NatWest pledges to boost number of black staff in senior roles

Kalyeena Makortoff Banking correspondent
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Nick Ansell/PA</span>
Photograph: Nick Ansell/PA

NatWest Group has pledged to boost the number of black staff in senior roles from 1% to 3%, as part of a new racial equality pledge that also includes shutting the accounts of customers who racially abuse its workers.

The move follows a four-month review into the experiences of the bank’s black staff, in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by US police in May. “That led to us having very open and, on occasion, very emotional and difficult conversations with our colleagues about their lived experience,” NatWest’s chief executive, Alison Rose, told the Guardian.

A survey of nearly 22,000 of NatWest’s 63,000 staff found that while 79% felt all employees had the same opportunities at the bank, that dropped to 28% among its black workers in the UK. Some also said they felt NatWest’s recruitment process was skewed by racial bias.

Only 63% of black staff felt they could be themselves at work without worrying about whether they would be accepted – usually leading to changes in the way they spoke or dressed in order to cope and advance in a predominantly white workforce. That compares with 93% of white colleagues who said they felt comfortable.

A taskforce led by black and minority ethnic (BAME) employees has set 10 commitments to increase diversity and inclusion of both its black staff and customers. Those commitments will lead to more BAME staff being included on interview panels, making sure adverts feature more people from BAME backgrounds and introducing training that will give white staff the tools to support black colleagues.

Rose said: “What our taskforce showed was that there is a bigger difference for our black colleagues than there was for other sorts of minority groups.”

The pledges are meant to help NatWest – formerly Royal Bank of Scotland – increase the number of black staff in senior roles to 3% in line with the black population in England and Wales. Roughly 1% or 88 of NatWest’s 8,800 senior staff are black. If targets are met, that figure will increase to about 264 by 2025.

They build on NatWest’s wider BAME targets, meant to increase the number of non-white staff in senior roles to 14% by 2025. BAME colleagues make up 10% of senior roles. The bank’s median ethnicity pay gap stands at 15.7%

Lloyds Banking Group has set a similar target of 3% for black staff in senior roles, which will mean recruiting or promoting about 168 more black colleagues by 2024, from its base of 40. HSBC pledged to “at least double” the number of black people in director-level positions by 2025, but admitted it does not know the exact number of minority ethnic individuals in senior positions across the business.

Sam Okafor, a regional director for NatWest who is helping to lead the taskforce, said the review proved that more needed to be done to support black colleagues who make up 2% of NatWest’s total UK staff. “Do I see enough black role models in the organisation? No. Have I been through interview panels where it’s been all white interview panels? Yes.

“I’ve really enjoyed the 20 years I worked for the organisation, but I also know the challenges and the barriers that I face as a black man working in the organisation.”

NatWest reiterated its zero tolerance for racial discrimination, and confirmed it will close the accounts of any customers who racially abuse its workers. “That’s a non-negotiable point, our colleagues should be treated with respect,” Rose said.

Race equality thinktanks including the Runnymede Trust welcomed NatWest’s pledge, but said the 3% target was just the starting point. “Representation is a key issue, particularly within a sector like banking that has historically been very white and middle/upper class. The 3% target is a great target – although it is sad that we are not there yet – and once reached should be reviewed and changed accordingly.”

A recent survey by Business in the Community (BitC) found black people held just 1.5% of the 3.7m leadership positions across the UK’s public and private sectors in 2019.

Sandar Kerr, BiTC’s race relations director, said: “It is important that employers set targets that are achievable. We encourage them to use the demographic data as a benchmark – which is obviously what NatWest has done and they should be commended for doing this.”

While NatWest has one BAME colleague – Yasmin Jetha – on its board, it does not have any black executive or board members. Asked when NatWest would be led by a black chief executive, Rose – who became the first woman to lead a major UK bank last year – said: “I think that’s hopefully soon.”