Barclays senior leader talks being openly gay at the bank – and why their apprenticeship programmes are breaking down barriers
Shaun Meekins, Barclays Head of Operations for Early Careers, talks being openly gay at the bank – and why Barclays Apprenticeships are open to all.
When Shaun Meekins, Head of Operations for Early Careers at Barclays, married his husband back in 2010, his entire team from the bank were there to toast the happy couple.
“There were so many of my colleagues there to celebrate with us,” he recalls.
“Standing up, applauding, embracing the fact that I was stepping into this new stage of my life with my partner. It really said something about how the organisation embraces me for who I am as a person; not just my skills.”
For Shaun and for the whole Barclays Early Careers team, that acceptance couldn’t be more important. Feeling enabled to be your whole self in the workplace is at the core of everything they offer – because they know personally what it’s like to keep your identity to yourself.
“When I first came to Barclays twelve years ago,” says Shaun, “I didn’t know much about the culture yet. In interviews, I was honest about my work ethic, about my working-class background, but I was quite undisclosed about my sexuality; about the fact that I was engaged to a man.”
After getting the job though, it didn’t take long for Shaun to settle into the team and realise it was somewhere he could be open. Not long at all, in fact:
“It took one day. One day of being in our environment, being part of Barclays’ culture, to realise I could share who I was, and that I was in a same-sex relationship. And it was totally embraced. I wasn’t treated any differently.”
“Being able to be frank – not to have to be one person in public and another in private – it was like a huge weight had been lifted”, says Shaun. “It honestly enabled me to be better at my job because there was nothing I had to hide, and had a refreshing, healthy and positive environment to work in.”
Today, Barclays strives to make that open culture clear to everyone, to demonstrate that it is a workplace where everyone can bring every part of themselves and feel welcome.
Nowhere is that more true than in the Early Career team’s flagship programme, Barclays Apprenticeships. Launched by Shaun and his team in 2012, the Foundation and Higher Apprenticeships set out to reach into diverse communities with something a little different. The programmes are open to people of all ages, all backgrounds, all cultures, and all experiences – and as long as you’re over 16, they mean that very literally. There’s no experience necessary and diversity is celebrated.
“Our programmes are open to anyone and everyone,” says Shaun. “There are no barriers. Especially at Foundation level, we don’t have any criteria at all. We just want ambition, so we don’t ask for qualifications or experience – and in particular, we don’t look for a certain kind of person.”
That’s a critical point for Shaun and his team: “I think some communities would never consider Barclays because they have an expectation of who we’re looking for; a perception about what we stand for. There’s nothing greater than being able to break down those barriers and say everyone is welcome here.”
When you represent a global bank, it’s of course tricky to get everyone to believe that message – and to reach out into communities with it. But Shaun and his team are doing incredible work to break down barriers, particularly in the LGBTQ+ community.
“The organisations we’ve supported most recently are Mermaids, for young transgender people, and the Terrence Higgins Trust, for people living with HIV,” says Shaun. “We run regular sessions with both groups, reaching out with our apprenticeships and teaching core workplace skills, helping everyone get into – or back into – the working world.”
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One of the key parts of that work is, as much as possible, providing each person with their own mentor within Barclays, to help them make the best decisions about their future. The Early Careers team works hard to achieve that – whether it’s with the LGBTQ+ community, BAME communities, or applicants with mental health conditions and disabilities – to make sure everyone has someone they can relate to, who can tell their own story about life at Barclays.
But are they making a difference for the people they reach? Shaun thinks they’ve made a good start: “When you work with so many diverse communities, you come across stories that are honestly heart-rending. Candidates who’ve experienced traumatic things in their lives, but have been able to overcome them, and then in turn they bring that resilience to our organisation.”
And in the end, that resilience will take them a long way. No matter their background, no matter their identity, the Barclays Apprentices are working towards new qualifications – from A-Levels to degrees – while they work at the bank. They’re finding support to become future leaders, whatever the path that led them here.
“Being your whole self, celebrating each other; that continues to be our backbone,” concludes Shaun. “Whoever you are, you’ll be listened to, developed, and you’ll grow with the organisation. That’s what I experienced myself with Barclays. That’s why we set up this programme. And that’s why these aren’t your average apprenticeships.”
To find out more about Barclays apprenticeships, click here