Diversity toolkit

Business leaders give unique perspectives on creating a diverse workforce

Diversity Toolkit Interview

Chris Sullivan and Heather Melville

Chris Sullivan and Heather Melville

Deputy Group CEO & Director for Strategic Partnerships for Transaction Services

RBS is a UK-centred bank headquartered in Edinburgh, Scotland. It supports its customers in accessing international markets in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North America. In the UK and Ireland, its main subsidiary companies are The Royal Bank of Scotland, National Westminster Bank, Ulster Bank and Coutts.

Interview - Building successful networks

Chris’s keen interest in leadership and gender issues was sparked off over 25 years ago, when he helped a daughter of one of his mentors at the time with inputs to a Master’s paper focused on the impact of the glass ceiling.

At an early stage, Chris understood the importance of diversity of leadership and the workforce and has led and sponsored this agenda in banking and more broadly ever since.

Over two decades later when Heather Melville, a new joiner to RBS, sought Chris’s sponsorship of a network to support women, he was, of course, keen to provide his backing. Before joining RBS, Heather had gained first-hand experience of how companies that develop strong networks and promote a culture encouraging senior people to sponsor women’s talent can have a really positive effect.

Knowing this, she wondered why a similar network didn’t exist in RBS and feeling strongly that the organisation and its employees could benefit, she set about creating RBS’s Women’s Network. Fast-forward to today and the network has around 12,000 members in 33 countries and is run by passionate volunteers, both men and women.

Initially Heather’s main challenge was to convince her colleagues at RBS of the positive impact a network could have. She asked senior women to think about talented women throughout the organisation who would not have the opportunity to network with them or other members of the leadership team.

She asked business units to sponsor network events so that they could take the opportunity to demonstrate how RBS recognises its role in ensuring diversity to support understanding and meeting its customers’ needs. Heather also asked clients who recognised the importance of diversity to get involved with the network too, many of whom had high profiles which in turn helped promote the network; it also made the link between diversity and sound business sense easier to grasp.

Through Chris’s involvement the network has been assured of the right focus, including access to connections and resources. It is, however, worth saying that the network is not dependent on a significant budget and has managed to operate successfully as a result of the resourcefulness of its members and supporters.

RBS’s Women’s Network has inspired others to create further networks covering other aspects of diversity. The networks have had a huge impact on RBS’s culture and, importantly, have encouraged people to think differently about themselves and the people they work with.

RBS’s Women’s Network and its Women in Business banking proposition are major USPs for RBS. Clients are advocates frequently testifying how much the network has helped them develop their business, not least through the event each year hosted by the network bringing employees and customers together.

Last year 28% of RBS’s new SME business came from female entrepreneurs – this is testament to the work of RBS’s Women’s Network and RBS’s proposition focused on meeting the needs of female business owners and managers.