Scottish Widows Distribution team’s core purpose is to promote pensions and protection products to our expansive customer base; incorporating large corporate advisory firms, FTSE 100 employers, independent financial advisers, and end customers. Historically, our colleague diversity has echoed the industries we face into, with over 90% of the IFA population being male. We are a team of over 400 colleagues, based around the UK but with key hubs in Edinburgh, Bristol and Cheltenham.
Karen Illsley
Karen Illsley
Scottish Widows Distribution, Scottish Widows (Part of LLoyds Banking Group)

In January 2018, Scottish Widows appointed Jackie Leiper as its first female Distribution Director in its 200 year history. This was the catalyst for an unparalleled shift in gender diversity across the business area. Her senior leadership team now boasts a trend-bucking 60:40 female:male ratio. Less than 18 months ago this team were 100% male.

We spoke to Karen Illsley, Executive Assistant to Jackie Leiper, the Distribution Director to find out more about the shortlisted team.

What is your role within the team?

I’m Executive Assistant to the Distribution Director. As such, I’m actively involved in the recruitment of the senior team and beyond. As chair person of our monthly board meetings, I ensure diversity is at the forefront of our discussions, working closely with our HR BP to drive forward our local plans in line with the wider business agenda.

How does it feel to be nominated for our Team Diversity Award?

We’re delighted about our nomination! We’re really excited that our efforts for improving gender diversity have gained external recognition. It’s not been easy driving change, and workplace diversity remains an emotive topic for everyone; regardless of gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Achieving a more balanced gender mix in our senior and extended leadership team is a key milestone on this journey. We’re really proud of what we’ve achieved in such a short space of time and are excited about taking this further over the coming months and years.

How does your team contribute to diversity within Scottish Widows/LBG, what is your proudest achievement?

In 2017, LBG publicly stated that 40% of our top 5,000 jobs will be held by women by 2020. Targets to achieve these were distilled to individual team level. The Scottish Widows Distribution team (part of LBG’s Insurance Division) have been exemplary in driving initiatives to achieve this. We recognise the historic gender imbalance in our area, particularly in client-facing roles, and have made a concentrated effort to address this. We have imposed our own targeted plan to ensure a positive contribution to the overall divisional position against target. Our final appointment of 2018 allowed the division to achieve its target for the year – this is our proudest achievement to date.

What would you tell the 14 year old you knowing what you know now with regards to your career?

it will all work out in the end. You don’t need to have a plan, just stick to what you’re good at and have confidence in yourself! You will learn more from the people you meet along the way than what you read in a text book or gain from a qualification. People will believe in you more than you believe in yourself sometimes, but ultimately you will drive your own destiny. Never be ashamed to be your true self both inside and outside of work.

What is your favourite album and why?

My all-time favourite music album is Abba Gold. I’ve loved Abba since my early teens and have been to numerous tribute act events over the years, seen both the movies, and the musical twice.

‘Dancing Queen’ is my go-to karaoke song and whenever it plays at a wedding, party, or on the radio, I’m always first to get up and dance. I love all of their tracks though and the fact that some make you laugh and some make you cry just makes me appreciate them all the more. Today’s working environment is high-pressured and fast-paced so it’s really important to have an outlet; whether its listening to music, running a marathon, or dancing about your kitchen, everyone should have something that allows them to switch off from the corporate world and focus 100% on themselves. Taking time out means we can recharge our batteries, build our resilience, and ultimately become better leaders, managers, and colleagues.

If you could have any job in the world (ignoring experience and qualifications!) what would it be?

My dream job is a travel blogger. There’s a huge wide world out there ready to be explored. Experiencing new countries and cultures broadens the mind but it also makes me appreciate how different (and often privileged) it is to be a gay woman in a Westernised country compared to other places.