Diversity is at the heart of what we do as an ombudsman service and an employer. Reaching fair decisions about complaints involves taking account of different perspectives – and doing the right thing by our people means recognising their different backgrounds, needs and aspirations. We want everyone – both our own people and those who use our service – to feel they’re treated fairly and equally. And where our employees are concerned, that means ensuring we’re drawing on the widest possible talent pool, and recognising diversity in creating opportunities for development.

This year, for the first time, we give a snapshot of how we’re doing – highlighting just some of what we’ve achieved, as well as what we know we’ve got to work on. And overall, I think we can be proud of where we are. Without question, we’re a diverse service – and we value and celebrate our differences, as well as what we’ve got in common. We’re also recognised for what we do: we’ve been Leaders in Diversity for some years now, and have a number of other accreditations. Although these are only part of the picture, they’re an important visible statement of how we recognise and respect individual backgrounds, needs and circumstances.

As an independent ombudsman, we want to set an example for both public and private organisations. And although we compare with the best in both those sectors, we’re determined to improve further. In the next few months we’ll be focused on tackling the challenges we’ve identified here – for example, increasing BAME representation in our senior roles. To help us do that, we’ll continue to draw on the insight of our employee networks – who make a huge difference to their colleagues and our community every day.

Caroline Wayman, chief executive & chief ombudsman

What we're proud of

Supporting carers at work

Congratulations on your carer policy. It puts you at the forefront of employers who acknowledge, understand and support carers in work.

Heléna Herklots, chief executive, Carers UK

One in ten of our people have told us they’ve got caring responsibilities. In November 2017, the chief executive of Carers UK, Heléna Herklots, attended the launch of our new carer policy. This means our people are now able to take up to five days’ leave each year for caring responsibilities, in addition to two days’ leave for dependants.

The policy builds on the success of our carers’ passport, established with the support of our carers’ network. The network also holds regular sessions for people to share experiences of caring. People don’t always realise they’re carers. So we’ll be helping our managers to identify where our people might need extra support – and to help them balance their responsibilities at work and home, so they can give their best at both.

Launching our trans policy

Initiatives around gender diversity have often historically focused on equality between men and women. But gender identity isn’t just binary – and this is something we think it’s important to acknowledge. Our LGBT+ network, Outright, have been central in creating a new policy to support our people who have a gender identity that’s different to the sex they were assigned at birth.

The policy helps people understand the breadth of gender identities and explains the difference between gender, sex and sexuality. It puts this in the context of the workplace – highlighting the resources available to our trans employees, as well as for those people supporting them.

As part of looking to improve the picture we have of our diversity, we’ll be reviewing our HR systems so people have the opportunity to give us more detail about their gender identity.

Our executive sponsor was really instrumental in helping us raise awareness of what it means to be trans at work – and in getting this policy in place. It shows the ombudsman service values the contribution trans people make, and also recognises the challenges they may face.

Faith Johnson, diversity adviser

Sharing perspectives

We’re proud of the way we celebrate our differences, as well as what we’ve got in common. Supporting thousands of colleagues between them, our employee networks work together to champion equality, diversity and inclusion across our service.

In 2017 we held a network masterclass, run by external experts and focused on sharing experience and building capacity. Since then, our networks have continued to develop the ways they collaborate – not only in helping inform our policies, but in creating inclusive forums and events. Our black and minority ethnic network Embrace, together with our mental wellbeing network, marked Black History Month and World Mental Health Day with an event exploring resilience. And our Muslim network, Christian Fellowship and Jewry came together to share perspectives from their faiths.

Our people also give their time and money to causes in our local East London community. For example, coordinated by our Giving Something Back committee, people have used their lunch breaks to teach English to women who don’t speak it as a first language. We’ve supported local homeless shelters and food banks, donated to East London Business Alliance’s Christmas toys appeal, and run regular fundraisers for our charity partner, London’s Air Ambulance – having raised £38,000 for our previous partner, Haven House children’s hospice.

What we need to work on

Senior BAME representation

We’re really proud of our overall ethnic diversity – with 38% of all our people, including 46% of those who aren’t managers (who together represent 74% of our people), saying they’re from a BAME background. This is higher than in the UK as a whole, and means we’re closer to reflecting the diversity of our local community in East London.

However, looking in more detail at different levels of our organisation, we know there are things we need to improve. In particular, we currently have fewer people from BAME backgrounds in senior roles – and despite having gender balance on our executive team and board, we don’t yet have BAME representation there.

To help us move forward, we’ll be drawing on the support and experience of our BAME employee network, Embrace. Over the next few months, we’ll be reviewing our recruitment practices and talent pipeline to ensure we’re attracting, retaining and promoting talented people from the widest possible talent pool. We’ve already taken steps toward this: for example, trialling “name blind” applications.

38%

of all our employees come from BAME backgrounds

16%

for our senior managers only

Supporting different needs

I’ve set up a working group to help us better support people with different needs. Enable give an invaluable insight into what it’s like to experience disability at work, and what we need to do better.

Chris McDermott, chief operating officer and executive sponsor of Enable

Many of our people have formal or informal arrangements in place to support their disability or long-term health need. In addition to meeting the legal obligations we have as an employer, we’re an accredited Disability Confident organisation. We also partner with external specialists to help us make reasonable adjustments that enable people in our workplace.

With almost 200 members, our disability network, Enable, help raise awareness about what it’s like to work with a disability. Together with our mental wellbeing network, Enable are helping to put in place a new reasonable adjustments policy. This will help us do even more to ensure we’re taking a fair and consistent approach, so everyone’s able to perform at their best.

We can also see that a smaller proportion of our people tell us they’ve got a disability compared with the UK average – 7%, compared with around 20%. In addition to ensuring our recruitment and selection processes are fair and accessible to everyone, we’ll be continuing to promote a culture where people feel comfortable telling us about their own circumstances. This will help us get a clearer picture of the support we might need to provide – and we’ll also be helping our managers to identify where people might need that support.

What's next

Encouraging equality, diversity and inclusion isn’t just about the law or the “business case”. Fundamentally, it’s the right thing to do. At the moment, over two thirds of our people tell us they feel they can be themselves at work – but we want everyone to feel able to do that, and to feel valued for who they are. Our employee networks have a vital part to play in helping us achieve that aim.

In bringing issues of equality, diversity and inclusion to the table, our executive sponsorship scheme for our employee networks has already made a tangible difference. And our reverse mentoring programme – where our executive team are mentored by other, less senior employees – will do even more to help our leaders understand different perspectives and make inclusive decisions.

We’re mid-way through our action plan, which sets out the progress we aim to make by 2019. I’m excited about building on the successes we’ve already made, and finding answers to the challenges we’ve identified here.

Juliana Francis, senior ombudsman and lead for equality, diversity and inclusion

Over the next year

The things we’ll be working on include:

  • Continuing to ensure equality, diversity and inclusion are the foundation of all our policies, practices and decisions – both in relation to our people and to our service.
  • Working on our talent pipeline, to ensure we’re attracting, retaining and promoting people from the widest and most diverse talent pool.
  • Establishing our diversity reverse mentoring programme, where our executive team are mentored by our employees – helping them better understand different backgrounds and experiences.
  • Promoting inclusive leadership to support our managers to get the best out of all their people.
  • Continuing our unconscious bias training – helping to ensure fairness in our recruitment and selection decisions, as well as decision-making more broadly.
  • Reviewing the accessibility of our IT and our buildings.

Our HR team are working very closely with Juliana and our networks to make sure we’re hard-wiring equality, diversity and inclusion into all our processes relating to our people. It’s a much broader issue than protected characteristics. This is about making this a place where everyone feels valued and able to give their best. Our people, and those who use our service, deserve nothing less.

Sally Webster, director of HR and organisation development

Reaching people who need us

If we’re diverse and inclusive, we’ll better understand different perspectives – which is fundamental to our job resolving financial complaints. A key challenge for us – and one of our published commitments – is reaching everyone who might need us, whoever they are and whatever their background.

In our annual review, we give details about levels of awareness of our service among different groups of people, and how the people who use us compare with the UK as a whole. Our plans for encouraging equality, diversity and inclusion complement our focused outreach and engagement work – and will help us ensure we’re accessible to people across the UK.

Reporting on gender

Women in Finance Charter

We’re signatories to HM Treasury’s Women in Finance Charter – an initiative aimed at achieving equal gender representation in financial services. At the point the Charter was established, just 14% of financial services executives were women.

We’d initially set a target to have women fill 45-55% of our senior roles, reflecting the fact we were doing better in some areas than others. But we recognise it’s difficult to report on a range, and we’ve now set a target of 50% across our senior roles – something we’ll also look to achieve or maintain in other roles that aren’t specifically covered by the Charter. The timeframe for this is in line with our broader equality, diversity and inclusion action plan.

As the financial services sector’s independent ombudsman, we want to set the standard for fairness and equality. And we’re pleased to be in a position where we’re able to realistically aim for total gender balance – to mirror the gender spit among the population as a whole. Currently, 55% of our employees identity as female – including 50% of our ombudsmen, and 53% of our board and executive team.

However, for the level of senior management below our executive, we’re not so balanced – with 43% of women in these roles. A few senior women have left our service this year – which, due to the relatively small number of people involved, has shifted our gender balance slightly towards men.

Since signing the charter, we’ve appointed Annette Lovell, our director of engagement, as our senior executive responsible for gender diversity and inclusion. And we’ve begun to put in place plans to link part of our executive team’s pay to our progress toward our target.

To help us improve, we’ll be working on embedding equality, diversity and inclusion in all our policies and practices, so we continue to recruit, select and promote talented women. We’ll be drawing on the experience of our women’s network and recently-established parents’ network to help identify and address challenges relating specifically to gender – including how we can offer even better support to women who return to work for us after having a child. We’ll also be reviewing our flexible working practices.

Our gender pay gap

Under legislation introduced in April 2017, all employers of 250 or more employees need to publish information about their gender pay gap. This means the difference in average pay between all men and women employed (rather than the difference in pay between men and women doing the same job). As we’re not a public body under the Equality Act 2010, we fall under the private and voluntary sector regulations for gender pay gap reporting.

Overall, our pay gap is smaller than the most recent average for all businesses reported by the Office for National Statistics (median 18.4%), as well as the civil service average (median 9.7%). However, we’re focused on doing everything we can to address it. In the coming year, we’ll be looking in particular at gender balance in less senior roles, and ensuring the equivalent salaries of people who are part-time or on unpaid leave don’t fall behind those of full-time employees.

7%

our mean gender pay gap

6%

our median gender pay gap

Our data