Management & Strategy

Networking for success

Paula Ickinger, Director of Products and Marketing at Santander Corporate & Commercial, reveals the progress made by Santander’s Women in Business network over the last year since launch, and explains how you can get involved.

Q: What is Santander’s Women in Business network?

A: Within Santander, the Women in Business network softly launched in 2012. Over the last 18 months we’ve gradually increased coverage across the business with a specific focus on providing support, connections and tools to help female colleagues meet their career objectives.

The principle driver, which links in with our broader diversity agenda, was to help build our talent pipeline. We also see our Women in Business network as a route to building an external support network for our customers, which we’ve embarked upon through our Breakthrough programme and the focus given to external development programmes.

Q: How is the Women in Business network structured?

A: The network has three key pillars: build awareness, build confidence and build business. These are delivered through various activities, such as mentoring, networking, learning, communication and connection events.

In the year since it launched, the network has been rolled out across the whole Santander Group. We have developed a partnership with the Everywoman network, which provides flexible and tailored learning and development solutions for all Santander UK employees. We have also completed one successful Women in Business Trade Mission and have another which will take place before the end of the year.

We have established both internal and external networking opportunities across our regions to support building local connections. We believe a Women in Business strategy will support our aim to become the best bank for our people, customers and shareholders.

Q: Why do women in particular benefit from access to a network such as this?

A: The reality is that, when you look at the number of men compared with the number of women in senior and executive positions across many sectors, there is a gender gap. Providing a network and, very importantly, access to female leaders from diverse backgrounds who have progressed their careers despite juggling the daily challenges of families and other interests, can provide a foundation for women to realise it is worth seeking more for their future careers.

A big challenge is the willingness of women to ‘take risks’ in their career and to be encouraged to try something new and learn from their experiences. This is what our mentoring support is all about – showing that there are ways to navigate and grow through personal experiences to provide a stronger platform for accelerating career progression.

Q: How many women/businesses are involved with the network now?

A: Internally, nearly 300 members of staff are registered as part of the network. Externally, the Breakthrough Women in Business Trade Mission to New York in 2012 had eleven attendees and ten attendees are planned for November’s Trade Mission. We have also established partnerships with Everywoman, Y2Uk and we ran an external ‘Women in Business’ course with Forward Ladies in the North.

Q: Do you have any examples of businesses which have benefited from engaging with the Women in Business network?

A: BIDBI (BagItDon’tBinIt) CEO Julia Gash, who attended the Women in Business Trade Mission to New York and Boston in 2012, has achieved successful overseas expansion thanks to the opportunities it provided. The business, which makes eco bags for the fashion and art industry, attributed just 3% profit to international export prior to the trip.

Today, Julia has created a separate international brand, Talented Totes, which increased sales by 15% last year and 30% this year, and led to the employment of three more people. She continues to benefit, both in support and commissions, from the network of business women she met on the Trade Mission and has used her experience as a stepping stone to expand in America, Japan and Canada.

“The Women in Business Trade Mission recipe was extremely effective and the benefits have been significant,” Julia enthuses. “It has spurred us on to create a different business model which is much stronger and more diverse.”

Q: What feedback have you had so far?

A: Externally, the Breakthrough Trade Missions provided the businesses that attended with invaluable opportunities to grow. Internally, feedback from colleagues is that the network is excellent for internal networking and support, providing opportunities to connect to different areas of the business and understand the stories behind our senior women. The Everywoman network has been very well received, with positive comments on its flexibility and the wide scope of topics and learning available.

All the signs are good that Santander will continue to remain a top UK employer for women with excellent opportunities for our female employees. And, with our customer network growing every day, there’s huge potential for the businesswomen of the future.

Q: Are there any Women in Business events coming up soon?

A: The next Women in Business Trade Mission to New York is taking place in November, taking ten women from UK businesses to the US so they can learn about expanding their business to an international level. They will meet experts and industry specific business contacts, who will provide them with information and the tools needed to develop within the US. Santander is also hosting a series of Enterprising Women Growth Programmes in Manchester from the end of October until the beginning of December, with interactive sessions and presentations to provide inspiration to female business people.

Q: How does a business get involved with the network?

A: A good place to start is our Breakthrough programme. Visit the website and get in touch to find our more: www.santanderbreakthrough.co.uk

For more information about Enterprising Women, visit: www.enterprising-women.org/business-support/growth-programme

To find out more about BIDBI, visit: www.bidbi.co.uk

For Talented Totes, go to: www.talented-totes.com

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