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...

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What we're proud of

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.

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.”

What we need to work on

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%).

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.

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

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.