OPINION | People often view human behaviour in one of two ways. They either see humans as motivated, almost purely, by self-interest or they believe we are inherently humane creatures, concerned for others.

The world abounds with examples of the former (self-interest), particularly in the business world and even more so in banking and finance. I remain hopeful however that more of us operate according to the latter.

Popular social commentary looking at generational differences ponders whether generations are more selfish and self-focussed than others. Whilst there are claims that young people are more ‘self-interested’ than other generations, concurrently there is much evidence that this generation is also increasingly philanthropic and seeking a sense of social purpose and connection in their work.

Undoubtedly young people are changing our workplaces with Generation X, those born in the 1960s and 70s, grappling with managing the expectations of young team members as they privately lament a lack of work ethic they proudly trumpet.

Generation X now form the majority of middle management. In banking and finance they are the majority of the industry. They therefore have a big impact on, and role in shaping, the culture of the industry and its impact on society.

When it comes to workplace change programs however, this group of people is invariably difficult to engage, hard to influence and not necessarily open to change. Leaders of organisations, risk management and human resources executives grappling with how to create ethical work cultures have begun to refer to them as ‘the permafrost.’

Generation X executives are my peers; however I’m disappointed to acknowledge that I understand why they’ve been given the ‘permafrost’ label. As a Director of The Banking and Finance Oath, a Hippocratic-type Oath for banking and finance executives, I have encouraged individuals in my network to become Signatories. I have had the most traction with young people and more senior leaders. Many of my closest friends that work in banking and finance have yet to take The Oath. In fact, one friend’s reaction to my suggestion was, “Payno, what’s in it for me?”

He could see no reason to join on an initiative focussed on re-asserting the ethical foundation of the industry. He could see no reason to demonstrate leadership to his team. He could see no reason to consider the social purpose of his role in the industry and no reason to build trust with the community.

Generation X entered the workforce when it was competitive, but there were still opportunities. Economic times were good for much of their formative professional years and even the global financial crisis only sent slight reverberations across the industry here in Australia with many keeping their jobs and enjoying consistent pay increases ever since.

Now parents, often of young kids due to delayed parenting, these Generation X middle management professionals are undoubtedly busy. But many can lay claim to that. Tending to and feathering one’s nest should be no excuse for opting out of discussions and actions around the culture and impact of the banking and finance industry.

The fact that many are parents should be motivation enough, for it is our shared responsibility to create a good society in which children can flourish. The immediate sphere of influence to make this happen outside of our homes, is in our workplaces.

Generation X in middle management should rally against the ‘permafrost’ label with its connotations of being cold, inhospitable and rigid. As the heat is raised by the regulators and the community, demanding the banking and finance industry and the individuals within it be held accountable for unethical practices, it presents an opportunity to de-thaw a little and perhaps become snowflakes instead. Only then can the generations work together to actively change our workplace cultures and industry for the better – regardless of what the motivating factor might be to do so.

Become a Signatory of The Banking and Finance Oath at www.thebfo.org

Clare Payne is a co-founder and director of The Banking and Finance Oath. In other roles she is chief operating officer at Tobacco Free Portfolios and Fellow for Ethics in Banking and Finance with The Ethics Centre in Sydney, Australia. Payne was awarded the Inaugural Ethics, Responsibility and Trust in Finance Prize by the Observatoire de la Finance, Geneva and is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader.