Friends Life Group Limited is a FTSE 100 listed company focused on providing financial security for over five million customers, with a heritage dating back over 200 years.
Our strategy is focused on helping customers to save for and achieve a good standard of living in retirement and on providing them with financial protection during their working lives.
Our vision is a culture that welcomes diversity, enabling us to utilise all the diverse skills and experiences of our people; benefiting colleagues, customers and shareholders and representing the society in which we live and work.
Or to quote our Group Chief Executive, Andy Briggs, who champions diversity within Friends Life:
I want Friends Life to be differentiated in terms of its diversity mix. We will be the organisation that fully appreciates the richness of people that others overlook. I want this to be something we are known for, giving us a competitive advantage and making this a better place to work.
Issue to be resolved
We recognised from our data, that whilst we enjoyed a balanced gender mix at entry and lower – middle management levels in the organisation, the proportion of female colleagues at senior management levels dropped off dramatically, (26% at G+ grades). This meant our ‘talent pipeline’ for the most senior roles in the company, prospective executives, was weighted towards men and by definition, limited and limiting.
We could not hope to make Friends Life a ‘Great Place to Work’, if a significant proportion of the workforce is under-represented and feeling their career/development opportunities will only take them so far. We also know and accept that gender balance is better for risk management and decision making, which supports growth.
Our GCE set up a Diversity Forum in May 2013, joined Business in the Community’s Opportunity Now campaign and benchmarked ourselves through the Opp Now survey. Following extensive research and colleague input from 20 focus groups involving 310 colleagues, it was determined that we needed to introduce a range of measures to support women move into senior management roles. Volunteers from the focus groups worked alongside Forum members to develop and implement plans, which began to be rolled out in November 2013. The plans included:
- Diversity/inclusion awareness training, including unconscious bias awareness. This was built into our Leadership Development Programme, but was delivered to our General Executive Committee as well
- Networking lunches hosted by our only female GEC member, our Chief Risk Officer
- Identifying role models and sharing their stories at network events and through other media channels
- Female mentoring programme (request from network meetings)
- Coaching support programme for women during first five years or return from maternity leave
We have adopted a very transparent approach to reporting as Friends Life, publishing our gender pay gap since 2011, at grade level rather than a top-line median salary level. However, with our determination to address our gender diversity issues, we increased the granularity of reporting with a gender spotlight to enable us to gain a more holistic perspective on how we are progressing towards a great place to work for women, (as well as other protected groups). We reviewed the questions and reports we asked/received in our colleague attitude/experience survey to add to this holistic picture. Additionally, we set and published a target increase in the proportion of women at G+ grades, the first company in our sector to do so.
The range of metrics to which we apply a gender lens in our public reporting includes:
- Workforce profile overall, at management levels and by grade
- Gender pay gap by grade
- Employee engagement response rates and scores
- Length of service by age group and gender
- Sickness absence levels
- Sickness levels by major disease state, (cancer, musculo-skeletal, mental health and stress)
- Grievance cases by gender, including cases upheld
- Employee Assistance Programme uptake
- Duration of absences over one month
We noticed a slight deterioration in the gender pay gap at two middle management levels in our latest reporting, which prompted us to investigate. We determined that we had promoted more women internally into these two grades, but more men externally. (We also have a published target to increase our levels of internal promotions).
With men notoriously more aggressive in salary negotiations and greater controls on pay increases accompanying internal promotions, these two things came together to give rise to a movement in the wrong direction for our gender pay gap at these two grades.
The benefit of being so transparent in our reporting on gender issues ensured that this deterioration wasn’t overlooked, but investigated and explained, publicly.
We take the old adage, ‘What gets measured, gets managed’, one stage further. We believe that, ‘What gets published, gets managed better’. The above is a case in point.
In the short time that we have focussed our attention on the gender issue, we have increased the proportion of women at G+ grades from 26% to 29%, against a target of 33% by the end of 2017. We believe we will have to review this target upwards ahead of this date, stretching ourselves still further. We have also seen our Opportunity Now benchmark score go from 37% (Bronze banding) in 2013, to 63% (Silver banding) in 2014. We are very proud of having been awarded the Opportunity Now/Government Equalities Office Transparency Award in April 2014 and have been proud to be advocates for greater transparency in public reporting.