The financial services industry is notorious for its lack of women in senior roles but at Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), work is well under way to create a diverse working environment. More than half of RBS’s employees are female but the goal is to have a 50/50 gender split across the board.
Alison Rose, chief executive of commercial and private banking, is one of the women leading the way for females in senior positions while Susan Fouquier, head of business banking in Scotland, says that with gender-specific customer service and initiatives to encourage flexible working patterns, there are opportunities for women with RBS.
“With both women and ethnic minority populations, there’s a cost to the economy from failing to use the talents of those groups,” says Fouquier. “The role of the bank is to support the economy and it is key to support areas of the economy that could be driving GDP in the future.”
Programmes are in place both to support women within RBS who want to climb the career ladder and to ensure the highest level of customer service is provided to female entrepreneurs and clients.
“We have a Women in Business programme for our relationship managers,” explains Fouquier. “It talks about some of the gender-specific support that customers are looking for.
“We have Women in Business events to help people develop strong networks in their communities and help grow that ecosystem that can help women grow their business.”
Since taking up her role as head of business banking in March 2015, Fouquier has been heavily involved with implementing these initiatives.
“I feel it’s important to be a real role model as a woman in banking with three children,” she says. “It’s important for people to understand that you can have a senior role and still have a family and a work-life balance.
“I believe that we have to take action around diversity because the system is based around masculinity and if you don’t take positive action then nothing will change.”
RBS’s goal is to become the go-to bank for women in business in the UK and with 240 Women in Business specialists, the support network is there for female business owners. “We are looking to double that number over the course of 2016,” adds Fouquier.
Within the bank, flexible working patterns mean women with families can divide their time between working from home and in the office.
“It’s really important that we reach the right balance in every area of the bank, not just in aggregate,” says Fouquier.
“We have set a target of at least 30 per cent of women in our top leadership levels which is around 800 roles. We have an ambition to reach 50 per cent across all parts of the organisation by 2030.
“There are traditionally areas in any organisation where there are more women. In our HR department it will be a much higher percentage of women than men but if you look at corporate banking we would be lucky if we were in double figures for women.
“I have tried some simple actions to introduce diversity within my own team. I prefer not to proceed with interviews without having at least one female candidate and I have to have at least one woman on the interview board. That cuts across some of the unconscious bias that can exist when it’s just a male panel.”
According to Fouquier, having an even split of men, women and ethnic minorities in a team encourages innovative ideas and brings creative thinking.
According to a report by the Women’s Business Council, funded by the government’s equality office, women’s early stage entrepreneurial activities rose from 6.3 per cent in 2012 to 7.5 per cent in 2014, but there is still work to be done to communicate the message that balancing children and a career doesn’t have to be difficult.
“Women are still not setting up and running new businesses at the same rate as men,” says Fouquier. “You need to actively encourage women and ethnic minorities in order to move the system when the incumbent system won’t change by itself.
“RBS is taking really positive efforts in that direction and gender balance is as important for our customers as it is for us.”
Emma Cowie is a relationship manager at RBS and a Women in Business ambassador. Her focus is the agricultural sector.
“Because I work in a male environment – even though there are more female agricultural managers than ever – I think it’s really important that women have the confidence that they can compete against the male population and be successful,” says Cowie.
“In some cases, it’s just a case of bridging that gap and in others it’s about having the confidence to just sit and chat through an idea first then take it from there.
“We look to support women in business with our thoughts and ideas and turn their dreams into realities.”
Cowie divides her time between home and the office and offers her customers evening and weekend appointments so that she can fit her job around her family and accommodate clients’ needs.
“At the end of the day, if the work gets done and the service level is what we want it to be, then there are flexible opportunities for working from home.
“People in executive positions can also adopt these flexible working patterns. I think that encourages people to go for these roles when they see there’s already someone there who’s spinning different plates.”
Yvonne Greeves, enterprise manager at Royal Bank of Scotland and a Women in Business ambassador, says the attitude towards women in the workplace has changed significantly since she joined eight years ago.
“We have a lot more female leaders coming through,” says Greeves. “When I first joined the bank it wasn’t like that but I have seen a change and I can see it picking up pace.
The 240 Women in Business ambassadors are trained to understand the different issues that women face when setting up in business and regularly attend networking events.
“We work very closely with Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES),” explains Greeves. “They carry out training with our staff and they have got ambassadors. They are available for mentoring and presentations about the challenges they have faced.
“WES is a fantastic organisation. It’s led by Margaret Gibson who is the first ever woman to win the Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion. She’s really, really driven.”
In June, RBS will host the Association of Scottish Businesswomen’s annual conference at its Gogarburn headquarters.
“It’s really important to have that high level of engagement with all these organisations because we can filter that down to our teams which can then filter that out to their networks,” says Greeves.
“What we try and do is tailor the support to our customers’ needs. Some female business owners will want to go off and run their business the way they want to but others will want to get more involved with these women in business networks.”
Last year RBS hosted 50-plus women in business events across Scotland, reaching around 1,700 females. The plan for 2016 is to double that number.
With two daughters of her own, Greeves knows only too well the challenges women can face.
“You need to be honest and say these are the challenges I’m facing and ask your employer to accommodate them,” she advises. “As a female, the only limitations I have are those I could put upon myself.
“We have to juggle childcare but modern employers are a lot more proactive and reactive to that.
“One of my daughters said to me she loves the fact that I work because it’s a role model for her.”
Pheona Matovu, Radiant & Brighter, Glasgow
Pheona and Micheal Matovu set up Glasgow-based community interest company Radiant & Brighter in 2012 to support start up businesses and provide employability skills to immigrants who face difficulties finding work.
Having moved to Scotland from Uganda, the idea for the business stemmed from personal experience.
“Micheal and I weren’t allowed to work due to immigration controls for five years,” explains Pheona Matovu. “We decided to set up something that would help people like us.
“We provide services for business start-ups and employability skills for immigrants with a specific focus on people who have already come and settled here who are looking to do something that will get them quickly into contributing to the economy and bring positivity into their own life.”
She continues: “I feel like as a minority ethnic woman I am maybe not taken seriously. It took us a very long time to be able to partner with mainstream organisations.”
Through attending an enterprise event for women, Matovu came into contact with RBS.
“I felt like at that point somebody was listening,” she says. “I felt maybe for the first time that I was able to engage with organisations that would support the work I was doing.
“Most of the mentorship and support I have had has come from the women in RBS.”
Margaret Gibson, Women’s Enterprise Scotland
For the last four years, Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES) has been equipping female entrepreneurs with the confidence they need to start their own business.
“Research conducted by Strathclyde University showed that there is very much a gender gap around entrepreneurs in Scotland,” says Margaret Gibson, chief executive of WES.
“If women were to set up businesses at the same rate as men, we could have an additional 100,000 small businesses in Scotland.” WES’s 15 ambassadors regularly speak at events, sharing their stories for the benefit of other women.
When RBS launched its Women in Business programme, the bank did some research into its entrepreneurs to establish the extent of the gender gap.
“From there we have worked very closely with the bank,” says Gibson.
“I think they have recognised that women are actually a very good bet when it comes to business.
“Particularly in the last few years, they have invested heavily in training their own staff which is really rewarding.
“We work very closely with Entrepreneurial Spark which is now based at Gogarburn. We are trying to identify growing businesses that need support and encouragement and introduce RBS staff to understanding that women maybe approach business in a different way.
“People often say that banks don’t want to help but the experiences we have had have been really positive.”
Saj Sharif, Zen Consultants, Edinburgh
With a background in stockbroking, setting up her own financial services business was a natural move for Edinburgh mother-of-four Saj Sharif.
“The idea behind working from home was so that I could be here for the kids and minimise my childcare costs,” says Sharif, who initially trained as an interior designer.
“My partner and I were running a building company and when we folded the company, the employees kept coming back to me to do their tax returns.
“I realised I had a client base of about 25 and it was already bringing money in so I thought why don’t I just get my qualification in accountancy.”
Since graduating from Heriot-Watt University two years ago, Sharif has grown the business and now has a 173-strong client base.
“RBS have helped me grow by inviting me along to the Women in Business networking events,” says Sharif. “I have got a good dozen clients just through the networking with RBS. Everyone needs a safety net and they [RBS] are my safety net.”
Sharif currently employs one member of staff, also a working mum, and hopes to add an extra body to the team this spring.
“RBS’s support has been absolutely amazing and I definitely wouldn’t be achieving as much as I am if I didn’t have that positive encouragement and support.”