Getting Proactive about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

By Scott Anderson
ABA Viewpoint

For the past year and a half, the conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion has been at the forefront of the nation’s mind—and with good reason. While it builds on work we’ve done as an association—and at my own bank, Zions—for many years, we all have new opportunities to lean into sometimes difficult but truly rewarding encounters and policy solutions. In fact, I firmly believe that the success of the banking industry, and of society in general, depends on how well we focus on DEI issues.

For all the advanced technology we can deploy, banking is still all about people. And to be successful, you need strong ties with the communities in which you live and work. You need to reflect your community. If you don’t, you can’t be effective.

One thing I’ve learned during my banking career is that we all need to do more to empower employees and customers, especially those who have traditionally been left behind. We need to think in a more inclusive, diverse and equitable way.

And while we need things like aggressive outreach to minority communities, additional staff training, and DEI coordinators—all things we’ve done at Zions—what we need most of all is a real change in attitudes that drive actions.

It’s not enough to provide equal opportunity and then let nature take its course. Colorblindness doesn’t work because too many of our fellow Americans were for centuries systemically disadvantaged on the basis of their skin color. Black Americans were subjected to 345 years of oppression—first slavery, then the softer but no less real evils of Jim Crow, redlining and other legalized discrimination. With that kind of history, it’s not enough today to simply provide “equal opportunity.” We must proactively and overtly help and support multicultural communities.

I don’t believe most Americans are consciously racist. I certainly don’t believe America is a racist country. We’ve made great progress on race issues since I was growing up in the 1950s and ’60s. And, certainly, many successful people from minority cultures have fought through the challenges and have become great leaders and successful in all areas of life.

But I also believe that we have much more to do. If we look deeply, we will see unconscious attitudes that need to change. It’s not enough to say, “Well, I’m not a racist person,” and go on with one’s life not thinking any more about this matter. That’s not good enough. We must be proactive.

It’s a start to put in place good policies and do extra training. But the commitment to do better has to be made at the individual level. It must pervade the entire culture of an organization. That’s something we’re especially well-placed to do as bankers. We can use our balance sheets to create an inclusive economy that can truly give everyone an opportunity to prosper. We can ask ourselves: What are we doing that will ensure we are providing access to credit so our disadvantaged neighbors and clients can buy a home, can finance an education? What support are we providing to businesses that provide jobs in disadvantaged communities?

With the tactical tools we have at our disposal—from within our banks and from ABA—we can and should build DEI practices within our banks. But it will take a true cultural shift for our institutions to become the catalysts I know each and every one can be for real change and genuine inclusion.

ABA Chair Scott Anderson is president and CEO of Zions Bank in Salt Lake City.

ABA Viewpoint is the source for analysis, commentary and perspective from the American Bankers Association on the policy issues shaping banking today and into the future. Click here to view all posts in this series.