As you'll know from my previous blog, Lloyds Banking Group is sponsoring the First Women Awards again this year as part of our efforts to help drive forward the gender equality agenda in the UK. As the shortlist for this year has now been announced, I'm mindful of the fact that, to the onlookers from smaller organisations, our focus on gender equality may sometimes seem far removed from their world and the solutions they may be considering to address their own gender issues.
But gender imbalance in management levels is a problem common to us all, shared across sectors. Aside from high profile activities like the Awards, Lloyds Banking Group's approach to addressing the issues shouldn't be very so very different from that of other companies.
I'm a great believer that if we can keep things simple, we should. And trying to address the gender gap is no exception. One of the most successful measures we've introduced at Lloyds Banking Group over the past year is a role models programme. It was a very simple idea but has been phenomenally successful.
Our top forty women have all held discussion sessions with a small number of women at the band below them - discussing how they got to where they are and giving advice on how to be successful in the organisation. Those women then commit to running similar sessions for women in the band below them. By doing this, we are cascading the programme down the organisation, which means that women not only get to hear how our most senior females got to the top, but also hear how those in the band above them got there too. This practical support helps make career progression seem more achievable and the guests get access to role models relevant to them, at their stage of their career, in a meaningful and hands on way. The feedback we've had from both hosts and guests has been incredibly positive.
The discussions are face to face, personal and unscripted. They don't require anything other than a short briefing note to the host of the session, a room big enough to accommodate the guests and, usually, some coffee! And once the programme started it had a snowball effect, creating its own momentum, attracting an increasing number of enthusiastic hosts and participants along the way.
Of course, I'm not suggesting that this is a panacea for the UK's gender issues and it will clearly need to be part of a broader approach, but it's worked for us and is so simple that any organisation, regardless of size or resources, can implement it to make sure that women have access to those above them and can follow in their footsteps. I'd like to think that, in the not too distant future, we won't need to be celebrating the 'first woman to...' because behind them will be the second, third and fourth woman to achieve that same goal.