International Women’s Day 2019

08 March 2019

On International Women’s Day 2019, we meet senior woman at Barclays who are driving change across the business and in the wider community.

When Barclays appointed Hilda Harding as the UK’s first ever female bank manager in 1958, the story prompted a near-hysterical response in the press – with coverage remarking on the “blonde who runs a bank” and even expressing “doubt over the Bank’s psychology”.

Such opportunities for women in banking were undoubtedly rare at the time, and that milestone can be seen as a first step on the journey to gender equality in the workplace – and of Barclays’ commitment to driving change.

Today, the bank continues to push forward the equality agenda, as evidenced most recently by its appearance (for the fourth year running) in Bloomberg’s Gender-Equality Index – an official marker of its commitment to advancing women in the workplace. Meanwhile, initiatives such as HeForShe and Barclays’ Female Founders Forum continue to empower professional women.

Already as a woman you have to work hard, but as an Asian woman you have to work even harder, because people do naturally make assumptions based on my background

Nazreen Visram


Barclays is also a signatory to the HM Treasury Women in Finance Charter, which commits financial services firms to linking the remuneration packages of their executive teams to gender diversity targets.

The past year has seen more senior women than ever driving positive change across the bank – as exemplified by the four colleagues featured below. On International Women’s Day 2019, their stories serve as timely reminders of how much has changed since the pioneering appointment of Hilda Harding, some 60 years ago.

Four women driving change

Nazreen Visram, Head of Charities at Barclays Corporate Banking, is Co-Chair of the bank’s EMBRACE multicultural network which works to dismantle the barriers faced by colleagues from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

Nazreen, who appeared in the Financial Times (FT) EMpower list last year, understands those barriers all too well. She told us: “Already as a woman you have to work hard, but as an Asian woman you have to work even harder, because people do naturally make assumptions based on my background. But if I can do it, then everyone can do it.”


She points to research by McKinsey that shows companies with greater racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have above-average financial returns. “If you think about it, it should be obvious that diversity of thought contributes to the bottom line. Difference brings positive value to any organisation.”

Rhian-Mari Thomas, Global Head of Green Banking, Founder and Chair of the Barclays Green Banking Council, has harnessed her 19 years of experience in banking and PhD in physics to put “green thinking” into action. Rhian and her team are dedicated to making tackling climate change a profitable undertaking for the business.

Whilst climate change poses a risk to business – including many of the bank’s clients – the transition to a zero carbon economy also presents a compelling commercial opportunity for Barclays to advise, finance and build closer partnerships with customers, clients and stakeholders.

Rhian and the award-winning Green Banking Council have already established Barclays as a thought leader in green product development, and her latest venture is to build a climate-related advisory business to support the investment banking client base.


She told us: “As clients decarbonise their business models and adapt to the impacts of climate change, they are seeking both insights and new solutions from a forward-thinking bank. Barclays, with our well-established reputation for innovation, can play a leading and important role as a trusted partner in the transition to a greener economy”

Emma Turner, Head of Barclays’ Private Bank Philanthropy Service, advises clients on the best way to engage with charities. With a growing number of charities forming each year, she said charities are under pressure to attract funding.

In a 2018 interview, she explained: “Every year we’re seeing more charities formed, but we’re not seeing increasing amounts of money coming in to support them. Our Philanthropy Service provides clients with a full range of bespoke literature and events that give our clients advice on how to engage in their own charitable giving.


Kathryn Townsend, Head of Customer and Client Accessibility, is responsible for ensuring the bank – and its services – are as inclusive as possible. She explained it isn’t just the right thing to do, but also makes perfect business sense.

She said: “Making services accessible should not be seen as a charitable endeavour – what business doesn’t want to attract more custom, reduce complaints and improve customer experience?”

“This is also not just about ramps and braille – thinking about accessibility should touch every part of a business, beyond just its buildings. Think websites, call centres, communications – potential customer barriers are everywhere.”

Landmark services introduced under Kathryn included the UK’s first lipspeaker service, which enabled deaf customers who lip-read to use telephone banking services.