In 2020, conversations around race and privilege made headlines across the country. Since then, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives have become a top priority for many organizations. The financial industry is no exception. With large financial institutions taking action to diversify their ranks and create a more equitable working environment, learning and development (L&D) programs, especially around recruiting and onboarding, play a critical role.

Let’s explore the recent shifts that are emerging among financial institutions as they embrace DEI principles, along with takeaways for L&D professionals.

Expanding The Reach Of Recruiting Efforts

Most prominent financial institutions are known for recruiting aggressively at prestigious schools, including Ivy League colleges and other universities that consistently rank high on lists of the top academic institutions. But as the industry increases its commitment to DEI initiatives, many firms are broadening the scope of their recruiting efforts to include additional colleges and universities, as well as academic programs outside the boundaries of their traditional criteria. Financial firms are also establishing new programs and partnerships aimed at bringing a more diverse population into their organizations.

For L&D professionals, supporting recruits who join an organization from outside the typical “pipeline” requires understanding and consideration of candidates from a wider variety of backgrounds and experiences. In other words, you need to know your audience. Focus groups, surveys, feedback from managers and roundtable discussions can all provide valuable insights. L&D teams may also want to consult with subject matter experts (SMEs) on younger generations in the workplace — not only millennials, but also the Gen-Z cohort.

Creating More Robust Onboarding Programs

As large financial institutions broaden their recruiting efforts, some are also beginning to refresh their onboarding programs to serve a wider variety of candidates and new hires. Compared with applicants from less diverse, more privileged backgrounds, candidates from minority groups can be at a disadvantage when it comes to navigating the interview and onboarding processes. For example, applicants whose college major reflects their interest in a finance career but who did not grow up in an environment that afforded opportunities to interact with professionals in the field often benefit from coaching and hands-on instruction to help them prepare for interviews.

Hiring in cohorts or pairs can also help new recruits form bonds with colleagues and adjust to their new working environment. In addition, more financial institutions are recognizing the value of long-term onboarding programs that keep new hires engaged and contribute to higher levels of satisfaction, such as: Mentor or “buddy” programs; weekly one-on-one meetings between new employees and managers; quarterly check-in events and training sessions with new-hire cohort groups; and separate performance review templates for first-year employees.

Getting to know candidates and new hires is a crucial step for L&D professionals managing the onboarding process. Listening directly to individuals and groups, talking with them about their experiences, and conducting surveys can help L&D teams better understand how to meet new hires’ needs. In addition, especially when recruiting younger cohorts, actively networking on social media platforms and LinkedIn can help L&D professionals deepen their understanding of today’s employees.

Delivering Information In New Formats

We live in a different world than the one in which learning meant sitting in classrooms and poring over textbooks. People who are beginning their financial careers in 2021 often process information differently than their predecessors, especially digital natives who grew up using social media platforms. Some research suggests that frequent use of digital devices, especially smartphones, shortens attention spans. In addition, heavy users of digital devices and social media can be more easily distracted.

In the context of workplace training and learning programs, it is important to recognize this environmental shift and adjust L&D activities accordingly. Particularly for younger new hires who are used to consuming information in bite-sized portions via digital devices, L&D professionals should be mindful about delivering education and feedback in manageable amounts. Developing new programs, or modifying existing ones, to cater to the way this demographic is accustomed to learning can help them to thrive in the workplace.

Systemic, lasting changes rarely happen overnight, and businesses undertaking DEI efforts must make a commitment for the long term in order to generate meaningful results. From the L&D perspective, listening to candidates and new hires from a variety of backgrounds and providing the support they need can help ensure that an organization is a welcoming — and educational — environment for all.