It’s easy to say all the right things when it comes to diversity and inclusion. But until you see policies come to life, and start making a real difference to people, it’s just words.

It hits home for me when I talk to people who say that the best thing about working at the Financial Ombudsman Service is that “I can be myself here.”

This is important for two reasons. I want us to be a workplace that people join knowing they can be themselves – and in doing so, provide the best possible service.

It’s inspiring when you hear people talk about their personal stories – especially when they’re not easy to talk about, or when those speaking up are breaking out of their comfort zones to do so. You can see here how these stories impact the work we do.

This report is also a celebration of our achievements over the past year in diversity, inclusion and wellbeing – and we’ve changed the name of this report to reflect the wider scope. And we want to push ourselves to go further. We’ve grown our dedicated team over the past year, so they can fully focus on bringing our strategy and action plan to life. We’ll continue to invest in this, while asking ourselves tough questions, challenging ourselves again and again, and exploring the areas where we aren’t as good as we’d like to be.

These are issues that mean a lot to me personally. And as a CEO, I want to share ideas, and inspire others. I want everyone – whoever they are, whatever their background – to see what’s possible.

We’ve been working to tackle the causes of our gender pay gap, and I’m pleased to see it narrow to 6.8%. And we’ll be doing the necessary groundwork so that we can also publish our ethnicity pay gap over the course of the next year.

A culture of being yourself is one I’m very proud of nurturing here. I believe it’s a strong foundation for delivering the best service we possibly can.

Caroline Wayman, chief ombudsman and chief executive
February 2020

Key stats

Our customers and our diversity

We wouldn’t be able to understand our customers and the society we serve if we weren’t so diverse.

To make financial services work better for everyone, we need to be able to understand what lies behind the complaints people come to us with, and the wider issues they bring to light.

Without our diverse workforce, that would be much harder. And we’re always looking for ways to make the most of the range of individual experience, knowledge and backgrounds that our employees have.

How my experience helps others

Hayley works in our new additional support team, which was set up to help people in vulnerable circumstances

These tend to be people who need extra support, such as extra time, or a change in the way we work. Our caseworkers across the service are trained to recognise when to refer people to the team. Hayley says her personal experience also enables her to spot signs that a customer might also be in a vulnerable position or a victim of economic abuse.

  • “We might get a call from someone whose finances are all being controlled by someone else, and because of the experience I went through, I can recognise the signs.

    I was in an abusive relationship, and was in part-time, minimum wage jobs. I was paying all the bills while he was working full-time. I don’t know where his money went. I had no money. Most of the abuse was psychological, and my friends and family had no idea what was happening. But one night he threatened me with something horrible. I eventually contacted my brother, and he helped me.

    Back then, coercive control and economic abuse weren’t offences, and he wasn’t charged with the domestic abuse. It also meant that the police and the council weren’t knowledgeable about the financial difficulties, because they didn’t need to be by law. But since 2015, coercive or controlling behaviour within an intimate or family relationship has been a criminal offence.

    There are more vulnerable customer teams at financial businesses now, and cases like mine are getting recognised. Businesses should know more about domestic and economic abuse to really understand the impact it has.

    For me, it’s been empowering to be in a position where I can help people who can often be in desperate situations, and put my personal experience to use in a positive way.”

Helping victims of abuse

1 in 4 women

will experience domestic violence in their lifetime

1 in 6 men

will experience domestic violence in their lifetime

5% of employers

have specific domestic abuse policies or guidelines in place
(Source: Employers' Initiative on Domestic Abuse)

Helping victims of domestic and economic abuse

After an event held by our Muslim network on ‘surviving domestic violence’, our HR team organised a panel discussion on the role men can play in challenging it, with our chief ombudsman and chief executive Caroline Wayman speaking about what the ombudsman service can do to help victims. We heard about aspects of domestic and economic abuse, and how it’s not always women who are affected – it can be men too. Our networks raise awareness among our employees about our safeguarding policy and domestic abuse guidelines.

Mizanur, co-chair of our Muslim network, explains why he became a male advocate against domestic abuse.

  • “Outside work, I’m a spoken-word poet and I was asked to write a poem about honour-based violence. I developed a real interest in the issue, and came up with a track called Death Before Dishonour. Much of what I was researching was very difficult to read as a man, as it struck a lot of emotional chords. So I decided I wanted to create more awareness among men, and my first thought was to organise events at work. So I worked with the Muslim network, and wanted to make the events high profile. They’ve so far helped raise momentum and awareness of our new safeguarding policy and domestic abuse guidelines.

    The financial sector has to take a strong stance and understand how to support someone who’s a victim of economic abuse. We can and should collaborate with businesses, legislators and regulators to ensure people are properly supported.

    Some of our casework comes to us through third parties like claims management companies , and we can help them pick up on the signs too. We’ve signed up to a platform called Employers’ Initiative Against Domestic Abuse (EIDA). Through this, we’ve been able to support victims within our organisation and others. I’m very proud of having made a difference.”

Our networks

Our Giving Something Back committee launched our new partnership with Papyrus, a national charity dedicated to the prevention of young suicide. The committee organised fundraising and awareness events for Papyrus, including a Christmas fundraiser, and the charity has collaborated with our mental wellbeing network to provide staff training workshops. 

We won the ‘best for mental health and wellbeing’ award at the Working Families Best Practice Awards in June 2019, recognising our range of work in this area and our commitment to de-stigmatising mental health  problems. We achieved ‘highly commended’ for this too from the Public Services People Managers Association, and in the Wellbeing at Work category in the Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion (enei) Awards. And in the HR Excellence Awards 2019, we were a finalist in the health and wellbeing award category. 

Our LGBT+ network OutRight provides input and their views on staff policies and training, raises awareness through events and articles, and seeks to give back to the wider community.

This year OutRight has raised funds for Opening Doors London, a charity working to reduce loneliness and isolation among older LGBT+ people. The network has reviewed customer journeys from an LGBT+ perspective, leading to improvements in our processes and guidance. It has also helped develop training for our case handlers to ensure they’re better equipped to support our LGBT+ customers.

In January 2020, we were named at number 35 in LGBT rights charity Stonewall’s list of LGBT-inclusive employers.

Caroline Wayman said:

“This is a testament to the enthusiasm of our people, our commitment to diversity and inclusion, and the excellent work of our employee network, OutRight.

“We look forward to building on these fantastic results and continuing to support our LGBT+ staff, customers, and all the communities we serve.”

In a talk organised by our Christian network, we heard from GrowTH, an initiative by local churches in Tower Hamlets to respond to homelessness in our local area. The session helped to convey how every homeless person has a different story, and how quickly someone can go from living in a stable home environment to being homeless.

Leadership and learning

We aim to always listen to and learn from our people. We’re working to create an open culture where people can talk about their experiences – and be heard.

Listening helps our leaders make better decisions, and all our staff to learn from each other. Our many employee networks, events, mentoring circles, and our reverse mentoring scheme, are among the ways we are continuously learning, including how to promote diversity at senior level.

‘My lived experience’

Our award-winning network, Embrace, holds regular ‘My lived experience’ sessions, where black, Asian and minority ethnic employees tell their personal stories. The sessions help other employees, including senior leaders, see the world from a different perspective – which helps them better empathise with and understand other colleagues and customers in similar situations.

In these sessions, we’ve heard about parenting children with a disability, growing up as a young black Christian man in east London, living with connective tissue disorder, and searching for an organ donor when there is a donor crisis in black and minority communities.

Embrace also holds holds ‘My journey’ sessions, aimed at increasing visibility of our black, Asian and minority ethnic colleagues and their career journeys, raising aspirations and identifying barriers.

The network is about to complete its second cycle of mentoring circles led by senior members of staff. These focus on self-reflection, idea generation and creative problem-solving.

For Black History Month 2019, the network organised events on the theme of visible and valued that included thought-provoking talks from British Nigerian actor and filmmaker Dami Adeyeye, and from former England and Liverpool footballer John Barnes. Embrace won the Outstanding Diversity Network award at the Inclusive Company 2019 awards.

Our ability to identify issues such as black, Asian and minority ethnic representation at senior levels depends on the quality of the information we hold about our people. Over the next year, we hope to be in a position to publish our ethnicity pay gap.

As part of our inclusion and wellbeing action plan, we’re also including talent management, progression, leadership, recruitment, and community. Our successful mentoring circles and reverse mentoring programmes will continue in 2020 alongside listening groups and active data reviews so that the targeted interventions for progression continue to be meaningful and effective.

Carers’ rights

Five percent of our staff consider themselves to have caring responsibilities – but it’s possible this is higher. On Carers’ Rights Day 2019, our carers’ group held an event in collaboration with several other networks, looking at why people who have caring responsibilities can be reluctant to talk their employers about it. Carers come from a variety of backgrounds, but often don’t recognise that they are carers. They can see caring as a duty, or the natural thing to do, and among societies for whom illness is taboo, the cared-for person may also not want to talk about it. This can create extra stresses for carers and make it difficult for them to speak out in the workplace. In November 2019 we were delighted to receive the Carer Confident Level 2 ‘Accomplished’ benchmark.

The carers’ group supports case handlers who are looking into complaints from people who are carers. If someone suddenly finds themselves with caring responsibilities, and they don’t get the right support at work or from their service provider, they can find themselves in rapidly escalating financial difficulty. We also see cases where people who are carers have difficulty getting insurance, or can’t access banking because of their responsibilities.

Reverse mentoring scheme

“I actively seek more views from a wider range of people”;

“I’ve learned that colleagues have different challenges and I need to be mindful to be inclusive in my decision-making”, and

“I’m more aware now of the impact of decisions and how they are perceived.”

These were among the comments in feedback from our executive team on what they learned by taking part in our reverse mentoring scheme, in which they were mentored by a more junior employee.

  • Reverse mentoring helps our executive better understand the lives and experiences of different people in our service, equipping them to make decisions that are more inclusive and more effective. Feedback showed the mentoring relationship created a safe space that helped build trust.

    Some of the exec team admitted it was difficult not to be the one driving the conversation, but the scheme made them more willing to share their own personal experiences, and understand what others may be going through. And in feedback, they said it helped make them more aware of the impact of their decisions, of living in a different cultural framework, and of the challenges of good communication.

    The more junior staff who were mentors also benefitted, with some saying they gained more confidence, and learned to give themselves credit for the things they do well. Specific comments from the mentors included “I’ve learned to be brave when facing obstacles, and to draw strengths from my past achievements”, and “it was great to see that my mentee would be interested in and learn from my point of view”. We’ll be running the scheme again this year.

Breaking invisible barriers

Cultural and social stigma and taboo can make it difficult for people to articulate or even acknowledge problems, and many people can simply find it too uncomfortable.

Connecting with others

If people feel that they have to hide something about themselves, it can sometimes be a cause of internal conflict. And this can affect people’s wellbeing. We want our people to feel that they can open up if they need to – and find answers or support by connecting with others.

Being sensitive to the invisible barriers that can make it hard for people to talk helps us understand the circumstances of people who bring complaints to us. These could include illness, caring responsibilities and mental health problems, which can be underlying factors in complaints. Understanding why someone may find it hard to articulate what they’re going through makes us better equipped to help them.

Lack of understanding of different religions and cultures can also create barriers between people. We want our employees to feel able to share things about themselves that others might not otherwise understand, such as their religious practices.

Stigma in Asian communities

Hina and Ketan launched our Hindu network in 2018, and in 2019 the network led an event talking about mental health in collaboration with our mental wellbeing, Muslim, and Sikh networks. The Sikh network is our newest employee network, founded in 2019. Like all our religious networks, including the Christian and the Jewry network, one of its aims is to educate colleagues about their cultural and religious experiences.

The networks’ joint event explored stigma towards mental health problems in the Asian community and how it can affect people at work. Co-chair Hina explains more.

  • “It’s very common for some people in Asian communities to avoid talking about mental health issues, it’s a topic that gets swept under the carpet. And because there can be a stigma attached to it, that only creates more conflict in someone suffering from a mental health condition. This could be anything from feeling shame or not feeling valued.

    It’s widely accepted that there’s a conflict in all diaspora between observing another culture at home and living a ‘westernised’ life. Some families, especially among the older generation, and from different faith backgrounds, are still reluctant to accept that there are mental health conditions that need be addressed professionally and medically.

    My family is quite liberal, so it’s not like this for me, but I’ve got friends that come from a very strict religious background whose upbringing is very different to how they live outside their homelife. Having to be one person at home and another at work has a negative effect on their mental wellbeing, and instead of being able to comfortably deal with this conflict, it’s another struggle to deal with.

    That’s why I created this event. I wanted it to be a safe space for people to talk about these experiences, acknowledge that this is an ongoing struggle for many people, and encourage them to address any mental health issues that otherwise wouldn’t be spoken about, and so far people have really welcomed it.”

Our new cancer support guides

Claire Smith, our head of HR and organisational development, returned to work after treatment for an aggressive form of breast cancer. Claire spoke openly about her experience at an event organised by our disability network, Enable. She discussed the frightening wait for diagnosis, losing her hair from the chemotherapy, and how she coped with what to tell her children. Despite the prevalence of cancer, like many illnesses it can be a difficult subject to talk about. And with more people living with and surviving cancer while working, it’s imperative that we do. Enable worked with HR to launch our new cancer support guides, while our cancer support group focused on helping our people know what to say to and how to support colleagues with cancer.

Our new menopause guidelines

Menopause is a natural part of women’s lives but it’s another subject that people can find it hard to talk about. Our new menopause guidelines have been designed to help support women at work during this time in their lives. Our women’s network, who contributed to the guidelines, organised events to raise awareness, talk about nutrition and coping with symptoms, and help managers understand what they can do.

  • “More and more companies are developing menopause policies, and I contributed to ours – because I was experiencing it myself.

    When the menopause starts, nobody sits you down to tell you that’s what’s going on and it’s really confusing and distressing. It’s well-publicised that women get hot flushes, but when they first start it’s horrifically embarrassing to explain. You go bright red and start taking layers off because you’re so hot.

    Things like that are easy to talk about once you get over the embarrassment, but all the hidden stuff that you don’t really know about – that’s harder to explain. Plus it can vary from woman to woman, too.

    It’s helpful to have guidelines for work: things like being able to change your working hours to cope with sleep deprivation. My manager has been absolutely amazing, but didn’t know half this stuff – why would you unless it’s happened to you? I’ve been able to direct her to the guidelines and tell her what I need. It’s been much easier to discuss.

    As workplaces have changed, more women of this age profile are in work and so it’s a bigger issue, especially as they are often coping with children and caring responsibilities. Talking about it demystifies it, and I’m really pleased to be part of helping start these conversations.”

Making work, work

We want to build a workplace that’s as attractive to current and future employees for the kind of place it is as for the work it does.

For people to achieve their potential, work’s got to work for them. We’ve pioneered changes to working policies, practices and principles so that our organisation accommodates – and encourages – diversity, inclusivity and wellbeing from top to bottom.

Workplace adjustments passport


of our staff have a disability or long-term health condition

Since December 2018


referrals to the workplace adjustment process so far

It’s just over a year since we introduced our workplace adjustments passport. This is the way we encourage our people to tell us about any health condition or disability that might require some adjustments to the workplace or their working pattern.

We’ve had a good response, and have accommodated a variety of different needs as far as we can. We want to ensure that anyone with a disability or underlying medical condition isn’t prevented from being able to succeed at their job. 

We celebrated the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities by encouraging staff to wear purple as part of #PurpleLightUp – a movement about the economic empowerment of disabled people. We also held events giving an insight into disabilities.

  • “After the birth of my son, I was constantly worrying about making everything fine again both at home and at work which in the end proved impossible for me. I didn’t ask for any help or recognise what was happening.

    I was diagnosed with anxiety. So I took a less stressful position at work and started a workplace adjustment, which has helped me and my wife to adjust to new parenthood and to the work/life balance we want to have.

    Being able to work from home gives me more time with my family which is good for my mental health. I don’t have the long commute, which saves me at least three hours a day. The adjustment’s also been very helpful to me as my wife has been able to go back to work full time. Not only does it help me being closer to home but it helps her too, allowing her to get back to work and colleagues, knowing I’ll be around if there’s an emergency. And I get a lot of work done at home.

    I chose counselling through work which was very helpful. There are people you can talk to here, as well as the mental wellbeing support group. Just to have someone to talk to and being willing to open up about what you’re going through is really helpful. I’m happy to talk to my colleagues about my experience too, especially if it will help them.”

  • “My eye was injured in an accident. The consultants said I almost lost it. Now, I’ve had treatment, but it’s still like looking through the bottom of a beer bottle. I found it was slowing me down at work, as a lot of my job involves proofreading. I needed the workplace adjustment to get my pace back up to where I needed to be.

    I got visual software, and text-to-speech to check what was written. I work from home more, so I can more easily listen to stuff out loud, and do voice-to-text, and it helps me to work almost at the pace I used to work before the accident. I couldn’t have afforded the software licences by myself, so it’s great that it was available. The workplace adjustment passport recognises there is an issue, but it allows me to continue as though there wasn’t.

    Sometimes there can be stigma around performance when illness or injuries are invisible to others. I almost lost the eye but I didn’t – great for me, but if I was walking around with an eye-patch more people would believe me!

    Luckily though, everyone was amazing. The support staff in facilities, IT, HR – the response was fantastic. Just simple things like getting a bigger screen really made things better. Everybody was super-proactive – offering me more solutions and checking it was all working. I can’t speak more highly of them.”

Our shared parental leave policy

0 people

took shared parental leave in 2019

Other policies we’ve launched have also made a difference. Our shared parental leave policy gives a parent the opportunity to take up to six months off work on full pay to care for the new arrival together with their partner. We believe that as well as being an important time for both parents and children, time off work to care for a child shouldn’t negatively affect a parent’s long-term career progression. Encouraging parents who might choose to share their responsibilities evenly is one factor that might help.

  • “After our son was born, I took the first six months off with my wife. The way shared parental leave works is you get a year between you, and we worked out we could both take six months and that would be our year total. We were lucky to both be receiving full pay for those six months.

    We were second-time parents so we knew what it would involve and thought about how much easier it would be if there were two of us. Especially when the baby’s really young, you can do things like taking turns to have a nap if it’s been a rough night.

    My manager had himself taken parental leave, so understood how I’d be feeling. I kept in contact with the team, I came to the work Christmas party, and popped in a few times, including with my new son.

    When I did eventually come back from leave, I came in knowing there was a plan from day one, and knowing how I would fit into everything made my return quite seamless.

    Having six months of not being at work is quite refreshing and I’ve come back to new colleagues bringing good things to the team. Everyone’s been really welcoming and I came back re-energised. So it’s been great.”

Plan for the future

We’re looking ahead to what we might need to do now in order to plan for the future.

For most of the last decade, our service has been shaped by the mis-selling of payment protection insurance (PPI). To handle these complaints, we tripled in size, and recruited from a diverse local talent pool. Although the deadline for making a PPI complaint has now passed, it’s still uncertain how many complaints we’ll receive, and when they’ll reach us. We do know, however, that we’ll eventually have to scale down as a result, and are likely to be smaller in future. This could affect our diversity too – so as we shape our future strategy, we want to remain a diverse and inclusive organisation, and attract people from a wide range of backgrounds. We’re keeping our staff informed about our plans as they evolve.

We’re on the cusp of launching our smarter working initiative that will help us work more efficiently, support people’s needs, and continue to attract and retain people from diverse backgrounds. We’ll be making the necessary investments in technology for this transition, but the change is about much more than just tech: it’s about changing ways of working, and what lets people perform at their best, wherever they are. We want this initiative to help everyone, so will ensure our approach works for colleagues with disabilities, as well as other groups such as parents and carers. 

We’ve made improving diversity part of our senior leaders’ goals, and our talent pipeline too – to make sure we support people from all backgrounds who want to progress, so that all levels of our organisation are diverse.

Inclusive Company 2019 awards

At the end of last year, we were recognised at the Inclusive Company 2019 awards, with our Embrace network winning the Outstanding Diversity Network award, and Caroline Wayman the Chief Executive of the Year award.

Caroline Nugent, HR director, said:

The recognition that comes from these awards is down to the dedication and commitment of a great many colleagues across the service – Caroline [Wayman]’s commitment to inclusion is evident every day and Constance [Chinhengo] – both personally and as co-chair of our Embrace network – is a truly credible and inspirational leader and an amazing ambassador.

Our staff at the Inclusive Company 2019 awards

Constance at the Inclusive Company 2019 awards

Women in Finance

We’re working in a sector (financial services) where female representation – especially at senior levels – has historically been poor. We set a target of 50% female representation across our senior roles. Our board and executive team is now 69% female and 31% male, including our appointment of Baroness Zahida Manzoor as chairman last year.

At the next level, we aim to have reached our target for gender parity in senior management by December 2023. Our senior management is currently 41% female.

Currently, 56% of our employees are female, including 50% of our ombudsman panel. Our median gender pay gap has narrowed slightly, to 6.8% from 7.2% in 2018.

We remain signatories to the Women in Finance charter, which over 350 organisations have signed to commit to improving gender diversity at senior levels in the financial services sector.

Women in Finance Charter logo

Our data

Here’s our data on staff diversity and gender pay, from 2019.

Our diversity snapshot

Reporting on gender

Women in Finance Charter

As signatories to HM Treasury’s Women in Finance Charter, we’re committed to achieving gender balance within our service. We’ve set a target of having 50% female representation in our senior roles, reflecting the gender balance of the UK as a whole. This table shows our gender balance in December 2019, compared with December 2018.

Senior role Female  Male 
  2018 2019 2018 2019
Our senior managers 45% 41% 55% 59%
Our board and executive team 50% 69% 50% 31%
Both groups together 46% 44% 54% 56%

Our gender pay gap

Under the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017, employers with 250 or more employees on the snapshot date of 5 April of a given year must report six calculations relating to their gender pay gap. This table shows the Financial Ombudsman Service’s gender pay gap for the snapshot date of 5 April 2019.

What we need to report on Definition Our result 2019 Our result 2018
Mean gender pay gap The difference between the mean hourly rate of pay of male full-pay employees and that of female full-pay employees. 6.6% 7.7%
Median gender pay gap The difference between the median hourly rate of pay of male full-pay employees and that of female full-pay employees. 6.8% 7.2%
Mean bonus gap The difference between the mean bonus pay paid to male employees and that paid to female employees. 5.4% 5.2%
Median bonus gap The difference between the median bonus pay paid to male employees and that paid to female employees. 0% 0%
Bonus proportions The proportions of male and female employees who were paid bonus pay during the relevant period. 93.7% female 93% female
94.3% male 94.9% male
Quartile pay bands The proportions of male and female full-pay employees in the lower, lower middle, upper middle and upper quartile pay bands. Upper quartile:
50% female,
50% male
Upper quartile:
48% female,
52% male
Upper middle quartile:
50% female,
50% male
Upper middle quartile:
49% female,
51% male
Lower middle quartile:
60% female,
40% male
Lower middle quartile:
59% female,
41% male
Lower quartile:
61% female,
39% male
Lower quartile:
63% female,
37% male