Meet Nigeria’s Zainab Atta, 2017 winner of the WeAreTheCity Rising Star Award in the UK Banking Category. Introduced to showcase UK female talent, WeAreTheCity awards shine a light on the achievements of women across various industries and professions. Zainab has been recognized for her hard work and dedication in encouraging diversity and inclusion at the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Enjoy this interview by Catherine Nangle

Hi Zainab, thanks for taking time to talk to me, can I hear a bit about your career history?

‘Thanks for having me! I’ve got a background in accounting, but I realised early on it was a little too much number crunching for me, and I decided I wanted a change. To broaden my experience, I went on to work in other areas; including project management and finance change.

A few years back, a friend introduced me to compliance. My background in accounting means I’m quite control focused and analytical, so I had transferable skills. After a few consultant roles, including with JP Morgan, I joined the Financial Crime Assurance team in RBS.

And now you’re with the bank, what’s your favourite thing about working for RBS?

Probably that it’s never boring! The best part of my job at RBS is solving problems and making a difference.

Also the opportunity for work-life balance at RBS is fantastic in comparison to other places I’ve worked.

And can you tell me more about your charity work?

I’ve always had an awareness of social issues from an early age.  As an adult, I found skills-based volunteering was a great way to do it.

I held a Trusteeship position at a small London based charity for a year, then went off to help set-up and run Career Masterclass where I volunteer as Chief Operating Officer.

Ultimately, I get huge satisfaction from seeing and hearing about the positive changes experienced by the people whose lives I’ve impacted.

So supporting setting up Career Masterclass, can you tell me more about that?

Built on a discussion I had with a really impressive woman, Bukola Adisa, Career Masterclass is a not-for-profit organisation I helped set up just over 2 years ago.

She was running regular CV clinics, giving advice, mentoring people and leading development talks – she wanted to help women specifically at the time. She was passionate about issues surrounding women in the workplace, and I was equally as passionate about similar social issues, and so we clicked.

We spoke about setting up an organisation, and agreed we’d do it together. Now gaining momentum, Career Masterclass gives women and Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) professionals with practical skills that they can use to enjoy a successful career.

But as we’re always growing, we support even wider networks, and I’m incredibly proud to be part of the project. After over two years in the UK, we had our first masterclass in Nigeria, where professional women are facing real challenges in the work place.

That sounds like an amazing project! And so why do you think an inclusive workplace is important?

I’m glad you asked, as I’m really passionate about this topic! An inclusive workplace means an empowered and motivated workforce – which ultimately means higher productivity.

There are now stats on the impact of an inclusive work force – and they’re widely published. There are clear numbers that show the impact of a diverse workforce on a company’s profitability, revenue and performance. It’s out there and widely accepted that organisations with a more diverse workforce do better.

We also want to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace because it will likely equal diversity in thinking. A diverse and inclusive group of individuals will be more likely to have a holistic view and approach to decision making, resulting in the best outcomes for our customers

It’s also the right thing to do. We need to really tap into our values as a bank, and we need to correctly represent the people we serve. We should now be past the ‘why’, and fully focused on the ‘how’.

I can see there’s a lot of work going on around this topic in the bank, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.

How did you feel when you heard about WeAreTheCity and their interest in you?

When I heard about the nomination, I was initially terrified, but my line manager was really supportive and encouraged me to share the news.

For one, it continues to be great visibility for me in the bank, as I’ve been able to talk about the work I’ve been doing outside the bank with colleagues. It was good for RBS too, as it was seen as a win for the bank.

I was also grateful to be recognised amongst other amazing women, who were being recognised for both the work they do in their industry, and also their brilliant outside achievements.

Where does one go from there, and what does it mean for RBS?

It’s already been amazing, and I honestly don’t know! I made the shortlist for another award since receiving the rising star nomination, which was fantastic. However it’s on with my day job and, of course, continuing with my work outside of the bank.

I’m also now a part of the diversity and inclusion forum, where I’m overseeing the recently launched Reciprocal Mentoring programme which is really exciting.

RBS is definitely sending out a strong message that diversity and inclusion is a top priority. The bank recently won the Diverse Company Award at the National Diversity Awards, which can be seen as a reflection of all the wonderful work the bank is doing to meet its goals around diversity and inclusion. However there is always room for improvement.

And the future of working for RBS?

There’s a lot more projects around diversity and inclusion coming our way. I think the bank has a lot of exciting opportunities to offer; as nurturing diverse talent becomes more of a priority, I’m keen to see what the future holds.

For me though I think it’s on with my day job for now, but I know there’s more in the future!