Personal Reflections on New Initiatives to Address Diversity and Inclusion at Coutts

“Privilege is invisible to those who have it” – Michael Kimmel

As a white male, Managing Director at Coutts, who was educated from the ages of 8 to 18 at an all-boys school, and who then joined an all-male regiment in the Army before embarking on a career in banking, I fall into the category of being privileged, and of that privilege being invisible to me.

It was in fact during my time in the army, on operations in the Balkans, that I first truly realised the importance of diversity. Without doubt, we made better decisions because we had a leadership team that incorporated not only the military, but representatives from multinational organisations and local communities; and that cohort was diverse – from both gender and ethnic perspectives. Since then I have always strived to build strong, diverse teams.

Whilst we still have some way to go, I am proud to say that I believe Coutts is a strong example of an organisation taking the right steps to bring about equality across all aspects of diversity, in particular gender. Not only is it quite simply the right thing to, but there is clear evidence of the business case for gender balance and gender equality too; and that it is a business issue not a women’s issue. As a result, we have a goal to be fully inclusive and to have a gender-balanced workforce by 2030.

To bring about change you need a strategy that is both top down and bottom up.  From a top down perspective, a leadership team can create a vision and set clear targets around recruitment and internal promotions or developments. Unless you have ways to measure progress, however, then your vision will probably not be achieved.  

To change a culture takes time, and you will encounter resistance on the way. To overcome any barriers and ultimately accelerate the pace of change, various enablers are key. Firstly, the tone from the top has to be genuine and senior leaders must lead by example. Communications need to be clear, factual and without spin. There should also be an environment that is collaborative and that encourages psychological safety, so change can be nurtured in the right environment.

A bottom up approach is also absolutely crucial for success and will also help overcome any internal resistance. At Coutts we have instituted a People Council, run by staff and not management, which comments on all aspects of our culture. We have established Employee Led Networks (ELNs) which represent all common themes in diversity – as per the schematic below. For those who want to make a difference to gender equality we have over 200 signed-up members to Male Allies, a group committed to supporting the aims of the Women’s Network and spearheaded by our very own COO. 

Measurement is imperative to any success. At Coutts, in order to track progress, we publish performance results against our goals. We garner feedback from the ELNs and People’s Council. We have a trusted, anonymous “speak up” line so issues can be called out and dealt with, and we rely on our regular “Our View” staff survey, which measures the culture and progress vs benchmarks within the bank. 

There is no question that a lot still needs to be done, but the evidence shows that by combining a top down and bottom up approach, supported by impactful and positive leadership, we can really make a difference.

Alex Liddle is Managing Director at Coutts.

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