Santander shares insight on building a ‘truly inclusive’ organisation

Diversity and inclusion are increasingly prominent in business strategies but there remains a world of difference between meeting the mandate set by law and being a truly inclusive company.

Santander UK places a high value on diversity and inclusion and has invested significant time and resources into this area of employee wellbeing since 2016.  Santander UK is a Gympass partner and as part of this relationship, its Head of Culture & Inclusion, Damien Shieber, was invited to speak at the recent Gympass Virtual Wellbeing Unplugged event on the topic of ‘Diversity and Inclusion in Action’. The aim of the webinar was to gain insight from Santander about shaping a culture that promotes everyday inclusion and the behaviours that we can demonstrate every day to make everybody feel respected, valued, and able to contribute.

As the keynote speaker for this event, Damien shared insight around the importance of building an inclusive culture in the workplace and explained how Santander built its strategy which has been recognised with Santander being a Times Top 50 Employer for Women, Top 20 Social Mobility Index Organisation and receiving the Top Employer certification by the Top Employers Institute.

‘Truly inclusive’

Firstly, Damien noted the point around addressing the journey to being a truly inclusive organisation and shared the transition pathway from ‘Compliance’ to ‘Belonging’.

1)  Compliance is where you comply with equal opportunities legislation: it’s mandatory

2)   Diversity is where you start to strengthen diversity and build a representation that reflects what you see in your workplace. The transition starts here and leads to…

3)   Inclusion where you start to drive inclusivity through your culture, working practices and day-to-day colleague experiences

4)   Belonging is a state of being truly inclusive where a sense of psychological safety enables colleagues to be their true selves without fear of judgement

Four Pillars

Santander has built its diversity and inclusion strategy around four core pillars comprising:

  • Accountability and Commitment
  • Awareness, Education and Training
  • Aligning Talent and Diversity
  • Enhancing Inclusive Brand

The first pillar starts with ensuring executive buy-in to the diversity and inclusion objectives which are also embedded into leadership and performance management. Awareness, Education and Training follow such as unconscious bias training to over 2,300 people managers. Aligning Talent and Diversity sees key programmes to support women’s professional development which has included “Accelerating You” attended by over 400 high potential female leaders.  Enhancing Inclusive Brand shows the culmination of the internal work which is also reflected externally and recognised by the employees, customers and the wider market.

Empathy & Compassion

“We aim to create a thriving workplace at Santander that prioritises diversity and inclusion, promotes wellbeing and supports and develops our people,” says Damien.  Success to Santander is engaging everyone on inclusion. Key to its inclusive culture strategy is a wide range of eight employee-led people networks which are open for all colleagues to join.

The networks provide a community, support, and point of contact for colleagues and give everyone a voice and a platform from which to speak and act freely and openly.

“Organisations that focus on empathy and compassion have a better retention of talent and also a more attractive employer brand for people to join,” says Damien, believing that diversity and inclusion can boost business prospects as well as job satisfaction and psychological safety among employees.

No quick fix

Damien is quick to point out there is no ‘quick fix’ to inclusion. “Targets and ambitions are a good starting point, but they do not build true inclusivity,” he says. “You will need meaningful initiatives with clear measurements and irrefutable data to track your progress and guide your direction.”

Nudges in the right direction

To build a culture of diversity and inclusion, different people will need to be nudged in different ways. Santander breaks these down into three sides of a pyramid – there is no ‘right order’ as such: each type of nudge can be deployed whenever needed.

Perception Nudges: target the underlying perceptions of organisational behaviour to bring about a change in understanding, resulting in a change in behaviour.

Motivation Nudges: encourage people to care about a change, for example by referencing other people’s behaviour to highlight what is acceptable and desirable.

Ability and Simplicity Nudges: ensure people don’t feel it’s too much effort to carry out a desired behaviour. The simpler/easier they are, the more likely they will carry it out.

More to learn

“We were delighted to host Santander on our Virtual Wellbeing Unplugged event and really appreciated Damien’s honesty and integrity sharing elements of Santander’s journey in diversity and inclusion,” says Luke Bullen, Gympass CEO UK/IE. “It may feel that D&I is just coming into its own, but we can all learn from businesses like Santander that have been addressing these issues for several years. We are very grateful for Damien’s insight and hope it will spark greater creativity and commitment among other businesses.”

To see the Gympass Wellbeing Unplugged Event visit: