Celebrating difference

Lloyds Banking Group's Fiona Cannon tells Workingmums.co.uk about their latest reverse mentoring scheme and their efforts to boost the number of female senior managers in the organisation.

Fourteen years ago, Lloyds Banking Group was the first private sector company to offer flexible working to all its staff. It hasn't rested on its laurels since.

Diversity and Inclusion Director Fiona Cannon says a third of its workforce now have formal flexible working arrangements and that this includes a mix of men and women. She adds that the business advantages are clear. “We need to be a flexible organisation. We live in a 24/7 environment and people want access to their money whenever they want. Both our customers and our employees want flexibility so it makes good business sense,” she says.

The group has been doing a lot of work on promoting family friendly policies to dads in recent months. On parental leave, it always attempts, says Fiona, to go beyond what is laid out in legislation and usually pre-empts it. So Lloyds was one step ahead of the additional paternity leave which came in earlier this year, allowing dads and mums to share baby leave. Fiona says that even before the legislation came in dads at Lloyds have been able to take any unused portion of their partner's leave, even if the partner works for another organisation as long as they have written proof that the partner is returning to work.

“We have always been clear that we wanted to allow dads to be involved as much as possible in their family life,” she says. “We know that we will never get true gender equality until we get men sharing the domestic sphere.”

The take-up of the shared leave has been fairly low, however. Fiona says this is because dads are only paid at the statutory rate whereas mums have 11 weeks before the birth and six months after it on full pay. The full maternity leave offered by the group is 63 weeks maternity leave – 11 weeks before the birth and 52 weeks after. Fiona says most women don't take the 11 weeks before the birth and the average length of maternity leave is nine months. The company has an 85% return rate from maternity leave with 82% of staff returning to work on a flexible basis.

Dads, who get two weeks' paid paternity leave, prefer to take flexible working, particularly compressed working weeks. Lloyds also has a dads info online facility which gives dads and prospective dads information about their rights and responsibilities. There are webinars, which give dads the chance to talk to other dads, and case studies. All mums and dads to be get a pack of information. Dads, for instance, get a booklet which outlines the importance of having time to spend with the family.

Senior women

Despite these efforts and the understanding that getting men to take more of the domestic burden will stop women being held back in their careers, Fiona says the group feels there are still not enough women at senior levels. Sixty per cent of the workforce are female, but that falls to 25% of senior managers.

“This is where we are focusing more effort now,” she says. “The point at which women have come back from maternity leave, worked flexibly and had their focus mainly on home and are looking to focus again on their career. Maybe they have had to turn down opportunities and feel they may have been put to one side. It's not happening wholesale, but it's still a danger.”

For this reason, Lloyds is looking at talent development programmes for women at junior management level upwards. Fiona says it's about supporting women who may have family responsibilities to keep on track. “We want to hang on to our high potential women through all the various bits of their lives,” she says.

Many go into HR, marketing and the like because these tend to be more female dominated and more flexible. However, this means they lack a broader business perspective which will help them progress. For instance, if they work in the branch network they may have missed out on being a local director managing a range of branches.

The talent development programmes ensure they get that experience which they may have missed because they took time out to have children.

Lloyds also has a mentoring programme for women which means senior women mentor a woman on a one to one basis on the level below them. The scheme works at all levels. “It's more than traditional mentoring which can be quite passive,” says Fiona. “They are more like sponsors, actively encouraging their mentee and talking about them, making sure they are on the relevant promotion path and don't miss out on the big career-defining opportunities.”

In addition Lloyds has mentoring circles where senior women host an event for around 10 women who talk about how they got to the position they are in now. Lloyds is about to launch an online version of this with webinars so it can be accessed wherever staff are.

The initial feedback from the talent development programmes has been that women feel more supported. However, Fiona says, the proof of the pudding will be whether more women reach senior positions. Also on the cards is a relaunch of the organisation's women's network and work on a parents/carers network which would, for instance, involve more face to face support and local events for people facing elder care issues.

As part of the group's diversity policy, it has recently introduced a reverse mentoring scheme. “It evolved out of the fact that everyone has different expectations of what they are looking for in an employer and different skills that they offer,” says Fiona.

In some cases, they may want similar things for different reasons. For instance, baby boomers might want to work less as they move towards retirement, particularly if that retirement is going to be slightly delayed now; generation X might be squeezed looking after children and elderly parents and need flexibility around the edges and money to pay for childcare and elder care; generation Y may want flexibility to be able to contribute more to society.

“All the generations are looking for something different. We need to get our leaders to understand difference and to see it as an advantage,” says Fiona.

Reverse mentoring builds on those advantages. It involves a baby boomer mentoring, for instance, a generation Y person. The baby boomer may learn about something like social networking from the generation Y person or about what Lloyd's younger customers want. The generation Y person will benefit from the baby boomer's experience.

“Everyone learns from each other and they know that it is okay to be different,” says Fiona.

The reverse mentoring programme came out of research into what made a difference to employees' experience of work. Their relationship with their line manager came out top so Lloyds set about looking for ways to build positive relationships.

Fiona says that what Lloyds is trying to do is to build an organisation that works for the 21st century. “It's not about an one size fits all approach. We should not assume everyone wants to work in the same way. We are doing some work on homeworking, for instance. The business benefits are clear in terms of travel costs and property costs,” she says, adding that it certainly makes her own job more interesting and dynamic. “There is a need to be more innovative than we were in the past,” she says. “It makes the job busier, but it is certainly more interesting.”

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