How Co-operative Bank is promoting gender equality in the workplace

By Sophie McHale, Co-operative Bank Elevate Chair Woman

The Co-operative Bank was founded 150 years ago in Greater Manchester as part of the co-operative movement. Our business model is based on a number of co-operative values and ethics, including the promotion of equality in society. In line with this, we have a number of inclusion networks at the Bank, including Elevate, which aims to promote gender equality within the workplace.

As the chair of Elevate, I'm passionate about ensuring that all of the colleagues at The Co-operative Bank feel that they have an equal chance of success and are equally supported at work, regardless of their gender.

As a committee of around ten colleagues, we organise awareness-raising events, actively create safe spaces for women to feel empowered to raise gender-based issues at work and produce colleague communications around core topics.

Our focuses this year are supporting colleagues with women’s health; parenting; discrimination and harassment; reducing the gender pay gap and inspiring career progression, to name a few. Our overarching aim is to bridge the gaps and continuously challenge our culture to ensure that working at the Bank works for everyone.

The network and the Bank's Values and Ethics team also work closely with Refuge*, an essential UK-based domestic abuse charity, and the wider financial services industry, to campaign on the topic of Economic Abuse. Economic Abuse is just one form of Domestic Abuse and can manifest itself in many ways, including through control of a partner's financial assets. You can read more about our joint campaign and the findings of the Know Economic Abuse report here.

Spotting the signs of Economic Abuse is incredibly important for our customers, as it is through financial services that this form of abuse is often carried out. As an organisation, we are passionate about ensuring that our colleagues are able to support any customers who may face this type of abuse and this will continue to be a focus for us.

For International Women's Day, in honour of the theme for 2022, #BreaktheBias, we are hosting a number of activities which aim to encourage women to succeed in all areas of our work, including in traditionally male-dominated roles. On the day itself we are hosting a panel of external and internal female leaders in the digital and tech sector to discuss barriers to entry into tech-related roles and why women are fundamentally underrepresented in this field. We will also be encouraging our colleagues to celebrate inspirational women and advocates of gender equality within the business through 'thank you' postcards, as well as publishing case studies of women who have historically or currently work to 'break the bias' in their careers.

International Women's Day is the biggest day of the year for our network, as it's an opportunity to celebrate femininity, womanhood and challenge gender stereotypes and discrimination. However, our work continues all year round and I'm continuously impressed by the network's committee, who volunteer their time outside of their day jobs to work towards this important cause and support our colleagues in making our organisational culture better for everyone. Every organisation has a responsibility to ensure that diversity is celebrated and championed and to recognise the benefits that equality in the workplace can bring to all.

*Refuge, a charity registered in England and Wales, number 277424

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