TUESDAY 13 DEC 2022 10:50 AM


The British Arab Commercial Bank (BACB) has introduced an inclusive new women's network, open to all employees. Topics on the network's agenda include the menopause, creating a comfortable space for such issues to be addressed. Dolunay Grieve, head of programme delivery, talks to Communicate magazine about the initiative's ambitions and the impact it's already having on company culture.

How does BACB’s women’s network initiative tie in with its broader company culture rehaul, launched earlier this year?

BACB’s longstanding commitment to developing and maintaining a strong and healthy corporate culture was given new impetus last year through the creation of a culture and conduct steering panel, helping to bring the bank’s corporate values to life, and supporting distinct working-groups focused on a variety of issues.

The women’s network was founded within the diversity and inclusion group, focusing on creating a safe space for female members of staff to share their experiences and help develop their careers. It also allows us as an organisation to better engage with and understand the issues faced by our female colleagues.

Although the women’s network stands separately in some ways to other company culture initiatives, these work streams compliment one another to drive a cohesive shift in BACB’s culture and conduct.

What does the network hope to achieve?

The main goal of the women’s network is to ultimately improve the number of women in senior leadership positions in the bank. Across the organisation, there is a good balance of male and female employees; the challenge now is continuing to support and encourage these female employees to pursue leadership positions.

Already at BACB, women are taking high-level positions: our chief finance officer Louise Fitzgerald and our chief risk officer Isabella Pateman, for example. Strong female role models are essential if we are to inspire those in the early stages of their careers. One of our upcoming sessions encourages more junior employees to ‘interview’ senior employees, helping them to build informal mentorship relationships.

By nurturing existing employees, for example through BACB’s ‘High Potential Programme’, we are investing in a more diverse leadership team for the future. It is important that we develop the home-grown talent that already exists within our team, and we are committed to providing training and opportunities at all levels within the bank.

Often, these initiatives originate from employees themselves. Where did the idea for a women's network stem from? 

The creation of the women’s network stemmed from an issue that exists across the working world, where women tend to miss out on networking opportunities at work due to responsibilities at home. A collection of women in senior positions at BACB wanted to create a platform to support others in their careers and provide more accessible networking opportunities. At the same time, BACB’s commitment to implementing culture and conduct into its strategy meant that resources were available to establish and run the women’s network. We have the full support of our executive management team.

All the sessions held by the women’s network so far have come directly from employee suggestions, which is a trend that we hope to continue. These are the issues that employees say matter to them, meaning that they engage with the sessions and with each other.

By collaborating with our colleagues, we have created a women’s network that truly meets the needs of everyone.

Why is the network needed?

Women often have to try twice as hard to build their professional networks. After-work responsibilities, like childcare, traditionally fall into the hands of women, meaning they often miss out on networking events and casual evening socials. Creating an environment where women were not disadvantaged in this way was central to the ethos of the women’s network.

Once we created this platform, however, it became obvious that women needed the network for a variety of other reasons too. Creating a safe space, for women to discuss otherwise uncomfortable topics, arose in retrospect as something that the women’s network fulfilled. For some employees, when discussing topics such as menopause, admitted that it was the first time they had ever held such conversations in a professional environment. Having these important conversations has also helped with building networks; in discussing so-called ‘taboo’ issues together, the women at BACB are building relationships outside of their usual working teams.

What has the response been to the women's network? 

It’s been a great success. We cover a wide range of topics through the initiative, including parental leave and other issues that also affect our male colleagues. This means the network is fully inclusive; although it aims to support women in the workplace, it also encourages male employees to engage with important topics and share their own experiences.

Because of this, the network has also been well-received by male employees too. Including men in the conversation has also played a large role in fostering a better working environment, as employees of both genders are aware of issues that may arise and committed to making tangible changes. The success of the network can be seen in the high employee turnout at sessions: around 20% of all employees attend each session, with a good balance of male and female colleagues.

This level of participation means that the sessions have led to some real connections forming between employees, and for emotional sharing and bonding to occur.

How will the network impact the careers of women at BACB?

The women’s network, at its core, aims to encourage women at BACB to pursue more senior positions. It provides networking, connecting and development opportunities to women at all levels of the bank, forming valuable working relationships and offering essential role models to more junior employees.

To support this, BACB is a member of the Women in Banking and Finance (WIBF) programme, allowing ten junior employees to be mentored by senior figures at other financial institutions. We have also signed up to provide an unlimited number of senior mentors ourselves, with high-level members of staff joining the programme including our CEO Eddie Norton.

How will you measure the initiative's success? 

With culture and conduct, it can be hard to measure change. By its nature, these things can be very subjective. Despite this, we have received an overwhelming number of positive comments from employees who have attended the sessions. We welcome this feedback from employees, as it allows us to maintain the relevancy and quality of our networking events, and to ensure that employees still feel represented and supported by the initiative. In addition to the positive comments, turnout remains high at women’s network events and employees are continuing to engage with discussions and issues.

The women’s network has also created a lasting impact in BACB’s Wellbeing Agenda. Because of the efforts of this initiative, the current updates being made to HR policies include designated sections covering menopause, and other issues that directly affect women. The network has also raised several matters within the organisation. Each of these issues has been addressed already, or are in the process of being addressed, showing the efficiency of the network in creating tangible change for female members of staff. For example, discussions at one of our women’s network events led to a review of the maternity and adoption pay benefits, which increased from three months of full pay to six months of full pay.

What does empowerment look like?

Empowerment, for me, means creating a safe environment for women. If we, as women, feel safe to speak up about things that bother us, knowing that we will be heard, then we can start to make real changes. It is essential that we can hold open discussions on topics that affect women, and encourage men to listen to and learn.

Furthermore, by presenting opportunities and role models for women, we help them to access equal development and job potential. Focusing on developing our home-grown talent is incredibly important to the network; it is empowering to our employees when they are recognised for their talents and nurtured in this way.

Finally, it is vital that we are providing resources that women can access to empower themselves. At BACB, this means the creation of wellbeing policies, and the introduction of Wellbeing Champions, for employees to express themselves in a safe and supportive environment.