A BUILDING society is set to have over 50 per cent of its senior roles filled by women.

The Cumberland has achieved this more than two years ahead of its own target of April 2025.

It means a rise of over 30 per cent in the number of senior positions occupied by women in just five years, which is all the more notable in the traditionally male-dominated finance sector.

Susanne Parry is The Cumberland’s chief operating officer and among the women in senior positions who have been reflecting, this International Women's Day, how much the dial has shifted on equality and diversity.

“I have been in finance for around 30 years and I remember going to my first Building Society Association conference," she said. "It was a room full of men in grey suits and I stood out like a sore thumb.

“The industry has changed since then, but nothing like to the extent that we have seen.

“The rapid improvement we have seen recently has been because we very consciously set a target and looked for ways of hitting it.

“The Cumberland has gone through a huge cultural change and a shift towards an organisation where you are encouraged to question, challenge and think differently.”

A cultural change is one of the key benefits to any business that can improve its gender balance according to Claire Deekes, The Cumberland’s chief customer officer and Cumbria LEP board member. 

“The key for me is ensuring we get a diversity of thought in the business," she said. "Everyone brings a different perspective and enriches the discussions within the senior leadership team and board. People have different skill sets, thought processes and life experience to draw upon and as a woman you can bring a different perspective."

To achieve its target of having half of senior roles filled by women, The Cumberland has focused on a number of initiatives to support women including flexible working policies and mentoring programmes.

Jill Johnston, The Cumberland’s chief people officer, believes that the disruption of the pandemic helped accelerate the change too.

“We signed up to the Women in Finance charter which gave us some direction and we have done a lot of work around family friendly policies," she said.

"I do think that the pandemic, whilst in many ways causing significant challenges for family life, actually showed us how people were able to work in different ways which helped The Cumberland to become more family friendly.”