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Financial services organisation State Street has been quick to respond to the government target of 25% female representation on boards by 2015. Boasting a 50/50 gender split in employee population and 39% female representation on boards, how has the organisation built a ladder to the top for their female employees? Hazel Keating, head of HR EMEA, shares the journey with Katie Richard.

What does your role entail and who do you report into?

I’m responsible for HR and corporate citizenship for State Street EMEA and I report to Alison Quirk, the global head of HR and corporate citizenship. Alison serves on the management committee of State Street and reports to our CEO, Jay Hooley.

In 2012, State Street’s CEO set organisational performance goals to increase representation of women at senior management level by 5% in three years. Why is gender diversity so important to the business?

Our gender diversity goal is driven by a fundamental belief that our employee base needs to reflect the best talent available in the communities in which we live and work. We also know that having a diverse culture is inextricably linked to improved company performance, fostering innovation and finding more creative solutions for our clients.

Women at State Street currently make up 50% of our population, but like many other organisations, we found that this becomes less balanced the further up the organisation we go. As we do with every facet of our business goals, establishing goals and measuring progress over time enables us to accurately gauge success.

Your EMEA executive board is now 39% female. What actions and initiatives helped you achieve this?

There were a number of contributing factors. We have a strong commitment from the top with a clear vision for why we believe this is crucial for our clients and our business success. We also have enlightened decision makers (i.e. our executives) who had been through our unconscious bias training program and were very focused on what skills and experience they were looking for as well as actively seeking to hire diversely in order to have a team with a wider range of perspectives.

Our executives were also willing to take the time needed for more extensive search for great talent. We also had diverse interviewer panels that helped ensure we made the best decisions.

What had to change in the organisation to reach such high levels of female representation so quickly? Did you encounter any challenges while reaching for this goal?

Pressure to fill positions quickly often gets in the way of building strong and diverse candidate slates.  As a result of the strong commitment for change, hiring managers were more willing to take time to build a diverse and rich candidate slate and search for talent in places we hadn’t historically looked. Once managers experienced the benefits of this, they no longer needed convincing and in fact they themselves became great advocates for taking more time and thinking creatively about where to find the skills and experience they were looking for.

This year, 58% of senior management promotions in EMEA at State Street were women. What business changes contributed to this shift?

Our strong success came as a result of a focus on strengthening our female pipeline with programmes and initiatives aimed at supporting the development and progression of women, like targeted mentoring, coaching and opportunities for greater exposure to senior management.

Our executive promotion criteria has not changed and we have a comprehensive review process led by committees of State Street executives. Candidates are evaluated against a consistent set of criteria including talent differentiators, leadership behaviours and our core values. All members of the executive promotion selection committees undergo mandatory training in unconscious bias.

A criticism of enforcing gender quotas has been that positions should be filled based on skills and qualifications for the position, not to fill a quota. Have you encountered this criticism before and how have you responded?

We need to put a spotlight on this issue. No matter how well-intentioned our efforts have been in the past, we’re not seeing change at a fast enough pace at every level. It’s a misconception that by setting gender goals we’ll no longer hire the best person for the job, but instead hire a woman to meet those goals. With unbiased, robust selection processes in place we’ll continue to choose the best people for the job.

We need to consider the whole organisation – simply recruiting women is not enough to enact change, in the same way it’s not enough to simply promote women. For this to have a lasting impact and create sustainable change, we need a holistic approach to recruiting, promoting and developing a pipeline of female talent.

How has the shift of gender balance affected the business? Have you seen any organisational impact?

I definitely see a difference. There is more challenge and debate and a wider range of perspectives brought to the table. It’s early days but we’re committed to having all kinds of diversity at every level to help fundamentally achieve what’s best for our clients, our shareholders, our communities and ourselves.

You’re a senior-level professional working in a company that champions women in leadership. How has this environment nurtured your own career progression?

Witnessing the amount of personal commitment and the value placed on inclusivity here is one of the main reasons I love my job and this company. There is a very strong desire here to ‘do the right thing,’ and when you’re surrounded by people who have that in common, it makes a great place to work. 

Any advice for other HR professionals who are looking to achieve gender balance in the workplace?

Strong commitment from the top helps gain wider commitment. Meet business leaders where they are rather than where you are – for example, if they’re genuinely challenged in understanding the business case, then talk that through.

Do the same for your HR colleagues and don’t assume that they automatically ‘get it’. Focus on the education side of this for as long as it takes so that commitment is sincere and long lasting. Understand that it takes lots of action across all HR disciplines – ensure all your colleagues are engaged and know they have a role to play.

I’ve been delighted by the focus, commitment and creativity a number of our leaders, our whole female executive-level community, our womens networks and our HR team have had around this. Without a doubt, it’s the collective effort that has helped us make progress.

State Street is one of the world’s leading providers of financial services to institutional investors including investment servicing, investment management and investment research and trading. With $27.4 trillion in assets under custody and administration and $2.3 trillion in assets under management State Street operates in more than 100 geographic markets worldwide.

Written by Katie Richard, online content editor, Changeboard

Katie Richard, online content editor, Changeboard

Online content editor for Changeboard; Canadian in London; lover of books, magazines & design.

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