I went to the Pride in London Parade last summer with ombudsman colleagues, and I absolutely loved it. As well as being brilliant fun, it made me realise the power of coming together to create change, and being open and proud of who you are.

I thought about why this is important for any organisation, and for us in particular. Our role as the ombudsman, in understanding people and their circumstances to reach decisions that are balanced and fair, fundamentally depends on empathy and openness.

Reporting on this is a chance to see how we’re doing, and see how much progress we’ve made on what we said we’d do in 2018. And it’s a chance to tell those stories beyond the statistics. Some of these are really positive and deserve celebrating, and there are other things we need to work on.

I’m immensely proud of all our networks, and how they combine strengths and insight to create change. I’m proud of the courage of our staff in sharing their experiences and showing others that it’s OK to talk about stuff that matters to them, at work.

We’ve recently implemented reverse mentoring, have been listed by Business in the Community as one of 70 employers recognised for work on race, equality and inclusion, and we’ve strengthened our ties with local organisations to understand the problems people face in their career aspirations and how we can help.

In our last report, we identified BAME senior representation as an issue, and we’ve been working hard on measures to ensure that while results won’t be immediate, we’re moving in the right direction.

In this report, you can read about how we’re breaking down barriers between each other, and working together to make our organisation more accessible to potential employees and people using our service, while preparing for the future and nurturing our culture of openness.

I’m really proud of everyone at the Financial Ombudsman Service who makes a difference every day.

Caroline Wayman, chief executive & chief ombudsman

If the Ombudsman were 100 people...

Equality, diversity and inclusion.

What we're proud of

Influencing and changing

Our Carers policy was noted by Carers UK as putting us at the forefront of employers’ approaches to supporting people with caring responsibilities. Our carers network was invited by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Carers to celebrate progress in pushing support for carers up the political and corporate agenda. The network is working with the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy as part of its involvement with Carers UK.

Our LGBT network OutRight reviewed a number of HR policies to flag and remove gendered language, and proposed a new process to make sure employee networks can be consulted on policy developments in future through our Information and Consultation Council. For example, as a result of OutRight’s feedback our maternity and paternity policies have been updated so they clearly apply to a diverse range of family structures and arrangements. OutRight also strengthened its programme for LGBT allies, including a charter, pledge, and better resources for support.

Our Parents network is collaborating with HR to review policies for parents, including maternity, paternity and adoption leave, and ways to smooth parents’ return to work afterwards – a process which organisations can often overlook. It launched last April with its first network event.

Our Hindu network, our newest network, launched last September to explore and raise awareness of Hindu culture. It collaborates with our other networks to further our collective diversity and inclusion ambitions.

Our experience has been sought out by other organisations, who have recognised our approach and asked us to share insights. We have shared our carers policy with others, and our networks collaborate with other organisations on areas where costs and initiatives overlap, such as training or transport to events.

Improving our workplace

Embrace, our BAME network, has been reviewing career progression and development for BAME colleagues.

It is important to us that our colleagues can reach their full potential, achieve their career expectations, feel supported in doing so, and are confident in the way we select and promote people.

The network has used grassroots initiatives in the form of mentoring circles to support BAME staff, highlight issues they were experiencing, and develop potential.

We want our non-BAME leaders to understand more about different perspectives, and they are happy to get involved in various initiatives. We offer training to management colleagues to broaden their awareness of the challenges and how to overcome unconscious bias.

We know the value that buddying and mentor schemes can have, and last year launched a reverse mentoring programme. This pairs each of our executive team with a more junior mentor from a background different to theirs.

Chief executive and chief ombudsman Caroline Wayman said “I want to thank all the mentors who’ve given up their time and shared their experience – it’s been really inspiring.”

The programme runs for 12 months and at the end of it, the executive member will be able to reflect on what they’ve learned from listening to their mentors’ experiences in and outside the service, and what they have done differently as a result.

Reverse mentoring has been enlightening from both sides, and really useful.

Caroline Nugent, HR director

I think it’ll make me a better leader – I’ll understand how our decisions affect everyone, and what my mentor is thinking. My mentor feels comfortable telling me if something is a bad idea, and I really value that honesty and trust. So it’s about getting good advice from a different perspective.

Garry Wilkinson, principal ombudsman and director of new services

Our disability network, Enable, has helped launch and embed our workplace adjustments policy, which colleagues have described as “life-changing”.

Our people should perform to the best of their ability, and we try to remove any obstacles that might be preventing them. We want people to feel comfortable telling us about any extra help they might need – and by creating an open, inclusive environment, we hope they will feel more inclined to do so.

Many people will experience a dip in their mental health at some point in their lives, often as a result of life events that can happen to anyone. Our mental wellbeing network has been helping individual employees directly as well as managers recognise, empathise with, and be consistent in dealing with staff who may be experiencing poor mental health. We also launched mental health first aiders across the organisation. The network breaks down some cultural assumptions about mental health, and keeps the organisation abreast of emerging mental health knowledge.

Accessibility for our customers

We make decisions on complaints according to what, in the ombudsman’s opinion, is fair and reasonable, taking into account all the circumstances of the complaint. This test is set out in the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000.

In deciding what is fair and reasonable, our rules require that we consider the relevant laws and regulations, regulator’s rules, guidance and standards, and codes of practice. This includes taking into account the Equality Act 2010, if it’s relevant to deciding if a consumer has been treated fairly by a financial business.

We ensure our staff are able to identify complaints which involve the Equality Act 2010, and we provide compulsory training to all of our staff on our obligations under it. From the moment they join, staff know that we all have a responsibility to make sure our service is accessible to everyone who needs us, so that we’re able to meet any requests our customers have.

Our accessibility team provides practical tools to assist with our day-to-day interactions with customers who may need extra support, and helps case handlers on any complaints against businesses involving reasonable adjustments.

We have an Equality Network consisting of case handlers with specialist knowledge of the Act, who offer technical support to all colleagues for complaints involving discrimination, the Act and any surrounding issues.

Recognition

In 2018, Business in the Community recognised our work on race, equality and inclusion, and listed us in its top 70 Best Employers for Race. This acknowledges that we are creating an inclusive workplace culture, and have taken action on leadership, progression and recruitment. It recognises that our policies are positively impacting BAME employees. We signed up to the Age Charter, and the Race At Work Charter too.

We are a member of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme in England, and our chief executive and chief ombudsman Caroline Wayman met Stonewall’s Scotland director Colin Macfarlane last year to share insights, and explore what we can learn from Stonewall about making our workplace more inclusive.

Getting work/life balance right

Many of our policies and ways of working – such as flexible working and parental leave – make us a very attractive employer for anyone with responsibilities outside the workplace.

We want everyone to feel equally able to take advantage of our policies – whether they’re mothers, fathers, carers, or people with other demands on their time. It’s important to us that senior people lead by example, to demonstrate that we take this seriously.

Richard Thompson, our principal ombudsman and quality director, recently took advantage of our approach to parental leave. He said: “Everyone at the ombudsman service was very supportive. And while my primary reason for taking parental leave was to spend some time with my kids, I came back feeling refreshed, energised and refocused – so that brought benefits too. As a senior member of staff, I also felt it was important to role model and demonstrate that the organisation is serious about supporting those with parental responsibilities.”

Women in finance

We believe our organisation is also a good place to work for women. Our senior leadership is 45% female, and last year, 60% of our new joiners were female.

We remain signatories to the Women in Finance charter, which 300 organisations have signed to commit to improving gender diversity in the financial services sector.

We set a target of 50% across our senior roles, which we have met in our board and executive team. Currently, 56% of our employees identify as female, including 49% of our ombudsmen.

Events we celebrated last year

Equality, diversity and inclusion are an everyday matter for us, but to keep building our shared understanding, we believe it’s important to celebrate events that matter to people. For example:

February LGBT History Month
March

International Women’s Day

Vulnerability Week

May Mental Health Awareness Week
June Eid
July Pride in London
October

Black History Month

World Mental Health Day

November

Carers Rights Day

Diwali

Armistice Day

Trans Awareness Week

International Men’s Day

December

World AIDS Day

International Day of Persons with a Disability

Visual impairment workshop

Community

We have strong ties with our local community. We’ve continued to develop our relationships with East London Business Alliance (ELBA) and City Gateway, and our volunteers continue to devote their own time to helping out.

To recognise the efforts our people make, last year our Giving Something Back committee launched our volunteer’s policy, which includes two days’ paid leave to take part in volunteering activities.

Here are just a few of the things our people volunteered to do in 2018:

  • held a career insight day for local schoolchildren
  • worked alongside ELBA on a career insight day to help young black men find career opportunities
  • collected clothes for six homeless shelters, and smart clothes for people attending job interviews
  • invited a Holocaust survivor to talk to us about his experiences, and the dangers of not embracing diversity
  • a sponsored abseil which raised £20,000 for London Air Ambulance, raising the total to more than £28,000
  • a Christmas carol service with the local community
  • collected over £1,000 for local HIV charity Positive East
  • worked with local mental health charities to run workshops, offering advice and support
  • went twice a week to Tower Hamlets charity City Gateway to help women practise their English and improve their job prospects
  • collected food and toiletries for the local food bank

What we need to work on

Gender pay gap

Our gender pay gap widened slightly in 2018 by 0.5 percentage points, with male employees earning 7.7% more than women on average. The difference in median pay is 7.2% in men’s favour, which is up 1.2 percentage points on our 2017 figures.

This is smaller than the national median hourly pay gap, which is 8.6%, but still higher than we want it to be. We’re tackling it by looking at the gender balance of our new recruits, and at how we attract, reward, and retain female members of staff.

The figures are partly explained by the fact we have slightly more men in the top pay quartile than women (52% to 48%).

Talent pipeline

Diversity of thinking matters to our work. We want people with an understanding of real lives as well as technical skills. So our approach to equality, diversity and inclusion extends to potential as well as existing staff.

We try to cast our recruitment net as wide as possible, to ensure the greatest mix of suitable candidates for each role. We work to remove barriers that might be preventing potential candidates from applying. We’re reviewing what more we can do to achieve our ambitions of being an employer of choice for all candidates at all levels.

We already have a target for gender, as part of our Women in Finance commitments. Since being recognised as a Top 70 employer for race, we’ll be looking at the various ways we can do more to increase the opportunity for progression for colleagues from a BAME background. With 39% BAME employees, which is higher than the UK average, we’ll consider whether, for example, setting formal targets for colleagues would even the playing field.

There’s more we know we can do before our statistics match our ambitions.

In 2019, we’ll review our resourcing policies and processes, and create a strategy for achieving a truly diverse candidate pool. We’ll also review whether our approach to job advertising gives us the right reach. This will complement the work we already do on removing unconscious bias in the search, sift and selection process.

Senior BAME diversity

We’re proud to have great BAME diversity that represents where we're based in East London. As we mentioned in 2018, we need to work to balance our management and senior leadership to make our service even more reflective of our community and customers.

There’s no quick fix, but we are working on having more visible BAME leaders and role models, and continuously review how we recruit new senior staff (see ‘talent pipeline’ section).

Taking a flexible approach

Many people now regard flexible working as the biggest benefit an employer can offer. We believe we get the best from people when they are able to balance their commitments in and outside work, and when they know their career won’t be compromised by the latter.

Our flexible working policy is the product of insight from many of our networks. We recognise that people may want to change their working patterns to accommodate responsibilities outside work, and we don’t want our people to feel that these external circumstances should prevent them from being recognised for doing a good job.

We’re now turning our attention to how technology could help make us even more flexible. We’ve made a commitment to smarter working, so in 2019 we’ll be looking at our ways of working and at new technology that would help our staff work where and when is best for them and our customers.

Conversations about people

We’ve seen a small (one percentage point) increase in the number of people telling us they have a disability (8%). Some people may not feel confident telling us if they have a disability or long-term condition, and others have said that it’s not relevant to their work to declare. We want to make sure everyone who needs support is getting it, and feels confident talking to us about how their condition affects them.

Since January 2018, we’ve been an accredited Disability Confident employer. This is a government scheme set up to promote awareness of the challenges that disabled people face in trying to find work, and helping employers remove barriers.

Since our last report, we’ve been working with our employee networks and experts, such as the Business Disability Forum and independent disability specialist Graeme Whippy MBE, to help us understand more about disability and what makes a fairer workplace. We have since introduced a new workplace adjustments policy.

He said: “I’m very impressed with how the Financial Ombudsman Service reviewed its approach to disability and employment with a specific focus on workplace adjustments. There has been clear commitment from the leadership to build on good practice to become an employer that is an exemplar in recruiting, supporting and developing disabled people."

What's next

Equality, diversity and inclusion’s parameters are shifting every day. As an employer, and an organisation that deals with the public, we must understand these and evolve with the world around us.

Our initiatives are passionately championed by our senior management. They’re willing to understand more about the issues so they can approach them with consistency, thoughtfulness, and open minds.

This filters through the rest of the organisation, and helps fold equality, diversity and inclusion considerations into our decision-making, even right through to processes such as IT and procurement.

Our networks continue to teach us an enormous amount. You can see in this report the influence that they have had in shaping policy and making a difference. This is down to their hard work, and the value we give their expertise.

They’re formed by people who participate in them voluntarily, devoting a lot of their free time. I’m thrilled that the organisation is demonstrating the seriousness of its commitment by supporting additional senior resource to shape and embed our equality, diversity and inclusion, and Wellbeing strategy.

We’re seeing equality, diversity and inclusion issues rise up the wider political agenda. Gender pay gap reporting became mandatory in 2018, and the government is currently consulting on whether to ask companies to report on ethnicity pay. The Gender Recognition Act is being reformed too.

We’ve been gathering diversity data for many years, because we believe it’s the right thing to do. But we can’t sit still. An organisation is always a work in progress, and we know we have more to do to achieve lasting change. We believe we have the right approach to ensuring no-one – whether colleague or customer – gets left behind.

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

Upskilling on vulnerability

Vulnerability isn’t always about illness, old age, or disability. Just about everyone will be vulnerable at some point in their lives. The regulator has stepped up its work in this area, giving financial organisations a greater responsibility to consider vulnerability than ever.

Being vulnerable can be triggered by one-off events such as bereavement or redundancy. This broader view means we need to be ready to respond to things that people are going through all the time – this isn’t specialist knowledge, but business-as-usual.

The nature of our work means that people only contact us when something has gone wrong, so we want to ensure that if they’re vulnerable, this won’t be exacerbated by dealing with us or another organisation. We’re building all these issues into how we think about equality, diversity and inclusion, and our strategy for the next few years. We’ve signed the Age Diversity Pledge to increase the age diversity of our staff, and we hope this will bring even more experience into our workforce.

We’ll be continuing to work with organisations such as Citizens Advice, the Money Advice Trust and an autism spectrum charity, as well as financial institutions, to share thinking and best practice. We’re implementing these into our everyday case handling and complaints work.

We’re training teams on how to recognise signs of vulnerability, and prioritising cases that involve vulnerable people. We’ve launched a safeguarding policy to help our staff deal with particularly vulnerable customers, such as those who are suicidal or subject to domestic abuse, so they can get them the extra help they need. We also have a dedicated practice group already embedded in our casework structure that provides advice and support to our case handlers when dealing with these issues.

Future planning

We’re looking ahead to the things we might need to do now to accommodate changes on the horizon. These include our work as well as our demographics.

For example: the population is ageing, and this might affect the kind of complaints we handle. How can we evaluate the needs of an ageing workforce?

Conversely, younger people tend to deal with their finances exclusively online. But we don’t hear from them as often as we hear from those in an older age bracket. We’re looking at how we make ourselves as accessible to digital natives as well as older generations.

Reaching the people who need us is one of our main commitments, and the work we do in equality, diversity and inclusion helps us understand who they are and how to help in a way that’s relevant to them.

Reporting