Claire Lee: ‘If your culture does not support diversity, your business will die’

13 Jul 2018

Claire Lee speaking at Inspirefest 2018. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Claire Lee of Silicon Valley Bank stressed the importance of workplace diversity for business success at Inspirefest 2018.

Finance has historically been a relatively closed shop compared to other industries.

The ‘pale, male and stale’ stereotype was exemplified in banking and venture capital for decades and this is only now beginning to transform thanks to a new wave of trailblazers.

Future Human

For Claire Lee, head of early-stage banking at Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), the only way to make serious progress is by dismantling the very notion of what someone in these industries traditionally looks like.

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As she stood on the Inspirefest 2018 stage, she spoke of her hope in this new era of representation in the tech world. She lambasted oft-used phrases such as “she’s not a cultural fit”, imploring the audience to ask themselves what that question truly means.

Business leaders need to think differently

The idea of being unable to find any qualified candidates is, to Lee, an excuse. “What a load of rubbish.” As she puts it: “It’s not a pipeline problem.” She believes those business decision-makers who are still parroting these clichés are running on borrowed time.

For any business to succeed, and indeed any leader who wants to make this happen, diversity is the key. She put it bluntly: “If your culture doesn’t support diversity, your business will die.”

Lee’s own story of success as a single mother working at the forefront of modern finance means she knows first-hand that leadership and parenthood (or other responsibilities) aren’t mutually exclusive concepts.

She praised her own co-workers and noted their diverse backgrounds and the crucial skills they brought to the table because of their own unique and often underrepresented outlooks. Diversity pays off for everyone, Lee said. “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

Going against the tide might sound difficult, but doing so creates a “wave of desire and yearning for more change”. These small steps lead to a better and more inclusive world in the long run.

Finance is crying out for diversity

Finance is a prime industry to make serious change and place capital into the hands of those who have never before had access to opportunities to bring their ideas to life. “This is where we need to take things,” Lee stressed. In order to create a “sustainable global economy”, a diverse and inclusive workforce is vital. Financial inclusion immediately goes a long way towards levelling the bumpy playing field.

At SVB, “the bottom of the pyramid is the top of the funnel” and Lee implored those listening to adopt the same outlook in their organisations.

Looking out at the audience, she asked leaders to think differently and look outside of their immediate network. “If you have equality and full representation, you will thrive.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event celebrating the point where science, technology and the arts collide. Ultra Early Bird tickets for Inspirefest 2019 are available now.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects