Gender Champion Award 2019 - Les Matheson, RBS

Finalist for Business in the Community's Gender Champion Award 2019.
As the Chief Executive Officer for Personal Banking and RBS's executive sponsor for gender, Les Matheson’s vision is to ensure the bank reflects the customers it serves so they can better anticipate and meet their needs. Having a fully gender balanced workforce is key to this.
In 2014, Les introduced gender targets for all executive committee members. The target is to have more than 30% women in their most senior roles by 2020, and to have full gender balance at all levels by 2030.
The targets are by business area, recognising that every part of the organisation needs to change. While the minimum threshold is 30% - representing the `tipping point` at which the balance of women will impact behaviours and culture - Les continues to push harder with many areas aiming for closer to 50% in this period. And, it’s genuinely about gender balance. For example, in HR at RBS, where there is a disproportionate number of women in senior roles, there is a plan to pull through more men.
Les says: “I challenge my fellow leaders to look carefully and critically at their plans, be innovative, be flexible and ultimately get more women into our most senior roles.”
The targets are supported by a positive-action approach which focusses on the full employee lifecycle and ensures that appropriate accountabilities are in place. The approach focuses on attracting, developing, rewarding, engaging and retaining a diverse workforce.
The plans are supported by essential steps including:
  • removing biased language from job adverts;
  • discipline around women on shortlists; promotion and selection panels;
  • unconscious bias and good judgement learning
  • specific catalysts, including a women’s returnship programme that has a 90% conversion to permanent roles.
Other examples include: reviewing the design of roles predominately held by men; proactively identifying female talent mobility scenarios; and conducting research on the gender differences as to how people make career decisions.
RBS says: “Les is unapologetic about our positive-action approach and has overcome resistance from employees, being clear that it’s not about ‘fixing women’ or ‘discriminating against men’.  This is evidenced by introducing targets and male only development where we need to increase the proportion of men, supported by a male ally’s proposition that underpins gender equality.”
Les has now turned his attention to lifting the lid on micro-aggressive behaviors, and accepted ‘cultural-norms’, that - unintentionally, or otherwise - can signal that women and their career progression matters less than men’s. This has included a focus on breaking the silence on sexual harassment and creating a culture of psychological safety that supports equality for everyone. Examples include cascading an all-staff video message to remind colleagues of a zero tolerance approach, and the reporting channels and support available.
Demonstrating that he ‘walks the talk’ Les has driven actions to support gender balance in his own franchise by ensuring a gender (and ethnicity) lens is considered within all talent and restructuring plans. This is tracked through a report-and-explain approach. This has included a focus on his own leadership team, which is now fully gender balanced.
Les also works closely with, and provides support to RBS’s global gender employee led network and is himself an active ally.
RBS’s Women in Business (WIB) initiative is led by Les. This involves more than 500 specialists who support the business women of tomorrow.  Last year RBS hosted c.300 UK events, reaching c.11,000 female entrepreneurs.

During the past four years, Les’s sponsorship has helped to significantly improve the proportion of women in senior roles –  37% of roles in RBS’s top three leadership layers are filled by women. This is a 8% improvement, on aggregate, since targets were introduced and the company is on track to get to 40% by 2020.  The top 4,000-5000 roles have improved from 32% to 45% during the same timeframe.
Nine of RBS’s businesses are already at, or exceeding, 30% women. Two are fully gender balanced and one has a target to pull-through more men. 
Inclusion is the highest scoring and most improved category in RBS’s colleague sentiment analysis (at 90 points, it is 16 points above the global financial services norm).
The company has observed a 30% increase in women-led business accounts and a 29% increase in the number of WIB switchers. WIB customers represent 16.36% of its customer base.
RBS has invested more than £1.9m into women’s enterprise, reaching more than 25,000 women. A total of 932 new businesses have been created.

The information in this impact story has been supplied by RBS.