Andrew Denton is Alfa’s Chief Executive Officer and leads the Group. Andrew joined the company in 1995 and became a member of the Board of Directors in 2003 as Sales and Marketing Director. He was made Chief Operating Officer in 2010 and became CEO in September 2016. Andrew is also director and joint founder of the Leasing Foundation, an organisation that supports the leasing and asset finance industry through charitable activities, research and development.
Tell us about the Leasing Foundation’s diversity initiative.
I wouldn’t necessarily call it an initiative. Diversity is just something that is important. The leasing and asset finance are well known for being an industry of old white men. It’s a problem, it’s literally dying, and we all know what diversity brings us, it brings diversity of thought, diversity of perspective and frankly if you get the same people in the same room with the same question then you will get the same answer. We have a responsibility to make the industry diverse and a responsibility to our own businesses to make them diverse.
As business leaders, we need to foster diversity. Some of the people I have spoken to recently have found the whole thing quite sobering. They think they have a diverse workforce and perhaps they do but diversity is a function of size. If you get big enough you will have all races and all colours and all sexual orientations. So actually diversity is a complete red herring in many ways as it tends to come naturally unless you actively iron it out. Much more helpful is inclusion.
So if you look at diversity as getting the right team, inclusion is about getting the right tactics. So at Alfa and at Leasing Life Conference and at the Leasing Foundation it is an inclusion agenda. So not just diversity but making sure that all these accidental prejudices that are potentially there in the workplace that people don’t understand that they are guilty of can be ironed out.
We have to be really conscious that if three guys are sitting in a room talking and one guy says ‘you look a bit gay in that cardigan’ and there is a homosexual man in the corner, he is going to feel less good about himself and is going to be less effective at work. He doesn’t feel safe to bring his true self to work and if you can’t bring your true self to work then you can’t be as effective.
To be objective about it, it also happens to be the right thing to do. So unconscious bias, we need to understand where it exists to get rid of it and make sure everyone can bring their true selves to work.
Would you say that this is something that is a problem for both the larger companies, we have big companies here today like ABN AMRO and Societe General Equipment Finance, as well as smaller IT companies who have less staff but are perhaps more nimble. Does the problem exists in both?
Undoubtedly, there is a generational aspect to it. You find prejudice, you find bias, everywhere. It needs to be partly about the leadership, it’s very difficult to run the ship and to have the right moral compass and the right moral standard for your organization. One of the things we do at Alfa is we have a number of key questions for potential employees such as ‘if this comes up in a bar with workmates, how would you deal with it?’ There’s a degree of training.
You can train this even if someone is morally very sound. They don’t think they are biased but they need to see the way that they act, the way the workplace acts from the perspective of a gay man or woman, from the perspective of a woman or from the perspective of a person of colour is not OK. What looks to them as pretty innocent behaviour may be far from that
What do you feel about the current state of play in terms of the gender balance? Most websites in leasing, for example, will always have more images of men than of women.
That’s exactly right, though it is not unique to asset finance. Part of giving up alcohol is understanding you are an alcoholic. I think as an industry we need to understand that the balance is wrong in every way.
We only have one black man at the Leasing Life Conference and I suspect that there may be only four or five people in senior roles within the industry who are non-white. Alfa has a gay man on the marketing stand here and we are accredited ‘Proud’ by Stonewall the LGBT rights group so we are a safe place for LGBT people to work. But who else is thinking in that way? Any of the balances are wrong.
Obviously, gender is a relatively easy one for people to get their head around because I think there is less discomfort in discussing gender but the gender balance is all wrong and we need to get it right whilst avoiding tokenism. The Leasing Foundation did a gender scorecard and part of any business improvement is being able to measure and see where you are and how you can improve.
I think it’s important that we don’t ostracise anyone who does badly on a gender scorecard, or any similar measurement. Actually what we want to do is encourage people to measure themselves and understand where they are. We don’t want to be creating pariahs because actually, it is a very positive step. It’s a real shame that some of the West Coast tech companies did this work, figured out that they had a problem, only to have the press beat the hell out of them. They are not in the right place and some of these companies have problems but the fact that they have bothered to measure is a positive first step. We’ve got work to do and there are tools and techniques available that are out there for people to try and make this transition.
And this is above and beyond legislation?
Of course, there is plenty of legislation out there in terms of, for example, the composition of a plc board, but most importantly you have got to get the balance right for an organisation. Diversity is a good thing. If you have a lot of different voices, a lot of different backgrounds, this is so much greater than gender, sexual orientation, and race. It’s actually making sure of your recruiting pool. If you are taking everybody from Oxbridge then again that is sucking diversity out of your organisation. You see different issues with diversity in different companies.
Where will we be in say 2020 or 2025? Will things have moved on positively?
It has to. I’m not even going to countenance that we do not get there… because it’s nuts.