Shining a light on diversity at Citi

Written by
Changeboard Team

05 Nov 2014

05 Nov 2014 • by Changeboard Team

The diversity agenda capturing top talent

With unemployment among young people now at 23% (the highest in 20 years), there has never been a greater need to help youngsters realise their ambitions and encourage aspirations about their future careers.

With 260,000 employees (9,300 in the UK) across 200 global locations, Citi is already ‘phenomenally’ diverse according to Lines, and each year receives close to 40,000 applications for just 400 graduate positions across EMEA. Yet when it comes to young people, much more needs to be done to lure in and educate state school pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds that a career in banking is a real option for them.

“We want to put banking on the table,” says a defiant Lines. “These people don’t get the access to the banking industry that their peers from fee-paying schools do.” Lines’ fierce passion is infectious. State school educated herself, she went on to study at Oxford: “I’ve always been very conscious of how much easier peers from fee-paying schools found that environment. State schools should be given the same opportunities.

“A lot of children are at a disadvantage because they don’t have access to the careers advice, social capital or parental input that people from more privileged backgrounds have. If there’s no-one in your family who has been to university or with a professional career, where do you start?”

Breaking barriers to achievement

Back in 2010, Citi ran a pilot programme for year 13 students from top state schools in London, to inspire them to pursue higher education and then a career in investment banking. Although this was a success in bringing together bright students who were interested in banking, Lines says the pupils were largely from selective schools – the group was not as diverse as Citi had hoped.

In 2011, social business Future First approached Citi and proposed to help them build on this by reaching out to students from more diverse backgrounds and non-selective state schools. “It’s not just about state schools; it’s those with traditionally high unemployment and low numbers going to university,” states Lines.

Part of the new programme is a series of insight days, aimed at giving pupils a taste of the profession. Those who attend insight days can apply for a first year programme with Citi when they go to university. From there, successful students are fast-tracked to assessment for an internship, and if the internship goes well, they are offered employment. For Lines, this is the beginning of the talent pipeline journey.

“We have such a varied client base, and without diverse people to serve them, we’ll lose out. By targeting the best universities, we are already fishing in a narrow pool. To get diverse talent, we need to engage before university. Pupils need to put themselves on the right path so their career options are as open as possible,” champions Lines.

Moral responsibility

Although the programme is designed to ‘shine a light’ on banking, Lines says it’s not about glamorising the profession, which many would argue has suffered huge reputational damage in the wake of the financial crisis. “We are very transparent and we take our lead from the top,” she says. The bank’s chief executive Vikram Pandit has laid out clear principles he wants the company to adhere to – one being responsible finance.

“We try to be authentic – to show how diverse we are, and the breadth of what’s on offer. But if a student asks about working hours we’ll tell them; that level of authenticity can help people be clear about whether they want to join,” she explains.

The commercial benefits of the scheme are obvious;it’s in everyone’s interest to attract the best talent into the bank. But for the Citi employees involved in the insight days, talking passionately about the industry and their role, dispelling myths about the firm’s reputation and inspiring young people is part of a wider moral responsibility.

“We are all conscious that we’re fortunate enough to be employed; there are people from all backgrounds and nationalities working here – we want to ensure that continues,” Lines proclaims.

City Savvy spotlight on banking

Together with 30 year 12 pupils, all on track to receive 360 UCAS points (three As at A level) or above, I’m invited to attend Citi’s latest insight day, ‘Citi Savvy’. They all come from ‘disadvantaged backgrounds’ – at least 50% of pupils at these schools (all Future First partner schools) receive free school meals.

As we gather in a meeting room on the 13th floor of the bank’s UK headquarters, there’s a real buzz – the pupils’ faces beam with anticipation, yet there’s a sense of humility among them. Today will be a day of many firsts: meeting bank employees; walking the trading floor; discussing real-life challenges and for some, riding the Tube.

“For a wide variety of professions, not just banking, it really matters where you go to university and what you study. Rightly or wrongly when you choose a university you choose a brand. ‘Brands’ like Oxbridge and the Russell Group open doors. If you make the wrong choice now, it’s too late,” Lines tells the students.

The pupils are then treated to a highly emotive speech from James Bardrick, Citi’s head of corporate investment banking (and a former state school pupil). “Never be arrogant, but be proud of your achievements,” he advises. “Keep learning. Always be curious and hungry to learn.”

And hungry they are. When four current Citi employees come in to talk to the pupils in small groups, they are met with a barrage of questions, ranging from ‘how many employees are recruited each year?’ to ‘what do you do when you want to give it all up?’

Following this, pupils take part in a series of workshops, to help them improve their interview technique and CV skills. For Lines, an insight into utilising transferrable skills is just as important as opening up the students’ knowledge of banking.

Feeding the pipeline delivering results

The feedback around this initiative from the rest of the business has been incredibly strong, which delights Lines. But it’s not just a tick-box exercise. “I really want to hire people from this. It’s not just about raising awareness. I’ll know it’s successful when I see the same faces on our first year programme in a year’s time.”

She is clear, however, that pupils from the insight day are in no way given an unfair advantage in the recruitment process. While she says Citi will look closely at their application, they’ll still have to go through the meritocratic system like everyone else. Citi recruit from the top universities, which is why pupils are encouraged to reach for the top at the insight day.

Unacceptable bias

For Lines, the calibre of these students is overwhelming. “Missing out on prospective employees because we haven’t done a good enough job of explaining banking is just not acceptable,” she argues.

“It’s around understanding the incredible pool of talent that’s on our doorstep. With a little effort, we get to people so they at least consider a broader range of career options. I have no doubt they will do very well.”

Key stats

  • 45% of those receiving free school meals do not know anyone in a job they would like to do, but 91% would like to receive careers advice from people actually in jobs (Future First 2011 report
  • 26.1% of young people who had not had any contact with employers at school went on to become ‘NEET’(not in education, employment or training), dropping to 4.3% for those who had taken part in activities involving employers (Education and Employers Taskforce research, Feb 2012)
  • Companies with diverse executive boards enjoyed 53% higher returns on equity between 2008-2010 (McKinsey research, April 2012)

About Gemma Lines


Gemma is currently the head of graduate marketing, recruitment and development for EMEA. Before joining HR, she worked in marketing and communications for a variety of organisations. She has a degree in modern languages from the University of Oxford.