Santander: we want people to know what good looks like

Santander UK is not just the first major British bank to be headed by a female – and a working mum at that – but it has also built quite a reputation in promoting diversity and encouraging women up the career ranks.

Santander UK is not just the first major British bank to be headed by a female – and a working mum at that – but it has also built quite a reputation in promoting diversity and encouraging women up the career ranks.

In 2009, Santander employed the highest number of female managers compared to its UK competitors. Over a quarter (25%) of Santander’s UK executive directors are currently female.

The firm recently published its new Corporate Gender Diversity Policy which ensures that any policies it has fit with its aims of having a diverse workforce. “Santander aims to achieve a fully inclusive workforce,” says Paula Dunne, HR Diversity & Engagement at Santander.

In the UK, Santander has launched new diversity awareness training for its senior managers and directors, which includes issues such as unconscious bias. “It’s about encouraging everyone to understand that they have the same opportunities to succeed and about developing top talent within the business,” says Dunne.

The firm has an executive champion for gender diversity, Karen Fortunato, who is on the board of Opportunity Now, a membership organisation for employers who are committed to creating an inclusive workplace for women.

She feeds in ideas about innovative diversity policies, based on best practice. One example is the company’s passport to parenting scheme which provides practical support for parents, including a savings gift to encourage parents to start saving for their children from an early age.

The scheme is aimed at both men and women and includes links with the charity Tommy’s which helps families affected by difficulties in pregnancy.


Dunne adds that Ana Botín, who took over as CEO of Santander UK in December, acts as an inspirational figure for women.

“It’s very encouraging to see her track record,” she says, adding that Botín is very supportive of gender equality work. At the company’s recent annual convention, Botín addressed thousands of managers and outlined her vision for the future. “She wants to make Santander a great place to work,” says Dunne.

The firm offers a range of flexible working patterns to all employees, from compressed hours to part-time work and career breaks. An application would only be turned down, says Dunne, if it just wasn’t practical. She adds that 94% of requests are implemented and 74% of women who go on maternity leave return to work.

Dunne says Santander is looking to harmonise the policies of the companies that come under its wing, including the former Bradford & Bingley , Abbey and Alliance & Leicester businesses. She says: “This harmonisation offers us the opportunity to look to adopt best practice from each organisation.”

This includes flexible working. The company also seeks to encourage staff to identify good practice by nominating their managers for recognition. "We want our people to know what good looks like," says Dunne.

Emergency childcare

Santander offers support for employees needing to put in place emergency childcare, but it also pays for support in sourcing emergency elder care through the company, My Family Care. Elder care is an increasing issue for working mums who may find that they are juggling childcare and work as well as looking after an elderly relative. “We are committed to helping our staff balance their work and other life,” says Dunne, “and we realise that their commitments outside work might not necessarily be limited just to children.”

Emergency care can be available with as little as two hours notice. Staff can pre-register for the service which, says Dunne, takes the stress out of any emergency situation. The service is nationwide and includes holiday clubs, nannies and other forms of childcare.

As a further step in supporting the wellbeing of its people, Santander provides a free confidential telephone helpline to any employee who feels under stress or needs advice, through its employee assistance programme. Employees can talk to a range of independent counsellors about any issue that is of concern to them, including work life balance issues.

Annual survey

The company not only aims to implement best practice at a policy level, but also engages with employees to ensure they have an input into the company’s performance.

Through Santander’s annual employee opinion survey, the company encourages regular feedback from employees which covers a range of topics including, for example, learning and development, line management and work-life balance. There is also a gender perspective to the survey – differences in responses to the questions from male and female staff members are analysed.

Attitude survey data is then used to identify areas in need of improvement and to shape future business strategy. Engaging with staff regularly in this way is part of a strategy designed to create policies which engender a fair and flexible environment for its employees to flourish, it says.

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