and Allies) who were intent on pushing for change at HSBC and beyond. Although many in this group had been advocating for change for many years, we channeled this wave of emotions to multiply our efforts. It was a group of 30 of us across all levels of seniority. It was great to see everyone’s passion and to learn from these greats minds. We had several meetings before engaging senior leaders to ensure we put our intentions across in the most effective way. We were solution driven and wanted to shape the conversation and come out of it successful. All you can do is ask but you can’t be certain that you are going to get results especially when dealing with the CEO of a trillion-dollar company. I was encouraged by how our CEO prioritised this and by his allyship.
On HSBC’s Commitment To Racial Equality
Commitment needs to go far beyond the CEO. Change needs to happen throughout the organisation and especially within the middle management of the bank. You can outline strategies and commitments but their cascade and the real implementation need to be embraced by all members of the organisation. So I see it as a renewed commitment, a step in the right direction but a lot more work needs to be done.
On Partnering With BYP Network And Securing Black Talent
I find it incredibly frustrating when organisations say there is a shortage of Black talent or “we want to hire Black people but where are they?” This puzzles me as a lot of my friends are talented Black professionals. There is so much talent out there and if you don’t know where to find it then look harder or ask. HSBC has recognised that it needs to partner with organisations such as BYP in order to access a more diverse talent pipeline. BYP is a brilliant organisation that has the voice that can help us act on our commitments to Black people. We want to nurture this relationship and are excited to see what lies ahead!