How diversity and inclusion is shaping a new kind of culture at RBS
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How RBS is using diversity and inclusion to shape a new kind of culture

There’s a belief at RBS that diversity of customers should be reflected in diversity of staff. As well as working on becoming ‘disability smart’ and supporting a wealth of employee-led networks, the bank aims to increase the number of women in senior positions in each area of the bank to more than 30% by 2020, and has updated its employee survey to include gender identity.

The banking sector is undergoing a significant cultural shift, and diversity and inclusion (D&I) is seen by many as a route to enable this. It seems to be working at RBS. In 2015, the bank received gold from Race for Opportunity (ethnicity) and platinum from Opportunity Now (gender), as well as ranking in the top third of the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index (LGBT). And RBS employees are beginning to notice a difference too.

Culture is notoriously difficult to change, especially in an organisation as large and dispersed as RBS. So, how did the bank manage it? Marjorie Strachan, Group Head of Inclusion at RBS, speaks about how she and her team used inclusion as a channel for change.

What does an inclusive workplace look like to you?

It’s important to recognise that every business is made up of individuals, and that ‘inclusion’ means different things to different people. How we describe inclusion at RBS is that everyone can bring the best of themselves to work, every day – that’s one of our core values. For me, personally, it means I can work from home or from the office in London or in Edinburgh, or from several ‘hubs’ across the country: I decide and have ownership over it. That’s a big cultural shift from two or three years ago.

Laying out the D&I cards

Successfully establishing an inclusion strategy is about understanding how it can play into people’s different priorities from a business perspective; for example, by boosting employee morale, fixing problems in different parts of the business and so on. First, we had conversations at the top of the house showing that inclusion is not ‘pink and fluffy’, it has important commercial benefits. For example, agile working, which is key to changing culture, has a great impact on engagement and productivity, as well as on ‘harder’ metrics like property rationalisation and cost reductions.

It’s about doing things for the right reasons and providing the supporting rationale. It was important to highlight why our plans and priorities were just that. For example, we’re not just saying, ‘we’re changing gender balance because everyone is.’ Female CEOs are our fastest growing SME group. And having more women in our leadership layers is helping to shift thinking and change culture across the bank. A high proportion of our customers are LGBT, so ensuring our processes are reflective of that is essential, e.g. if a same sex couple want a mortgage together, our staff are trained to make sure they make no assumptions around the gender of a customer’s other half; similarly if we don’t deliver ATMs that are accessible to customers with disabilities, we will fail them.

So, it was about showing our businesses that being inclusive is about our people and our customers; showing how it can help us achieve our 2020 ambition of being number one for customer service, trust and advocacy.

Inclusion shouldn’t be done in a dark room

We’re a very big organisation, and maintaining consistency across the bank is difficult, so being tightly focused on our plan made a lot of difference. You can’t be everything to all people or you’ll end up not delivering anything, so we focused on two or three things to deliver well, which helped to show that we weren’t just talking a good game. And then we moved on to the next two or three things. Now, we have one global policy standard as well as individual country policies. Prior to this, every area of the bank had a different plan and our performance wasn’t progressing in the same way as it has under a more coordinated and focused approach.

We rolled out unconscious bias training specific to senior leaders, line managers and colleagues across our businesses. So far, 40,000-50,000 employees have taken it. We also worked with hiring managers and did mandatory learning with 94,000 employees – a sort of ‘inclusion 101’. And we did work on disability awareness and mental health workshops this year, which are things we want to do more of. We don’t just chuck training and policies out into thin air, however – there’s always a rationale for what we do. For example, we want to mitigate absence-related stress and anxiety. So in areas that are hotspots for these we track the impact of our interventions. This is vital in the same way as, for example, investing in positive action in specific populations to increase the diversity in our talent pipeline.

D&I is not done by HR in a dark room; it’s a team effort. Getting senior executives on board has been critical and continues to be. But you need both ends of the spectrum to prioritise the agenda, otherwise the topic can slide. We have a push-pull scenario going on; it’s not just about us leading – it’s about contributions from all levels. For example, our employee networks act as sounding boards: if we’re not doing a good enough job at something they let us know.

Levelling the cultural playing field

It’s not just the challenge of getting the importance of becoming an inclusive bank on the senior management radar; it’s about going after the right agenda and hanging our culture on that. We haven’t got it 100% yet, but we’re threading ‘being more inclusive’ through everything we’re trying to do. We still have a lot of work to do to level the playing field for every population group of customers and colleagues, but by creating products and services which take account of difference, we can begin to be inclusive from the outset. For example, RBS customers can now request the gender neutral title, ‘Mx’, on their bank account, and this sends a message to employees as well as customers that we are treating people as individuals and listening to what’s important to them.

We’re slowly getting there. The work that we do on our culture – to be more healthy, authentic and transparent – is helping the organisation to change. Our best critics are our people, and they’re telling us it’s becoming a more inclusive place to work.