Fiona Cannon is the Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Lloyds Banking Group. For 25 years, Fiona has been a pioneer in promoting the diversity and inclusion agenda and was awarded an OBE in 2011 for her services to equality.
Fiona has spent her entire career helping women achieve their full potential. Under Fiona’s leadership, Lloyds became the first company to set a public goal for women in senior management. Recently awarded the top Stonewall award for Lloyds, Fiona is also the author of The Agility Mindset.
Congratulations on making the shortlist, how did it feel?
I was surprised and delighted! It was a real honour to have been shortlisted alongside such inspiring women.
Can you tell us about your career and how you came to your current role of Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Lloyds Banking Group?
Having worked in the field of diversity for almost 30 years, I first started working for an organisation called the Industrial Society in the women’s development department, where we ran women’s development training and programmes like Women Returners.
When I first started, you could count the number of organisations that had an executive looking at diversity on the fingers of one hand and so I have always largely created the jobs that I have had. I always considered myself to be a campaigner, but felt that I could achieve more by working within large organisations rather than for a campaigning organisation. I moved from the Industrial Society to work in TSB bank by requesting a secondment to work with one of the original diversity managers. Once on secondment, the role became permanent and I have remained in the financial services sector ever since.
While working within a company, I have also had the opportunity to work on public policy issues and have, for example, been the Deputy Chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission and a Non-Executive Director on the Government Equalities Board.
My current role is a recognition by Lloyds Banking Group of the strategic importance of diversity to the organisation.
The most important thing is to have a passion for what you do; surround yourself with people who challenge you, from whom you can learn and never be afraid to ask for what you want.
Diversity & inclusion is a hot topic with huge departments devoted to it, how have you seen the landscape change over the last 10 years & how do you see the future of diversity and inclusion evolving?
The diversity and inclusion field is virtually unrecognisable today from when I first started. I think the biggest difference is that it is genuinely recognised as a key business issue and not a ‘nice to have’ and that’s why so many companies are engaged with it now. Any company with customers will recognise the need to understand and meet the needs of their customers if they are to be successful.
The landscape has changed vastly – if you consider how far we have come with issues such as same sex marriage and LGBT issues in general, or shared parental leave, for example.
Having said that, there is still a lot of work to be done. Anyone reading the papers recently will be aware of the gender pay gap that still exists as a result of fewer women in senior management positions. So, there is still a need to keep the focus on making organisations truly meritocratic.
I think the big social and demographic changes we are seeing e.g. all of us living, and therefore potentially working for longer will mean that we will need to think more about intergenerational issues and how we can create organisations that can handle up to four generations in the workforce all with differing needs.
Inclusion will also become more important. Diversity in and of itself will not be enough to shift things. You can have as many diverse people in an organisation as you like, but if they don’t feel included and valued then you will just create a revolving door.
I’ve always considered myself a campaigner, but felt that I could achieve more by working within large organisations rather than for a campaigning organisation.
As a senior woman within your profession, what advice would you give to other women looking to progress in a similar field?
I think the most important thing is to have a passion for what you do, surround yourself with people who challenge you, from whom you can learn and never be afraid to ask for what you want. The worst thing that can happen is that someone says no.
Did you have a role model/sponsor/mentor who has helped you progress?
Of course. I don’t think you can be successful without someone in your corner. I have been lucky to have a number of sponsors and role models starting with my first boss at TSB, Julie Mellor. It is really important to have someone that can give you feedback about how you are doing, but who will also promote you to others when you are not in the room.
Best piece of career advice you’ve received?
Not to take things personally. If a meeting goes badly or someone has been particularly difficult in a presentation, for example, it can be tempting to brood over it and for it to knock your confidence. Of course, it’s important to understand whether you could have done something differently to have achieved a different outcome. But often, someone will be difficult for reasons that have nothing to do with you. The main thing is that you need to learn from it, put it to one side and move on.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about going part-time or asking for more flexible working hours?
I think it’s important to have considered the impact the change you are proposing is likely to have on the business. If you can talk to your line manager having thought about a solution and ways in which the role could be done that will not have a negative impact on the business, then I think line managers are much more likely to be open to considering a change. This may mean talking to your colleagues too in advance to discuss what the impact might mean for them and getting their support. Be clear what you want, but also how it could work for the business.
What are the highlights in your own career and why?
I do the job I do because I want to see change, so my highlights all relate to where I have been involved in something that has resulted in things being done in a different way. There are a lot of them! For example, I led the Employers for Childcare group in the 1990s that was campaigning for a national childcare strategy. There hadn’t been one and it was impacting on women’s ability to get back into the workplace. When the then government introduced a strategy which included Sure Start and free nursery places etc, it was a great moment. I was also part of the Work and Parents taskforce set up by the government to make recommendations for the introduction of the first flexible working legislation. This was a further step forward for parents to be able to balance their work and home life. And as Deputy Chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, I led the first investigation into pregnancy discrimination in the UK.
You’ve recently launched a new book; The Agility Mindset, which looks into reframing the approach to flexible working. Can you tell us a little about the response to the book?
The response to the book has been great. This is a topic of interest to a great many people and has been for some time. But I think the framing of the debate away from traditional flexible working, which has largely been seen as a cost to the employer and a benefit to the employee, towards agile working which has a benefit for both, has created a lot of discussion and interest. Everyone is grappling with the massive changes that we are seeing in how we live and work and organisations need to adapt to survive. But so too do employees. If you consider that most organisations are based on a 9-5, five days a week, 16-60 model, it’s clear that we need to create a new model of work that is able to respond to the digital age and the social and demographic changes we are facing.
Can you give us an example of where The Agility Mindset has seen real positive results?
Well, the book gives many examples of where companies have seen an increase in productivity of up to 10% for example, as a result of changing the way work is organised. We are seeing more and more companies experimenting with different models of work e.g. 2 weeks on/2 weeks off; pop up offices away from the centre of town; remote working using technology to keep in touch.
Don’t take things things personally. If a meeting goes badly or someone has been particularly difficult it can be tempting to brood over it and knock your confidence. But often, someone will be difficult for reasons that have nothing to do with you. The main thing is that you need to learn from it, put it to one side and move on.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
I know this will be a cliché, but there is no typical day for me. I will generally have a least one committee to attend; meetings with my team to monitor progress against action plans; external meetings with people or organisations to discuss collaborations/campaigns. I have just taken over responsibility for our Responsible Business agenda along with the Inclusion and Diversity work and so I may also now be working with our Lloyds Banking Group Foundations (Lloyds Banking Group is the largest corporate giver to charity in the UK through the Foundations) or looking at what we should be doing on sustainability.
How do you like to wind-down in your free time?
Nothing very exciting here, I’m afraid. I run, watch terrible TV and try to spend as much time with my kids as they will allow me to, now that they are teenagers.
Do you think the way we dress in the workplace has a direct impact on our careers?
I think the way you dress is important. Firstly, for the confidence it gives you when you know you’re looking good. But also because I think people take you more seriously if you look professional and are serious about the way you look. That’s not to say that it’s the most important thing – clearly the priority is being able to do the job. But paying a bit of attention to the way you look can just help give you that extra edge.
Lastly, which items from The Fold do you have your eye on and why?
At the moment, it’s the Arlington. It’s easy to wear and just like all the Fold clothes, it has a slight twist.
I do the job I do because I want to see change, so my highlights all relate to where I have been involved in something that has resulted in things being done in a different way.
How could we be more productive today?
Stop commuting into the centre of towns for 2 hours every day; use technology such as Skype, Webex rather than travelling to endless meetings.
Job satisfaction is…
Changing the status quo.
Why do we need women at the top?
Because companies with more diversity are more profitable and talent doesn’t just exist in one half of the population.
The Fold Sessions: Episode 1. Fiona Cannon – The Diversity Champion
We sit down for a candid conversation with Fiona to discuss everything from effecting change ‘from the inside’, to her approach to flexible working and getting more women on the board.