Tristan Watkins, UK country manager, BNP Paribas Leasing Solutions, highlights the importance of workplace diversity

‘No-one is normal’ – that was comedian Francesca Martinez’s theme when she talked to BNP Paribas Leasing Solutions staff at our third annual Diversity and Inclusion Week which took place early October.

In other words, everyone is different in some way – whether they have cerebral palsy like her, or their ‘difference’ is something less visible; and because none of us are ‘normal’, we will all benefit if we are more accommodating of each other’s’ differences.

Taking her advice to heart makes for a happier workplace, but at BNP Paribas we strongly believe that it also makes for a more productive workplace.

It is clear to me that when we feel excluded in the workplace, our performance can suffer. Moreover, any workplace that doesn’t show a commitment to diversity is going to find it difficult to attract the top talent. If the best person for the job does not feel that their ‘face fits’ in your organisation then they will choose somewhere else.

Building a more supportive and productive workplace is the reason why we invest in initiatives like our Diversity and Inclusion Week, something that we support in all BNP Paribas locations around the world.

The events promote equality with an emphasis on LGBT, racial and gender diversity inclusion, and we have hosted speakers talking about a range of themes from former Premier League footballer Graeme Le Saux who talks about tackling homophobia, to Terry Waite who spoke about the possibility of building dialogue across seemingly insurmountable barriers.

We also ensure that many of the events have a very practical application. One of this year’s events was a talk from a child education expert on building children’s self esteem. It is crucial to the effectiveness of our business that staff with children or other caring responsibilities feel supported, and we want to equip them with the skills to juggle work and family life.

Another very practically focused event was a session this year on working with people with hearing difficulties; with over 100,000 customers across the country it is almost a certainty that our staff will one day find themselves working with a hearing impaired customer or colleague. Knowing in advance that there are services to help phone conversations and feeling comfortable with lip-reading and sign-language when they meet face to face will help get that relationship off on the best foot.

Our commitment to diversity does not end with Diversity and Inclusion Week. Throughout the year, six employee networks also arrange events for staff with interest in a particular equality issue – from parents and carers to equality for LGBT staff, to support for our youngest staff.

I have the opportunity to lead from the front on diversity issues, working with Diversity and Inclusion Councils at BNP Paribas Group level, as well as locally in the UK. We have already made great strides, helping the Group to put diversity and inclusion at the heart of our Corporate Social Responsibility strategy. In particular, we now have clearly defined goals ahead of us for both the minimum proportion of women we want to see in senior roles, and for being acknowledged in Stonewall’s Top 100 employers list. Achieving those goals will put us at the very forefront of the leasing industry.