Celebrating Black History Month at HSBC

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In honor of Black History Month, we invited colleagues involved in The Advancing Black Inclusion Program and African History Employee Resource Group to share their stories and the strong impact these programs have on diversity and inclusion at HSBC

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Louise Sherman, Co-chair of the African Heritage ERG and Shani Bess, Member of the Advancing Black Inclusion Program

Amid the uncertainty and unrest that defined much of 2020, something remarkable happened. People everywhere came together in ways many of us may not have imagined as we rang in the new decade. A global pandemic sent us all home to work and learn. What we thought would be weeks turned into months and– we found new avenues to stay connected. At HSBC, we relied heavily on Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for those connections.

the killing of George Floyd, ignited a summer of protests not just in the US but in cities worldwide people of color took to the streets along with friends and neighbors from all backgrounds and walks of life. This globally heightened awareness of racial injustice put a new spotlight on the need for systemic change, and is just one of the reasons HSBC established its Advancing Black Inclusion (ABI) program. It's also why Wyatt Crowell, Head of Commercial Banking for HSBC USA, felt it was a crucial time for his leadership team to read Caste: The Origins of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. "This powerful book, Caste, forces us to take the conversation forward," he says. "It uncovers a deep understanding into what black people have endured for generations, and gives necessary insight into the caste system. The intent in reading it,is to enlighten me and my leadership team on the systemic racial issues that still prevail today. My hope is that we can play our part in making change. "

As we celebrate Black History Month, we've invited Advancing Black Inclusion Program champion Shani Bess and Louise Sherman, National Co-Chair for HSBC's African Heritage ERG, to share their insights on what HSBC's programs and commitments to the Black community mean to them.

HSBC Advancing Black Inclusion Program

HSBC established its ABI program in 2020 to help Black employees connect more easily with their peers. It's also the program's mission to support its participant's career aspirations by giving them access to leadership and development resources. Specifically, ABI matches select employees with a sponsor who will advocate for them over the course of the next year.

Shani Bess, who joined HSBC in early 2020 as part of the People Excellence team for the Commercial Bank in New York, says that building relationships has been a critical part of ABI for her. "I was only physically in the office for about three weeks before the shutdown," she says. Despite that, Shani says she felt very welcome and included. However, when the opportunity to get involved in ABI's development and rollout arose, she knew it was something she wanted to do. "My role within Commercial Banking is to work on bringing awareness to programs focused on diversity, inclusion, well-being and recognition to celebrate our employees," says Shani. "Being a part of ABI just felt like a natural fit. And it's given the me opportunity to gain exposure and network with employees across the country in a way I'm not sure I would have experienced otherwise."

African Heritage Employee Resource Group

Louise Sherman is Vice President, Resourcing Specialist for HSBC Technology & Services in Florida. She'd been with the bank for nearly 20 years when she took on her current role in 2016. "It was a completely remote position. That was new to me – so I knew I needed to do something to remain connected," explains Louise. "But I also knew it had to be something that gave back to the community." She applied for an open communications role on the African Heritage ERG, which she did until 2019 when she became National Co-Chair.

"A lot happened last year," says Louise. "The ERGs, including ours, really stepped up for employees." The African Heritage ERG, for example, held a series of mindfulness, movement and meal classes to help people get through the lockdown. "And after George Floyd's death, we had a panel discussion on a range of topics and encouraged participants to really open up and speak frankly."

The beauty of the ERGs, Louise says, is that there is a collaborative spirit that runs through them. "There is any number of ERGs – (Balance, Abilities, Pride I THINK WE COULD NAME THREE OR SO HERE) – HSBC makes it easy to get involved," she says. "And we're all interconnected. The level of inclusivity is all-encompassing." As a new employee, Shani also says she appreciates the ERGs. "The employee resource groups put on a lot of great programming," she says. "It provides employees of all backgrounds and interests, opportunities to learn about other cultures."

A Commitment that Extends Beyond Black History Month

Reflecting on Black History Month, Shani says that for her it has always been a way to increase the celebration and educate a wider audience about the Black community's accomplishments. "My mother is an educator, so learning about Black history was a mainstay in our house – not just in February," she says. The goal of ABI is to carry those messages to others year-round as well. "The need for changes to our systems that increase diversity and inclusion has become much clearer to everyone in the last year," she says. "ABI shows that HSBC recognizes that and they are putting action behind their words."

Louise couldn't agree more. "This is a major moment," she says. "What started as a beautiful day of remembrance for Dr. King turned into a month of celebratory moments for so many Black families. And when you think about where we are now – it couldn't be more poignant." Louise feels that with their ERGs and the new ABI program, HSBC is saying loudly and clearly that it has an unrelenting commitment to diversity and inclusion. "I'm thrilled that I get to be a part of it."

Click here for more information on ways HSBC supports diversity and inclusion.

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