RBS Focused Women’s Network

RBS Focused Women’s Network

Heather Melville is the Founder and Global Chair of the network, one of the largest employee networks in the world. She tells us more about the network and their awesome work.

We’d love to know more about the history of the network and how it got started

I established the network together with the small group of women (volunteers from across the bank) in 2007. The link we had was we were passionate about developing the female talent pipeline and creating a voice that would be listened to by the business, for the business.

At that time there were no other networks in RBS, so we had to work really hard to demonstrate the benefits to both our colleagues, who were members, the wider business and of course our clients, who many have supported us from the very beginning, by speaking at our business conferences and supporting us through many of the charities we work with. Today we have an established membership of circa 10,000 members globally in more than 30 countries, with 12 regional committees, working to attract, develop and retain female talent, all volunteers, who are passionate about living and working in a diverse community.

Photo : Heather Melville, Director of Strategic Partnerships, RBS, and Founder and Global Chair of the Focused Women’s Network.

Why is a network like Focused Women needed?

It is a fact that financial services is still very male dominated, especially at the senior level. With many talented women, feeling they don’t have the opportunities afforded to their male colleagues. You need a strong network to support you throughout your career and many women feel that with family and other commitments, they don’t have the time to attend networking events.

Focused Women provide the opportunities for our members to explore career paths within the Bank, we support them through a range of workshops and events to help them develop the confidence to apply for senior positions, meet senior female leaders, share experience, get support from male members through mentorship and coaching, continuously learn and develop, and most importantly – network and support each other. Diversity in general and gender diversity in particular lead to better understanding the needs of our clients, making sure together we are building the better bank, gaining trust and loyalty. Focused Women play an essential role in building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with our clients through personal development workshops, networking events and conferences.

What’s the purpose of the network?

Our mission statement is to attract, develop and retain female talent within the organisation and beyond.

“It is a fact that financial services is still very male dominated, especially at the senior level. With many talented women, feeling they don’t have the opportunities afforded to their male colleagues.”

How do you engage with your members?

There are 12 regional committees globally and each committee delivers tailored programmes of events for the members that respond to their local needs, based on feedback and global survey. There is a great variety of events, like personal development events, networking and client events, charity balls, self-defence and wellbeing workshops and many more. We have developed our social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, so even our members who are on long term leave and don’t have access to the Bank systems can still stay touch and attend the events. We provide regular updates through newsletters, where we also acknowledge our valuable volunteers, without whom we couldn’t run the network so efficiently.

“Having the support of the senior exec is critical to our success as it sends a clear message to everyone that the network is an integral part of how we communicate with our colleagues and the fact that we are serious about our female talent.”

Is the network accessible to all employees within RBS?

Absolutely! Anyone working for RBS permanently or contracting can become a FW member, we pride ourselves on being an inclusive network.

How is the network coordinated?

There is a global committee as well as 12 regional committees, each having a chair or co-chairs and functional leads – personal development manager, communications manager, treasurer and CSR manager.

Photo : An inclusive and informative Focused Women network event in action.

Do you have support from senior figures within RBS and how important do you think this visible support is?

Having the support of the senior exec is critical to our success as it sends a clear message to everyone that the network is an integral part of how we communicate with our colleagues and the fact that we are serious about our female talent. Our headline event is Focused Women’s Week, which is a week of inspirational events, including clients, employees and senior executives from the bank.

We have been privileged to have secured our Group Chairman, as well as NED’s and Divisional CEO’s. It’s usually at these events our members have the opportunity to meet and hear senior executives directly sharing their personal career journey as well as the important role that the network plays in fulfilling the gender agenda. Up until his retirement in December 2014, we were privileged to have the CEO of Corporate Banking, Chris Sullivan, as our Executive Sponsor. Today, our Executive Sponsor is Alison Rose, CEO Commercial and Private, who is also passionate about the attraction, development and retention of the female talent.

Do you have many visible senior female role models within RBS and do they engage with the network?

Senior female role models actively engage with the FWN, by supporting our events by sharing their personal experiences of balancing family life with a demanding job and participating in panels at our conferences. Many also provide personal mentoring and coaching sessions to our members.

Do you have a Role Model (s) and how important do you think Role Models are?

I have a few role models to name a few, my mother was a very inspirational person in my life, but then so is Oprah Winfrey! Fortunately throughout my career, I have worked for some great leaders, male and female, who have shown me the difference between being a manager and leader of people. Without their support, I could never have set up such a huge network, run solely by volunteers. There is a special skill required to lead a team of people who are not paid employees and deliver such high quality initiatives, on top of their day to day responsibilities!

What do you enjoy most from being involved in the network?

The most enjoyable thing is to see the devotion and passion of our volunteers, how they grow and progress by giving their time and positive energy for the great cause – cultural change within the bank.

Do you have a personal highlight?

Yes, I have couple of highlights to mention:
Winner of the 2010 Champion for Women (Women in Banking & Finance) and being recognised in the Top 100 World of Difference Award 2013 (TIAW) Making a difference to the economic empowerment of Women.

Do you think there are different challenges for women in the workplace?

There are different challenges for different individuals in the workplace. We are focusing on encouraging people to support each other, share experiences and knowledge, mentor and coach, help them to explore opportunities for public speaking, become visible and vocal, and boost the confidence. There are still a lot of stereotypes and biases, very often we create barriers ourselves, and our role is to inspire our members, both women and men, to break those barriers and flourish and enjoy what they do, fulfilling their potential. Sometimes women need more support due to certain circumstances, like being pregnant, but many other issues are just created by ourselves, and both men and women would equally need advice, “push”, encouragement.

What’s next for the network?

To ensure the network remains sustainable and is fully integrated into the wider business. We want to be seen as a leader in the world of employee led networks and so our next key objective is to establish a Formal Advisor Board that will be made up of external and internal directors to ensure that we continue making a difference, so that RBS becomes the best place to work for and to work with.

The network is also one of our forty inaugural Awesome Networks.

Keep connected with the network :

Heather shares her Top Tips


Listen to your members through surveys and feedback collection. Respond to their needs, understand the impact and incorporate those in to the networks strategy.


Build a team of volunteers who are passionate about diversity, who will be willing to make a difference, to face a challenge, and you are happy to empower them to deliver
fantastic initiatives.


Create and deliver the strategy that includes corporate and social responsibility initiatives, involving the charities that employees are passionate about, as well as engaging
with the clients.


Make it fun
and enjoy!

About The Author

Thomas Anderson

Founder and MD of Inclusive Networks. Thomas was Chair of the award winning LGBT network for The Co-operative Group, ‘Respect’ (2011-14). Thomas named the network and designed and managed all of the branding, communications and engagement until he stepped down from the role of Chair in March 2014. He also created the branding, name, was Editor of the quarterly magazine and developed the launch of the UK’s first Inter-Retail LGBT network ‘CheckOUT’. He contributed to the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 5 Year review. In recognition of his work in the diversity field he was shortlisted for ‘Diversity Champion of the Year’ at the 2013 European Diversity Awards, shortlisted for ‘Role Model of the Year’ at the 2012 Lesbian & Gay Foundation Homo Heroes Awards and shortlisted for the ‘Positive Action’ award at the 2013 Asian Fire Service Association Fair & Diverse Awards. He also won the 2012 ‘Pride of The Co-operative’ award. He was a judge for Scotland's biggest diversity awards, The Icon Awards in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

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