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Employee resource groups: AIB case study

The bank has developed a number of programmes designed to foster inclusion

AIB has developed a number of employee resource groups (ERGs) designed to foster inclusion and support staff, including Women Matters and Family Matters.

"AIB established a Women Matters group to support women to be at their best and to pave a path for women to advance into leadership positions. While women represent just over half of AIB's total workforce, they remain under-represented in the more senior managerial levels. Women Matters is playing a key role towards improving that position," says Mary Kennedy, who heads up the Women Matters ERG.

Fostering female inclusiveness is important for the organisation as a whole. “Keeping women at the table makes good business sense. Companies with greater gender diversity perform better, make better decisions and achieve superior customer outcomes. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” she says.

Key to the initiative’s success is that it brings male colleagues on the equality journey too, and secures the support of the senior leadership team.


The Women Matters ERG launched a Mentor Her programme in 2018, matching some of its female employees with – male or female – colleagues from other parts of the organisation. “The mentor is someone who can objectively advise and help their mentee as they navigate their career journey,” says Kennedy, who says the initiative has proven hugely successful, with tremendous feedback received from the participants.

“The programme has multiple benefits, helping the mentees to better command their own career path, while also providing them with a network, both through their mentor’s contacts and across the broader mentee group,” she explains.

Networking is itself an important strategic objective for the group. “The ability to network is of key importance in establishing and progressing one’s career. Yet women are known to often shy away from a networking opportunity or event. While women are typically regarded as being more social than men, according to a 2018 study by McKinsey, women tend to network considerably less than men,” she points out.

AIB has sponsored the 30% Club – a campaign group which aims to increase the number of women on corporate boards – to introduce Network 30, a collaborative network of sharing and learning.

Strong role models

The forum allows women the opportunity to identify strong role models, find mentors and sponsors and to progress their career paths. “Importantly, we encourage men to be involved in this network. It is everyone helping one another, which in turn will reap considerable benefits to the financial services industry and to society as a whole,” she says.

The ERG looks at why women are under-represented at senior AIB business levels, and sets out to identify the points at which women are “falling or stepping off the career ladder”, Kennedy says.

It identified that a woman’s maternity or adoptive leave experience can have a defining influence on her long-term career prospects and, indeed, her career aspirations.

“We identified the importance of inclusive leadership to ensure we support women through key life events and that, in turn, we enable them to remain seated at the table,” says Kennedy.

On foot of that work, AIB partnered with external consultants to roll out group-wide training for its people leaders, to support them in managing inclusively.

“The key aim is to ensure that the maternity leave experience, and indeed any key life event journey, within AIB is a positive one for all our people. We also strongly recognise the support that AIB’s working dads need in juggling work-life balance and achieving balance in our modern society today.” Promoting flexible working arrangements is an important part of that.

That's a theme echoed by John Reilly, who leads the Family Matters ERG in AIB. He became involved because he welcomed the opportunity to make a positive change in the organisation.

The Family Matters ERG looks at issues such as childcare, eldercare and other major life events. It has run information-raising initiatives around a range of topics such as living with teens, learning about dyslexia, making a will, internet safety for children and optimising work-life balance. “We take a holistic approach to the whole circle of life and how it impacts on staff,” says Reilly.

The group takes soundings to find out what issues staff would most like to explore. One that came back strongly was around the area of staff undergoing fertility treatments such as IVF.

This resulted in the creation of more inclusive policies facilitating the schedule of appointments that such treatments involve, as well as some soft skills support for line managers whose team members are undergoing such treatments. “It’s about ensuring people don’t have to hide those times of vulnerability,” says Reilly.

Through all the topics covered in the ERGs, the aim is to boost “openness and awareness, to show there is nothing we can’t cope with”, he says.

There are six ERGs in total, including ones dedicated to ability, ethnicity and LGBTQ. Each plays a key role in supporting diversity and inclusion in AIB.

“We share a collective purpose in wanting all of our people to feel that they can bring their true selves to work each day. Fostering an inclusive environment is paramount to achieving same. We all want to be included, to be heard and, importantly, to feel that we are valued,” says Mary Kennedy.

“What makes people happy in their workplace are the same things that make people happy in their lives – a sense of belonging, social connections and a purpose or meaning.”

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell is a contributor to The Irish Times