An interview with Dr Sandie Okoro,
Group General Counsel, HSBC Global Asset Management and Deputy General Counsel
Retail Banking and Wealth Management
Why did you join HSBC?
I have really enjoyed my first 18 months at HSBC. The reason I joined is a very simple one, HSBC is a great British institution and I wanted to work for it and to help it achieve its strategic aims. Another key attraction was that I had heard that it was a great place to work and it truly valued and promoted diversity.
What makes HSBC stand out?
What makes HSBC stand out is the people. I work with a wonderful team of supportive and highly intelligent people all of whom have “integrity” as their middle name. This is so very important in the challenging, and ever changing, fast paced environment we work in. In addition to this I and my team work flexibly. Each of us works up to two days a week from home. As a working single mother with an autistic child, this flexibility has dramatically improved my working life and reduced my stress levels considerably
What drives you to play a part in employee networks such as BAME and driving diversity and inclusion overall at HSBC?
I am delighted to play any part I can in the BAME and other diversity networks within HSBC as I believe such networks play an important role in making employees feel included in the life of a company. Inclusion is key and this is one key element that such networks provide. A feeling of inclusion. We are all individuals and we do not leave our individuality at the door when we come in to work on a Monday morning. Our ethnicity, sexual orientation, disabilities, religious beliefs etc. are all what makes us and they should be celebrated not hidden or ignored.
How does Black History Month help overcome difference?
There is room in this world for everyone and everyone should be given the opportunity to contribute to the best of their ability. This cannot, in my view be done, without taking into account, accepting and celebrating these differences. If you make people feel comfortable they will contribute. Most importantly it helps to breakdown stereotypes and builds co-operation rather than separation. Separation does what it says on the tin, it is divisive. HSBC is a global organisation and it has a diverse spectrum of clients and in order for us to understand and better service our clients’ needs we too need to be diverse. It’s that simple. Diversity works and it works at HSBC. Of course more needs to be done but this is the same for all organisations. All long journeys always start with small steps and right now HSBC has found its stride.
Why should Black History Month be celebrated?
I appreciate that there are very different views on this. I strongly believe it should be celebrated because black history has been written out of the history books. As black history it was not valued and, therefore, not recorded. And if something is not recorded it is very difficult to keep the story alive. For example not many people know that the ice cream scoop, the traffic light, the super soaker water gun (my favourite), open heart surgery, the light bulb filament, the pacemaker were all invented by black inventors. This is just not covered in history. Most of us encounter a traffic light every day but can’t name the inventor yet we know who invented other everyday items in our life like the telephone, the car and the sandwich. Even today there are not enough diverse role models.
Why are role models important?
It is really important to have role models but if you are from a BAME background the images of success around you do not look anything like you. Once a year that changes and I welcome that. It’s important for everyone to know that without Garret A Morgan we would all be crashing into each other at road junctions He was born to Freed Slaves and left school in Year 6, yet he invented the traffic light which he sold to General Electric in 1923. Imagine what he could have invented if he had had a university education. But back then segregation rather than diversity was the buzz word and it was very rare for a black man to go to university. But I always think of Mr Garret as I drive around Hyde Park corner and imagine what chaos the world would be in had it not been for his green/amber/red.
You have achieved a lot and are an inspiration to others but what does being a role model to others mean to you?
It always surprises me that I am a role model. I accept I am but I am not comfortable with it, I must admit. But having accepted it, it means only one thing, I cannot let those who believe in me down and I cannot give up. I am really nothing special at all but what I have done that is special is keeping going no matter what obstacles I faced. As a role model, I know that when I feel any self-doubt I have to overcome it as I would be letting more than just myself down. If others believe in me then I should at the very least believe in myself. HSBC is very good at showcasing talent and role models from all levels in the business. I find it very inspirational to see all the other things my fabulous colleagues around the world are doing to make the world a better place.
What advice would you give to others to celebrate who they are and bring their whole selves to work?
I have only once piece of advice, be your genuine self. You are the only one who can be you and don’t ever be tempted to hide anything that you think would not be acceptable or not the norm. 100 years ago it was not the norm to have women in the workplace or for them to vote. Back then no one thought this particularly scandalous. Now it seems appalling. So what do we think is appalling now that in 100 years’ time will be the new norm? Things change because brave people stand up and say this is me and I don’t think we should do it like this any more.
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