Santander:  Investing in diversity and family support

Campaigns including ‘Passport to Parenting’ and ‘Passport to Work-Life Balance’ are just some of the initiatives that are championed at Santander, one of the world’s leading banks; spoke to Inclusion and Diversity Manager, Annette Lawson to find out more.

Campaigns including ‘Passport to Parenting’ and ‘Passport to Work-Life Balance’ are just some of the initiatives that are championed at Santander, one of the world’s leading banks; spoke to Inclusion and Diversity Manager, Annette Lawson to find out more.
Santander is one of the biggest employers. In the UK alone it has 24,000 staff with 65% of them being female, many of whom work at senior level. This year the bank boasts that it is the best in its sector for female representation at senior (38%) and middle management (54%) level. In addition, a quarter (25%) of its executive directors is female compared to just 5% across other FTSE 100 firms.
The development of women is taken seriously with 75% of those undertaking the Institute of Learning and Management coaching qualification at executive and senior management level being female.
Achieving a diverse workforce:
Annette says that part of this drive to help women get to the top is an emphasis on being a fully inclusive workforce. And to help deliver this aim the bank has created a diversity training programme which all employees, from the branch network to senior leaders, take annually through an e-learning interface. 
Being inclusive therefore means giving women the same opportunities as men to work at the highest levels and the bank has addressed this with its own flexible working policies. Annette says that this goes beyond the statutory minimum to allow all employees (regardless of whether they have young children or not) to request a change to their working arrangements. “This can be for a range of reasons, including the need to care for children or elderly parents, to pursue further education or another interest or hobby. We have made a commitment that all flexible working requests will be considered in a fair and open manner, balancing both employee needs and the needs of the customer, branch or department,” she says. Less than 6.5% of formal flexible working applications have been declined to date.
As part of this programme, the bank introduced its integrated work life balance offering, ‘Passport to Balancing your life’ in November 2008 and according to analysis from the bank’s employee opinion surveys and employee profiles it is clear, says Annette, that its programme has been successful in encouraging more employees to adopt flexible working practices.
Part-time working and attitude to parents:
Across its 1300 branches in the UK, the full and part-time ratio is 3:1 with 68% of all flexible working applications received in 2010 being to work part time, with the second most popular being compressed hours.
The bank has put a renewed focus in the past three years on families and as a result it has introduced its ‘Passport to Parenting’ initiative in the autumn of this year. A provision that offers a number of initiatives that appeal to families and benefit different facets of their lives – such as work life balance and career development. It is estimated that around 10% of the bank’s workforce has young children.
“We are committed to helping employees give their family the best start in life and we know that a new addition to the family is a time of celebration so, from 1st November, we will reimburse up to the first £40 paid into a Santander Flexible Saver for Kids account opened in the new arrival’s name. As further recognition for service and contribution to the company, we will also reimburse up to £20 on the 5th, 10th and 15th anniversary of the child’s birth or placement date if the individual is still working for us at that time,” says Annette.
But for many working parents it’s not just financial support they are looking for so the bank has also raised its maternity and paternity offerings so for example, the majority of those taking maternity leave will qualify for 14 weeks maternity pay followed by 25 weeks’ statutory pay. Fathers-to-be, or to those who will have responsibility with the mother for bringing up a child will be entitled to two weeks’ paid leave. In addition, where both parents work for Santander anyone who becomes a parent will, subject to meeting certain eligibility criteria, be able to swap the second half of the maternity/adoption leave period with their partner providing increased flexibility.
When it comes to returning to work following maternity and paternity leave, the decision to use childcare can often be a difficult one for parents. “We want to provide care that matches the needs of the child and the parent. As a result, as part of our Passport to Parenting programme we will introduce a workplace nursery partnership which enables employees to confidently place their children in a childcare facility near their home, or work, that has been independently assessed,” says Annette.
Emergency childcare service:
One of the most pioneering initiatives offered by the bank is its emergency childcare programme. Since 2008 a programme has been in place which provides immediate access to a nationwide network of certified and accredited nurseries, childminders, nannies, home carers (for dependant/elder care) and holiday clubs for unexpected periods of care while employees are at work. Santander became the first retail bank in the UK to offer such a service after recognising a need for this support via its employee feedback.
The bank has been hugely innovative in the way it supports its working parents and develops its female staff. Yet it is not resting on its laurels and has a scheme in place to ensure that plans are refreshed every three years so that it can make any necessary improvements following feedback from sources such as its employee opinion survey. “This mindset allows us to differentiate ourselves from other retail banks by providing effective and relevant polices that improves the lives of our 24,000 strong workforce,” says Annette.
It is not surprising that its commitments in these areas has been recognised externally  with Santander being identified in 2009 as an organisation that is leading the way in terms of policies for women by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. As a result the bank was invited to sit on its external reference group for sex discrimination in the financial service sector and continues to provide best practice information to inform wider industry targets. 

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