Diversity and inclusion: how we talk about race at work

Date published: 30 October 2023 Blog Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing reports

Karl Khan

Chief Operating Officer

Our Chief Operating Officer, Karl Khan, is our Executive sponsor of the Race at Work Charter and our employee-led network, Embrace, which promotes diversity and inclusion.

To celebrate Black History Month, Karl shares why diversity is important to the Financial Ombudsman Service and reflects on how we’re planning to become a more diverse and inclusive organisation.

At the Financial Ombudsman Service, we’ve been working towards ambitious targets as well as monitoring – and reporting on – diversity pay gap and representation data since 2017.

This is a good start, but we recognise that we still have much more to do. We know that reflecting the communities we serve will help us offer a better service to our customers. And we want our organisation to benefit from the wealth of diverse talent available.  

So how are we planning to do more and do it better?

Since 2019, we’ve been signatories to the Race at Work Charter which requires businesses to improve by making seven commitments. Those commitments have given us a valuable framework to improve equality of opportunity in the workplace.

Our data has also been essential for monitoring our progress and identifying where we haven’t done well enough – for example, by introducing more diversity into our leadership.

To find solutions, we turned to our employee networks and the people that work in our teams for ideas.

Anti-racism Allyship

Our employee-led network Embrace helped us by collaborating with Business in the Community and our own Inclusion and Wellbeing team. Together they created a dedicated initiative for senior leaders throughout our organisation – the Anti-racism Allyship Programme.

The four-part programme focused on conscious inclusion, anti-racism and active allyship. Participants committed to actions that would drive an inclusive culture across the Financial Ombudsman Service.

A good example is the diversity and inclusion workstream set up by one of our Ombudsman Leaders, which included several activities, such as:

  • using focus groups on inclusion to consult our investigators
  • offering talks with diverse panel of speakers talking about careers, and
  • ensuring part-time workers don't miss out on opportunities

This workstream alone encouraged more employees from under-represented backgrounds to put themselves forward for opportunities and promotions. In fact, it was so successful, we’ve adopted its principles as part of our new Diversity, Inclusion and Wellbeing strategy.  

We’re now planning to roll out the Anti-racism Allyship programme to all colleagues. 

Diversifying Leadership

Research from Deloitte backs this up, showing that teams with inclusive leaders are:

  • 17% more likely to report being high performing
  • 20% more likely to say they make high-quality decisions, and
  • 29% more likely to report collaborative behaviour.

Unsurprisingly, Deloitte's research also reveals that when employees feel included, output improves and absenteeism falls.

With that in mind, we wanted to explore and challenge the barriers faced by colleagues from Black, Asian, Mixed and minority ethnic backgrounds around career progression. So last year we developed and piloted our Diversifying Leadership Programme.

The programme focused on core leadership principles and offered training and support such as one-to-one coaching, speaker events and digital learning. All participants graduated in May with accreditation from the Institute of Leadership and Management and many have already secured new opportunities.

We’re now refining the programme, using learning from the pilot and feedback from participants, to reshape it for the future.

Learning about diversity

Our people are our most valuable resource and that’s the lesson we’ve learnt here. By sharing and listening to the ideas and experience of colleagues, we can learn so much.

Embrace have helped us here by, for example, organising events to mark Black History Month – including a session where colleagues shared perspectives about their career progression as black women.

As the Executive sponsor of Embrace and the Race at Work Charter, I welcome the contribution of all our employees as we continue working towards becoming more diverse and inclusive.

This Black History Month, I’m also mindful that – as well as celebrating the contribution of those from Black, Asian, Mixed and Minority Ethnic communities – we must do more to enable that contribution.

Our experience shows that we all have so much to gain when we do.