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Barclays CEO Ian Rand’s journey to diverse and inclusive leadership

Ian Rand

Barclays CEO Ian Rand’s journey to diverse and inclusive leadership

As founding members of the United Nations’ HeForShe campaign, Barclays has tasked its male workforce with making a commitment to the advancement of women across the bank.

As CEO of Business Banking, Ian Rand is a driving force behind the financial institution’s strive for gender parity. Here, he shares his own personal journey across the diversity and inclusion landscape and what he’s learned about what it takes to elevate more women to positions of power and influence.

Was there an ‘A-ha!’ moment that set you on the path to becoming a male ambassador of change for women in the financial sector?

Prior to working in banking, I spent 12 years serving in the British Army. Within a matter of days, I went from that heavily male and high-intensity environment, to working for a very diverse American bank. I thought I’d left the military a well-trained and capable leader, but one day a senior female manager approached me regarding her maternity leave, and I had no idea what I was supposed to say. I realised there was a big gap in my skillset; that if I wanted to become a true leader in this new world, I had to embark on a journey. What I quickly realised, is that many other men struggle with similar issues, and that I had a responsibility to start a conversation.

What help was available to you as a leader wanting to embark on a process of transformation where diversity and inclusion were concerned?

Powerful role models have been crucial to my awakening as a diverse and inclusive leader. I’ve been surrounded by a lot of very senior women—some of whom I worked for, others who worked for or with me—who were more than happy to grab me after meetings and point out when I could have phrased things in a way that would have landed better. I’m a huge believer that micro-attitudes change cultures, and so it was incredibly useful to be surrounded by women who I could reach out to for help and guidance when I was in particularly challenging situations.

There was one particular male boss too, who informed a great deal of my thinking. You could say he was a typical alpha male banker. In one meeting, we were discussing the issue of whether we could accommodate a senior manager who wanted to return from maternity leave on a part time basis. I expected a very macho, dismissive response, but what he said surprised me. He asked his report to come up with a plan for how it could work, how we could do the right thing. He’d taken the same solution-orientated approach he’d have taken to closing a financial deal. That’s when I realised that it’s ok to be punchy about gender diversity, to talk about the challenges in blunt terms. By taking this honest language approach, my experience is that you can deal with things much more openly.

Which of Barclays’ initiatives to drive the attraction, retention and advancement of women are you most proud?

There was a time when the American air force was wondering why they didn’t have any female senior officers. They examined their processes and found that they’d created a set of systems whereby you could really only get to that level if you’d been a fighter pilot. Very few women were fighter pilots, so, guess what, there was no clear pathway for women to reach the top. Historically, in banking, a golden pathway to director level meant working in roles where you’d entertain clients in the evenings and work on deals over weekends. None of which is particularly attractive to women who are often primary carers in the home. So something we’ve done is create flexibility, job sharing and part time opportunities in relationship manager roles.

The other thing we did stemmed from us knowing that we have a lot of women dropping out at Vice President level, often because they’re starting families. We got our leaders together and asked them to identify all the women at that level who had the potential to go further. Those women then met with professional coaches in small groups and the results were fascinating.

The biggest realisation for me was that many of those women had no idea whatsoever that they were thought of as high potential. They had good, well-paid jobs, had worked hard to strike a work/life balance, and they thought that they had reached their peak. They hadn’t been pushing for more, and, as a result, their manager hadn’t invested in their development or promotion. The transformation that came out of the programme was remarkable. Many are now in much more senior roles. They’ve set their own terms, working part time where that’s the only way it could work for them. Bottom line? I’d take the best candidate for three days a week any time, over a lesser candidate for five days. I’m incredibly proud of the differences we’ve made with those women and their careers.

What’s the biggest on-going challenge you face in your quest for a gender diverse Barclays?

The culture and strategy of an organisation is defined by those at the top. But if, ten layers down in an organisation, you have a woman who’s worried about asking for flexibility because of the impact it could have on her career prospects, then something isn’t working. It’s hard enough to get that right when you’re all working together in one building, but when you’re dispersed geographically, what happens is that the experience of men and women in a particular office is governed by how that manager behaves. That’s why it’s so important that we’re having the conversation openly, that I’m getting out there and talking to men and women about their day-to-day lives in the firm.

In my experience, most managers want to do the right thing, and the moment they realise they aren’t, they’ll change in a heartbeat. But that only happens if we’re honest with each other. That’s why I talk so openly about the mistakes I’ve made around diversity and inclusion. The most important thing you can give leaders, I think, is a license to acknowledge that they don’t know everything. So that they can put their hands up and admit when they’re struggling. The HeForShe campaign wants us to be champions, and the way to do that is to not only talk about what we’re doing well, but also about what we’re doing badly and how we can support each other. We can only become better champions if we have that second conversation.