Why it is important to have a diverse workforce? We ask newly appointed HR director at Nationwide Building Society, Ann Brown. She reveals to Sarah Clark the diversity challenges they’re currently facing, how they’re championing their female talent and the numerous business benefits of understanding different cultures. Named as one of The Times Top 50 Employer for Women 2013, Ann shares her top tips on how you can effectively promote diversity in your organisation.
What does diversity mean to you?
Nationwide was built on meeting and representing the needs of the people and communities it serves. While a lot has changed in the 160 years since we were formed, our focus on people has been a constant. That’s because we’re owned by and run for the benefit of our members – meaning our only focus is on them.
Having a diverse workforce means we’re able to better reflect the eclectic make up of our 15 million customers. Our people, culture and approach to business should reflect that diversity. That’s why we want the best people working for us regardless of their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, disability or faith.
Why is it important for organisations to have a diverse workforce?
Diversity and inclusion is absolutely not about ticking boxes. It just makes good business sense. Engaging customers, relating to their needs and addressing their concerns in a manner that is suitable for them is critical to customers feeling that they are heard and understood, and it’s more likely they will continue to choose Nationwide’s services and products. For example, coming from a different background, speaking a different language and understanding different cultures can open up a treasure trove of ideas for new products, services and approaches to marketing techniques, in addition to building good old-fashioned trusted relationships.
We work hard to empower our people to contribute to our success using their background, experience, culture and life experiences to make Nationwide even more relevant and accessible to our members today and tomorrow. For example, the Society is committed to creating even more opportunities for senior women to join the organisation, an aspiration backed at board level, with results showing that since the introduction of Nationwide’s Senior Executive Development Programme in 2010, more than 35% of participants have been women. Additionally, 40% of those taken on Nationwide’s Next Generation Leader Programme and over half of our Future Leader Programme have been female.
Our commitment to progressing diversity, equality and inclusion within the workplace has gained us external recognition. We have been named in The Times Top 50 Employer for Women 2013, awarded ‘Top 100′ status in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, receiving gold and platinum status in 2013 for our work on race and gender equality respectively. We were also rated the best place to work in financial services, by the Sunday Times. Accolades aren’t everything but they help to show prospective employees that if they’re talented and committed to excellent customer service then Nationwide welcomes them irrespective of their gender, sexual orientation, age, race, disability or faith.
What diversity challenges are you facing in your business and how are you addressing them?
We need to do more to promote and increase diversity at a senior level. We’re working harder than ever to attract more diverse talent to Nationwide alongside identifying and supporting existing employees who have real potential and desire to develop within the business.
We need to ensure we get the right person for the job while making sure that everyone – no matter who they are or what their background is – feels they have an equal chance of being selected for a senior management role. For example, we want to make more progress in helping people from ethnic backgrounds reach senior levels within the society. Working with our strategic partners, Opportunity Now and Race for Opportunity (women at work and race equality campaigns), we’ve been working hard to implement recommendations that have been made in their various reports and we’re proud supporters of next year’s Opportunity Now Excellence in Practice Awards 2015.
Better understanding the demographics of our workforce is also important to us. We’re making better use of our data to identify unintended but potential obstacles and barriers helping us to engage, encourage discussion and to raise a healthy debate. It is an important tool for measuring our performance and progress.
What are your tips for business leaders looking to promote diversity in their organisation, where should they start? What do they need to consider?
Giving a voice to employees is priceless in addressing inequalities, large or small, as well as improving customer service, products and approach to business. It can be a platform for positive change and is something we are seeing play out here at Nationwide. We’ve created a number of diversity employee networks which have been excellent in flagging new ideas.
Our networks cover a range of groups – women, ethnicity, disability, faith and sexual orientation. All of these are backed at board level and have been established as a forums where employees can share their thoughts, raise ideas and suggestions. We want to continue offering a better working environment for all of our employees, and our networks are there to make sure we don’t lose sight of that by keeping us on our toes.
Words are crucial in shaping who we are and informing our culture but actions are what make a difference to people’s lives. Take our attitude to disability for example; we never see disability as a barrier to work and we will strive to make our working environments as comfortable as possible. If that means investing in specialist equipment for an employee, then we will work hard to make that happen. It is this approach that has ensured that not only have we got a strong workforce – a workforce where our employee survey confirms that 77% feel engaged and 75% are enabled – but the very best people to serve our incredibly varied members.
In summary, our approach to diversity is much more than ticking a box – it’s a core part of our culture, and a priority for us to make sure we understand any barriers our diverse communities face, and finding ways to remove or reduce these. It’s something that will always need to be a priority – constantly listening, acting and adapting to the changing dynamics, needs and cultures of our customer base – ensuring we continue to lead the way in delivering fantastic customer service within financial services.