Having good diversity and inclusion policies is all very well, but potential candidates need to know about them. That’s why Nationwide is keen to shout about its policies and practices, which have just earned it a place in the Top 10 of best performing private and public sector organisations promoting diversity in ethnicity and gender published by Opportunity Now and Race for Opportunity, the gender and race campaigns.
“We want to raise the profile of Nationwide as an employer which leads the way in this area and it’s really important that potential candidates know about this,” says Helen Hodgkinson, Head of Diversity and Inclusion.
Its work on diversity and inclusion has executive sponsorship at board level where executives act as diversity champions taking on various aspects of the policy, such as gender. Leadership is vital, says Keith Astill, Corporate HR Director. “If people see their leaders are taking it seriously it can make a world of difference,” he states.
Nationwide’s CEO has overall oversight of the policy. “On the practical side it means we have access to resources for our work, but it also shows that the board is emotionally involved,” says Hodgkinson. “Nationwide is going beyond policy and procedure. There is a genuine understanding that a customer-focused organisation is better if it is run by a diverse group of people and that you can only understand a diverse customer base if you have diversity in the workforce.”
HR presents the strategy to the board twice a year and board members often challenge aspects of policy. In between there are regular updates.
The diversity and inclusion policy percolates down into the grassroots to employee networks. The company has a number of employee networks, such as the women’s network, the LGBT network and the faith and belief network, which is multi-faith. Further networks are being set up, including a carers and an ethnicity network.
The impact of diversity and inclusion begins at recruitment and talent attraction level. The company requires all third party recruiters and all companies it works with on a third party basis to have strong diversion and inclusion policies and features a balanced shortlist policy with interviewers being given diversity and inclusion training.
Diversity and inclusion is also a fundamental part of the induction process. Nationwide has interviewed new recruits for a DVD about why they chose to apply. “It’s really powerful. We use it a lot,” says Hodgkinson. Managers are trained in diversity and inclusion and the company is just about to start unconscious bias training for members of its steering committee and working groups. They have already had basic educational awareness training.
“While we believe we do a lot of diversity and inclusion well, we’re not sitting here being complacent,” says Astill. “We’ve got a lot more to do.”
Gender is a particular focus. Two thirds of the company’s staff are women and they are keen to get more into senior positions.
Part of the way they will do this, says Hodgkinson, is through an increased focus on flexible working and emphasising different career paths. Four out of five women who go on maternity leave return to work, thanks in part to keeping in touch days, and around 20% return on formally agreed flexible working patterns. But Hodgkinson says many more employees work informal flexi-hours and a large percentage are promoted on their return.
One person who has benefited from Nationwide’s flexible working policy is mother of two Shonah Dowler, a counsel at Nationwide in Shrewsbury.
She has been at Nationwide for nearly 15 years and currently works 21 hours a week. She says: “I do have set office hours but they are incredibly flexible and I often switch my days around to accommodate both personal and work-related commitments.”
She came back to work part time after her first child and then switched her hours again after her son started school last year so she could accommodate school pick-up.
She says: “Had I not been able to reduce my hours I would not have continued working for Nationwide and I suspect it would have been really difficult to find a part time job at the same level elsewhere.
I am a solicitor and part-time jobs are difficult to find. I have no doubt that my career would have suffered as a consequence.”
Another way Nationwide encourages more women into senior roles is through promoting successful women as role models. Its network was set up last year and some of the most senior women in the organisation are involved in it. Most of these have children and they can share their experiences of how to balance work and family life.
“It’s fascinating that not one person has trodden the same track,” says Hodgkinson. “They all have different working patterns and have had children at different points in their careers. For some there have been moments in their careers where it is right that they are doing less at work and more at home or vice versa. “Having the backing of senior women has been really powerful.”
The women’s network hosts events and looks at what women might need to do to progress more, such as profiling themselves better, getting sponsors and mentors and asking difficult questions of their line managers.
Astill says: “We are conscious that in general men see an opportunity and they can do 20-30% of it they will put themselves forward for it whereas even if they can do 70% of it women are reluctant.”