Beyond the Glass Ceiling: Tackling gender imbalance at the top
As we start a New Year and reflect on our goals, one of the real challenges we face is achieving better gender balance in senior roles across our organisation.
A lot of progress has been made in this area – we have some outstanding female leaders and a thriving women’s network – but there’s still a lot to do to make our organisation fully representative of the talents and diversity of the communities we serve.
Across the banking industry, in the working world as a whole, the story is a familiar one – at the lower-middle end of the career spectrum we see a fairly even split between men and women, but the higher up you look, the lower proportion of women you find. In a society that values equality of opportunity, why does this imbalance persist? Why is finding a better balance – with regards to gender, sexuality, ethnic and social background –so important? And what can we do to help achieve this? I spoke with Chris Green, Head of Commercial Credit, about these issues, the progress we’ve made, and the road still to travel.
Over the past three years Chris has been doing great work to drive our diversity agenda in senior management. He’s living proof that this is an issue that both men and women can be passionate about and make a difference on, and as an experienced mentor, he has some valuable advice for anyone looking to take their career to the next level.
Why diversity matters
Rob: Chris, could you tell us a bit about your own role and what led you to become involved with our diversity initiatives?
Chris: Absolutely. I’ve been with RBS five years, and during that time I’ve had three different roles, primarily in Change and Risk. In my current role I have credit risk responsibility for lending in our commercial and business banking businesses and lead a team of 280 people across the country.
I’m fortunate to say I love my job. At RBS we’re in the process of becoming a truly customer centric organisation – and that makes this a very exciting environment to work in. I’ve found a fantastic group of people here, but one thing I noticed was there was certainly room for greater diversity in our leadership population.
I’ve had many female line managers (three alone at RBS), who’ve helped me enormously in different ways; I’ve seen the advantages of diversity in management first hand. So I started looking at things from a practical perspective – asking ‘what we can do to actively drive a cultural shift?’
Rob: Why do you think it’s so important for us to find a better gender balance in senior roles?
Chris: From a purely business perspective, research has shown that more diverse businesses perform better. Typically diversity brings fresh thinking, better decision making, and ultimately better results.
Rob: The more diverse the team, the wider the range of experiences, perspectives and ideas they can draw on?
Chris: Exactly. And because of that, I’ve always found diverse teams make for a more fun and fulfilling environment to work in. You get a more dynamic interchange of views, you learn more in the process.
Also if you’re going to be a customer centric organisation you need to have a workforce that’s fully representative of your customer base. It makes it a lot easier to understand what your customers’ needs actually are. That’s the value of diversity. It’s not an arbitrary checklist – it’s about making sure we reflect and understand the customers we serve, and draw on the widest possible pool of talent.
Making a difference
Rob: Could you tell us about some of the work you’ve been involved with to help build that diverse and representative workforce?
Chris: One thing I’ve been heavily involved in is mentoring. I believe that we all need to be part of the solution – that might sound a bit clichéd, but I’ve always felt it was important to get involved. So I’ve been focusing my attention on mentoring talented women that are stepping into, or aspiring to move into, senior management roles.
I also sit on the People Board for Risk, where we’re looking at what we can do at a wider level. For example, we’ve introduced ‘unconscious bias’ training, aimed at encouraging everyone to become more self-aware about their hiring assumptions. We all have a natural tendency to recruit in our own image, to look for what we’ve already seen work. The training is about counteracting this – encouraging people to think outside the box, and see how difference can be a huge advantage. There’s always more than one way and one type of person that could ace the job.
We’re also doing lots of work around our early talent pipeline, ensuring it’s well balanced. And when we’re recruiting for roles, we try to make sure that we’re attracting and considering a wide range of candidates. Sometimes that means looking harder to find a broader range of talent. That said, I’m also a strong believer that it has to be the best person who gets the role through interview process. It’s about removing barriers and encouraging as diverse a range of talent to step up as possible.
Rob: It sounds like the common theme here is being proactive about diversity. Putting in the effort to unsettle the status quo. It’s the difference between waiting for something to happen, and being determined to make a difference.
And the idea of nurturing diversity in early talent is very interesting. Hopefully we’ll see that coming through and being reflected in senior roles in the future.
Chris: Absolutely. The challenge is if you just take a purely long term approach it could take 10 years to shift the dial. So there’s definitely a range of things we can do, short medium and long term, to make a difference.
“I believe that we all need to be part of the solution – that might sound a bit clichéd, but I’ve always felt it was important to get involved.”
Mentoring for change
Rob: Mentoring sounds like something which could have more immediate effect. Could you tell us a bit more about your work as a mentor?
Chris: I’ve been involved in mentoring as a general part of our talent programme, and I’ve been particularly involved in supporting talented women through mentoring. Typical things we might focus on include managing transitions into new roles, discussing career goals, helping to build strong networks, and sharing my own network to support others.
In terms of career aspiration, one common theme is confidence – building the confidence to see what’s possible and make bolder career moves. I’ve mentored colleagues whose initial goals were to do their line managers’ jobs – but when we discussed their skills and what they enjoy doing, it becomes clear there was a much wider world out there.
Another thing we talk about is management style; this is a really interesting one, as there can sometimes be a felt or unspoken pressure on women stepping into senior roles to adopt a ‘more masculine’ style. So one thing we discuss is the importance in leadership of being authentic – feeling confident to adopt the leadership style that works for you, and not feeling restricted by conventional expectations.
Rob: I see what you mean. We mentioned the value of having different perspectives – it would defeat the point, if everyone who stepped into a senior role, felt obliged to act in the same way!
Thanks for your time today Chris. Just one last question. I wanted to ask, as a mentor, what advice you’d have for any of our readers looking to progress their career?
Chris: My pleasure! Well, if I could just give one single piece of advice it would be this. Have the confidence to take more career risks. When you look at a job spec, don’t feel you need to be 100% qualified, look for a role you can do say 70% of it and see the rest as learning. Also take advantage of the flexibility that’s out there. Especially in RBS, lots of managers are happy to be flexible – with location, home working, job sharing– to get the very best people for the role, so don’t be afraid to proactively explore those avenues. Take yourself out of your comfort zone, that’s where you’ll find growth and breadth.
It’s great to see the positive work that’s going on to promote diversity at senior levels. We’re moving in the right direction, but we also know there’s still progress to be made on gender, and supporting all under-represented groups, so we can guarantee we have that vibrant mix of ideas and experiences in our boardrooms that Chris talked about, in 2017 and beyond.
We have a range of articles coming out on this issue, so watch this space and feel free to join the discussion! It’s not about saying what we’ve accomplished, but figuring out the best way forward together.