How Citigroup became an award-winning diversity champion

The war for talent is intensifying and one of the chief battlegrounds is the drive for greater gender diversity. With the gender pay gap alone still standing at 14.4% for full-time staff, rising to 43.2% for part-time workers, it is a battle many seem to be losing. Simon Kent discovers how international financial services company Citigroup won the Opportunity Now City Focus Award for Commitment to Female Talent.


Having recognised the need to address the retention and progression of female talent in the company only last year, Citigroup introduced a number of initiatives, from networking to recruitment techniques and achieved remarkable success.


The Europe, Middle East and Americas (EMEA) operating committee has risen from 9% to 14% female, while 37% of graduate intake is now female, compared to an industry standard of 25%. The proportion of female managing directors in the company has risen by 4% in the past two years.


Lynne Fisher, head of diversity and talent management, said the organisation’s success has come through the use of ‘100-day task teams’ – groups made up of diverse employees who were charged with delivering solutions to strict and short deadlines.


“The teams had to be diverse – they had to include people from different countries across the EMEA region, different disciplines and be a mix of men and women,” she said. “We wanted to see results quickly rather than making recommendations for consideration by management. This approach had a clear action focus and suited our results-focused culture.”


The teams were sponsored by senior managers. Fisher said they energised the work through their commitment as well as ensuring the team’s activities remained constant on the task in hand.


Each team identified innovative practice and delivered pilot schemes in their particular area. Successful pilots were then adopted and developed by the diversity function and HR who expanded initiatives across functions and company businesses.


One initiative has seen the introduction of a mentoring programme which links female employees with the most senior person in their particular business. “The women were selected carefully to ensure they were at key points in their career,” said Fisher, “They had just returned from maternity or perhaps were due for a promotion.”


This mentoring structure also raised awareness of female workers in the organisation since it opened a channel of communication which was previously not there.


“Areas like the trading floor are male dominated so it’s rare to find women reporting to senior managers in these areas,” Fisher said, “The mentoring process gave them that opportunity so it served as an educational process as well”


Citigroup reports an impressive 82% of women returning to work following maternity leave while 32% of participants who took part in its ‘Coaching for Success’ programme have since been promoted.


“Our programmes have raised awareness of the issue throughout the company,” said Fisher. “But the real key to success is that it has been driven by the employees themselves. It’s the only way you can make change happen in business.”


While acknowledging the success of their work so far, Fisher knows there is still some way to go before the organisation achieves diversity as an automatic part of its operations.


“I think diversity still needs a special focus to get people to think about how it impacts on their role,” she said, “But this is about change management and it could take five years to really embed.”

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