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Bernadette Smith, Cynergy Bank

news published date 13 October 2021
  • Awards
Bernadette leads from the front, not only by being a senior role model for Cynergy Bank’s female colleagues, but also by hiring one of the most diverse teams in the bank (by gender and ethnicity). Bernadette is also the Executive Sponsor of Cynergy’s diversity and inclusion group.

Cynergy Bank’s commitment to diversity and inclusion has provided valuable support for Women in Banking & Finance, despite its focussed operations and given the organisation (as it currently exists) only started in December 2018. We celebrate its executive sponsor for diversity and inclusion, Bernadette Smith.

In addition to her role as Director of Compliance and Money Laundering Reporting Officer, Bernadette Smith has always tried to push the agenda in terms of diversity and inclusion. She believes she has done so on a daily basis by leading from the front, not only by being a senior role model for female colleagues, but also by hiring and retaining one of the most diverse teams in the bank in terms of ethnicity and gender.

On top of her important role in leading the bank’s ‘second line of defence’, preventing it from being used as a vehicle to launder funds in the UK, Bernadette is also the executive sponsor for diversity and inclusion and, in June 2020, led the creation of the company’s voluntary Diversity & Inclusion Group.

The group’s aim is to help Cynergy Bank become a truly diverse and inclusive employer, actively promoting and championing a culture where all staff feel respected, included and valued as individuals, and feel empowered to build on the bank’s core value of ‘One Team – Diverse & Inclusive’. For Bernadette, it’s about steering a group of individuals who are passionate and energetic about change.

Bernadette prides herself on pulling together an incredible group of individuals to fulfil the mission with regard to diversity and inclusion. Keen to avoid a tick box approach, she was not just looking to integrate diversity and inclusion into the culture and fabric of the bank through change, but also to take an individual human approach, thinking outside of the box and pushing for more than is considered normal.

An example of the bold approach being taken is the formation of new internal networks. The members of these networks have undertaken training and become mental health champions, joined external networks so that they can quickly learn from collective industry experience and launched a calendar of continuous education. Among several initiatives planned for the coming 12 months, a key focus will be “Belonging Matters”, an initiative to create opportunities and ‘safe spaces’ where leaders can listen to employees from diverse groups to understand their lived experiences and needs.

But is through Bernadette’s engagement with senior management – be that with the board, executive committee, senior leadership and human resources function – that she feels the diversity and inclusion agenda is best supported and championed.

And it’s clear why when you hear from Bernadette in her own words: “I speak loudly and with pride, both in terms of what we have achieved and what we will achieve. I will not shy away from difficult conversations and am comfortable in being uncomfortable, and truly believing that people are at their best when they are valued for what makes each of us different and unique. When people feel accepted fully for who they are, they participate and contribute more.”

For the Cynergy team – although diversity and inclusion had always been part of the organisation – it was the murder of George Floyd that prompted more change more quickly. Bernadette describes how she noticed the profound effect that the news out of the US had on her team, but also how difficult it was for the teams to be able to see the impact of the event internally. It prompted her to call the issue out at the executive committee level and question why, as an organisation, they had not truly understood the scale of the issue.

The momentous turn of events linked to Black Lives Matter also helped Bernadette and her team start to overcome the biggest challenges: where to start; where to apply focus; and what was most relevant to the bank’s staff and organisation.

Bernadette is also clear with regard to her engagement with her colleagues and how men can help: “By being allies. By recognising it is not a woman’s responsibility to make herself feel safe whether it is speaking out in a senior committee, or walking down the street on her own. By understanding that women are not yet equal, when a woman walks into a committee, no matter how capable she is, when she is met with a sea of male faces looking back at her, she will feel less safe and less comfortable in speaking up. Recognise this and support her, whether it’s asking her opinion or not walking behind her at night. Recognise the challenges that women face and be allies.”

Her work at the bank is best summed up by the bank’s CEO, Nick Fahy, who stated: “As a member of our executive committee and senior role model for our female talent, Bernadette has played a key role in placing the debate around inclusion and diversity at the centre of our people conversation. She has inspired and engaged our volunteer Diversity & Inclusion Group, and has led the conversation with our senior leaders and the board, encouraging us all to ‘be better’ when it comes to fulfilling our vision to be ‘One Team – Diverse & Inclusive’.”