Diversity: raising awareness in the workplace

Rachel Fayers, Diversity and Engagement Manager, Santander UK

Diversity and inclusion are crucial factors for today’s businesses as they seek to reflect the communities in which they operate. Getting this right is a vital part of Santander’s journey to become the best bank in the UK, both for its own people and also for its customers.Rachel Fayers

Diversity Awareness Training has been a key feature of SantanderUK’s development programme for its senior leaders for some years. However, the organisation has changed significantly since the training was first introduced and early last year the bank undertook a review of the course to assess whether it was still meeting the needs of business.

As a result of this review we decided that the course needed to focus more on the behavioural elements of diversity in order to help SantanderUK evolve.

The new programme was launched in March 2011, and in less than 18 months it has already achieved significant results.  Last month this achievement was recognised by the UK Employers’ Network for Equality & Inclusion (enei) which awarded the programme the Excellence in Training award.

As we planned the content of the revised programme, we conducted extensive research amongst our senior leaders to ensure that we were providing a course tailored to fit their exact needs. This research revealed a desire for a programme that effectively demonstrated the general business benefits of taking diversity and inclusion seriously, as well as including content which is specific to Santander UK’s strategy.

The behavioural approach taken in the new course has received an excellent response from participants, and has built on previous learning of compliance and legal issues.  The shift in focus has not only made the course more relevant to participants, but it has also proved to be more engaging and has encouraged increased participation.

Indeed, in follow-up satisfaction surveys in 2011, 100% of participants agreed that the course met their expectations and learning objectives. This is supported by the fact that, since the first pilot session in March 2011, over 220 delegates from across Santander UK have attended Diversity Awareness Training courses – well on course to deliver 100% capacity by the end of 2012.

One of the key drivers for the training is to ensure that we are giving our senior leaders the tools to manage and encourage an inclusive and diverse team.  This includes supporting the career progression of women, understanding how flexible working can help everyone fulfill their work and personal commitments, and how to avoid making assumptions based on stereotypes. .A crucial element in achieving this is to raise awareness of the potential impact of unconscious bias.

To ensure a high quality programme, we engaged the Global Diversity Practice Ltd as our partner in developing the course content.  We worked together to carry out research amongst potential course delegates, both through an online employee survey and via face-to-face interviews with senior leaders across the business – some of whom had been on the previous training.  The results and analysis of these interviews and survey results were used to generate the content, methodology, delivery techniques and evaluation criteria used in the 30 half-day sessions scheduled throughout the duration of the training.

Of the senior leaders who have attended the training thus far, three quarters are men and the training has been designed to help them be empathetic to others’ needs and differences.  This is particularly pertinent when considering that over 60% of SantanderUK’s workforce is female and therefore these senior leaders have a significant number of women in their teams who will be influenced by their behaviour.

One significant benefit of SantanderUK’s Diversity Awareness Training is that it has given us insight into real-time diversity issues and has allowed us to hold open discussions about these areas in a public forum.  This is particularly true in relation to gender related issues. For example, a number of leaders shared the impact that work pressures have on work-life balance for both men and women.

All of this has provided us with the impetus to conduct more focused activity on behavioural impact and culture change in the future.  We also hope to carry out further analysis into how the delegates have applied the learning with their teams as this will allow us to tailor future sessions to delegates’ requirements.

The delivery of Santander’s Diversity Awareness Training has not been without its challenges; the target delegates for this course are directors and senior managers – all of whom have extremely busy schedules and priorities competing for their attention, and finding the time to fit half a day’s worth of training into an already packed diary can be difficult. However, we have been delighted by the response to the programme and are glad to see from delegates’ feedback that word-of-mouth has played a significant role in attracting senior figures within the organisation to take part in the training. This is particularly rewarding as it shows that delegates have been discussing their experiences on the course with their colleagues.

With the current two-year programme due to finish at the end of this year, we have already begun looking at ways to rollout the next iteration of the training – building on the current material and incorporating the feedback we have received to date to ensure that we continue to provide our senior leaders with the best possible training programme.

We know that the training will not remain static, but will be updated as relevant information within the business changes.  For instance, if there are changes in the overall corporate messages, then these will be fed through to the training content.

Ensuring that our business is as diverse and inclusive as possible is an on-going commitment – as the community in which we operate changes, we have to change to reflect it.  We believe that at Santander UK we have the team and structures in place to do this, something which was also confirmed at the enei awards, when the Santander Diversity Support Teamwas shortlisted for Team of the Year.  This is a further endorsement of our programme, recognising the ability of the people behind it to provide specialist advice and guidance to our customer-facing teams when they need to deal with diversity issues.

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