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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Cumberland Celebrates International Women’s Day by Smashing Diversity Target

The Cumberland chose yesterday’s International Women’s Day to reveal that it is set to reach the remarkable landmark of having over 50 per cent of its senior roles filled by women.

The building society has achieved this over two years ahead of its own target of April 2025. It means a rise of over 30 per cent in the number of senior positions occupied by women in just five years, which is all the more notable in the traditionally male-dominated finance sector.

Susanne Parry is The Cumberland’s chief operating officer and among the women in senior positions who have been reflecting on how much the dial has shifted on equality and diversity for the building society, describing it as ‘groundbreaking’.

“I have been in finance for around 30 years and I remember going to my first Building Society Association conference. It was a room full of men in grey suits and I stood out like a sore thumb.

“The industry has changed since then, but nothing like to the extent that we have seen,” she said, adding: “The rapid improvement we have seen recently has been because we very consciously set a target and looked for ways of hitting it.

“The Cumberland has gone through a huge cultural change and a shift towards an organisation where you are encouraged to question, challenge and think differently.”

And that cultural change is one of the key benefits to any business that can improve its gender balance according to Claire Deekes, The Cumberland’s chief customer officer and Cumbria LEP board member.

“The key for me is ensuring we get a diversity of thought in the business. Everyone brings a different perspective and enriches the discussions within the senior leadership team and board. People have different skill sets, thought processes and life experience to draw upon and as a woman you can bring a different perspective.

“These changes then have a positive impact further down the business because when people see women getting the opportunity to take these senior roles, it inspires others to have career aspirations above and beyond where they might have been in the past,” she said.

To achieve its target of having half of senior roles filled by women, The Cumberland has focused on a number of initiatives to support women including flexible working policies, mentoring programmes and even some colleagues taking part in the international Becoming programme which supports women in leadership roles.

The Cumberland’s initial target was target set as 33% of senior roles represented by females by April 2021, which was hit six months early. The push towards more gender diversity has snowballed from there, aided by their commitment to Kinder Banking which has underpinned improvements in the working environment and other initiatives such as the introduction of a menopause policy.

Jill Johnston, The Cumberland’s chief people officer, believes that the disruption of the pandemic helped accelerate the change too.

“We signed up to the Women in Finance charter which gave us some direction and we have done a lot of work around family friendly policies. I do think that the pandemic, whilst in many ways causing significant challenges for family life, actually showed us how people were able to work in different ways which helped The Cumberland to become more family friendly.” she said.

Cumberland non-executive director Jackie Arnold, who has worked in many senior roles including head of strategy at BAE Systems, believes that International Women’s Day is a good time for the building society to take stock of how it has changed.

“It sets the scene for moving forward. While we can pat ourselves on the back for what we’ve achieved, we must think about what we do need to do in the future. For us as board members, International Women’s Day is a point to say ‘what shall we do next?’

“Last year we sat down with some of the female senior leaders in the organisation which was an opportunity for us to get to know each other better. It’s important for us to get into business and ask what role we can play.”

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