Spotlight on ‘S’: A look at Pollen Street Capital’s DE&I strategy and how we can help drive inclusion

Gemma Pullinger, Chief People Officer, puts a spotlight on 'S' and DE&I at Pollen Street

Our ‘S’ Advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy aligns with the UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • 5 Gender Equality
  • 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • 10 Reduced Inequalities

At Pollen Street we value our differences. That is something that struck me when I joined the company in May 2022. One of the main reasons I was attracted to the opportunity at Pollen Street is the firm's focus on ESG and what has become clear since joining is that it really is at the core of our business. We believe that it is our different experiences, backgrounds, expertise, and identities that promote an environment of entrepreneurial and progressive thinking. It is therefore critical that we have a diverse and inclusive workforce.

As this week is National Inclusion Week, we’re taking the time to dive into what Diversity, Equity and Inclusion means for us as a business and our approach to driving change.

In recent times it has been recognised that diversity goes beyond just the obvious categories. True diversity comes from diversity of thought so we recognise and celebrate people’s different backgrounds, experiences and expertise as the key way in which we can support diversity in our firm and most importantly inclusion.

Having spent over 20 years in financial services the progress that has been made is significant. There are lots of successes to celebrate such as gender pay gap reporting, the Women in Finance Charter and even the diversity and inclusion guidelines that Pollen Street contributed to, published by the British Venture Capital Association.[1] However, there is still so much more we can do and so Diversity, Equity and Inclusion needs to remain high on the business agenda.

Impacting a more inclusive industry

There is an ongoing challenge in ensuring there is change at a grass roots level. It is important to consider the potential outsize impact we can have as businesses in ensuring there is proper social mobility, so that every young person has the opportunity and ability to forge a career in financial services.

As a company we can make positive progress within Pollen Street – but one of the best things we can do is help to facilitate broader external change. An example of how we are doing this is an upcoming insight day with one of our charity partners, Future First, where we will be hosting twenty young people in the office, giving them access to learn about the industry and the kinds of roles that exist, who previously would have had no exposure to financial services. If that means just one of them has a career in this sector that they would not have otherwise had, then that’s a great legacy.

We also recently welcomed our first intern from the 10,000 Black Interns programme. We were thrilled to be providing incredibly talented and ambitious students with a platform to launch their career.

A huge amount of research evidences the more diverse your workforce, the more engaged and productive they are. Research from BCG, surveying over 1,700 companies, found that diverse management teams were more innovative than less diverse teams. The research found that companies with above-average diversity produce a greater proportion of revenue from innovation than those with below average diversity – to the tune of a 19% innovation-related advantage that translated to better overall financial performance.[2] Clearly profits should not be the only driver behind DE&I initiatives but there is further evidence that more diverse companies perform better. McKinsey research published in 2020 revealed that companies in the top quartile of gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than peers in the fourth quartile. And the higher the representation of diversity at executive level the higher likelihood of outperformance.[3]

Driving DE&I at Pollen Street

We treat our approach to advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Pollen Street with the same rigour that we approach any other strategic driver of our business. Data is important so we ensure that we are using a wide range of metrics to build a clear picture of our progress and to identify areas we need to develop. We launched a DE&I Survey in 2021 to start building a year-on-year picture. This is a consistent way of collating DE&I data but perhaps more importantly, employee sentiment. This allows us to measure levels of engagement.

Our most recent results were published in our latest Annual ESG Report. The findings showed 64% of the firm are state educated and 17% are from ethnic minorities. Additionally, 26% of PE portfolio ExCo members are now women.

Having this insight is critical to allow us to celebrate what we are doing well and highlight areas for focus and improvement. We base this on the data but also the two-way feedback from our people. In response to this most recent survey, we will be implementing new initiatives to address some of the results and feedback we received. This includes enhanced wellbeing initiatives and a new Learning & Development programme.

Along with the new Learning & Development curriculum, we’ll be establishing a comprehensive talent strategy focusing on nurturing internal talent. This is to ensure that we develop talent and have robust succession plans in place for Pollen Street people. This is all done with a view that we’ll apply the same strategic approach across our portfolio companies to further drive best practice in developing and retaining diverse talent.

A People forum has also been established for leaders across our portfolio to discuss all People related topics with a particular focus on DE&I, talent, development, and succession.

On a practical level it is important to be creative. Think about your candidate sourcing channels, can you change or supplement what you are already doing so you can reach a broader audience? Can you task your agencies to help you do this? To make progress with DE&I it is important to be open to different ways of doing things.

Living our values 

We are a values driven organisation and the way we asses candidate suitability is based on how they do things not just what they can do. On top of that recruitment ethos, we are enhancing our performance management process to ensure that employees’ performance is assessed against our values and with reference to our commitment to ESG and DE&I. The recent launch of our new Learning & Development curriculum will also focus on further embedding and promoting the importance of our values and culture.

My advice to other businesses and leaders when it comes to DE&I is rooted in this idea of values. Be genuine. By being your true self you will encourage others to do the same. Being your genuine self is perhaps the most crucial element to an inclusive workplace as you create an environment where others feel they can also be their genuine selves and belong.



[3] McKinsey & Company, Diversity Wins: How Inclusion Matters, May 2020