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

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.”

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

Our data

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