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Women's History Month 2021

Interview with Carol Knowles

March is Women’s history month and we thought we would take this opportunity to showcase role models that inspire us.

We know it's important for us to have role models to inspire, educate and encourage those that may not ordinarily wish to be seen in the spotlight. Accord is an inclusive union - we represent members from diverse backgrounds, but we know we need to do more to continue to build our capabilities for the future. With this in mind, Lucy Maller (Principal Executive Council member) caught up with Carol Knowles, Accord's vice-president, and asked her a few questions about her role in the union, those that inspire her and future ambitions….

Tell us a bit about yourself...

I started at the Bolton Halifax branch in 1984, aged 19. I was initially asked to help with mortgages, but I had no idea what that entailed, as neither my parents or grandparents had never had a mortgage - so it was very unfamiliar. We did everything in branch at that point, such as new bank accounts, loan applications and insurance claims. I quickly built a really good knowledge of the bank and the processes.

In 2003, I became our branch rep when our existing rep stood down from the position. My manager at the time, Paul McIver, encouraged me as he had faith I'd do a wonderful job. And that’s how it all started. Things were different then in terms of what Accord needed to do. We had good pay rises and benefits, and whilst it required work, we also had a great relationship with the bank with a good deal of influence. We still do, but it's taken a long time to gain the trust of the bank to engage with us more as a partner.

As a rep, I joined the general meetings to hear from Accord's General Secretary Ged Nichols and Deputy General Secretary Clive Webster. They were both so knowledgeable and had great insight into the business - I was fascinated by how much they knew and it really excited me. When the opportunity presented itself, I took the next step and joined the Regional Executive Council (REC). I learnt so much from this experience and we had many great reps supporting it. After some time on the REC, I wanted to take the next step so I put myself forward for election onto the PEC. I did this not only for self progression, but also so I could give another rep a chance to get involved on the REC and to develop as I had.

When 2008 brought the near collapse of HBoS and the Lloyds merger, things certainly got very intense very quickly. By this time, I got involved in the negotiations with the bank where I attended lots of meetings which were always in London which was exhausting. But it was great to be able to help the union adapt to the new environment. Getting the best for our members was always at the front of our minds.

Thankfully things have changed. You've now been Accord's vice-president since 2014. What made you decide to stand?

I'd been on the PEC for a while, and I felt I had more to offer. Accord has two vice-presidents who assist the president with their workload - so I thought I could make a difference. Having worked for the bank for so long and in the role I do, I thought my knowledge and input could really help shape the discussions with the bank. Sometimes it’s about getting them to look at things differently and giving them real life examples.

I enjoy the role immensely; it's challenging though - especially when it's something like pay negotiations and I know what the members back in my branch are doing for the business. It's about trying to influence the bank's thinking when it's thinking about numbers and not people.

Did you know that 65% of Accord's membership is women, and 52% of our women members work in a bank branch. The Principal Executive Council (Accord's governing body), is made up of 17 elected representatives plus a president to lead - 72% of this body are women. The PEC make sure your voice is represented, and at the heart of everything we do.

Is there anything specifically you've done to help women reps?

I’ve certainly encouraged many women to become reps - including many part-time women. I've been there and know the pressure of supporting your family and having a career. We've got lots of strong women that work for the bank, and a lot of people who have a balanced and soothing way about them - excellent qualities that make very good reps. I’ve attended the TUC women’s conference several times, and I've encouraged others to join too. It gives people a great insight into what's happening 'out there' for many other women - sometimes we're so focussed on what's happening inside the bank that we forget that things aren't always so great elsewhere.

Who inspires you?

Not to be sycophant, but Paula Tegg (Accord's Assistant General Secretary) inspires me greatly. She knows and speaks her mind, not to be difficult, but because she can see unfairness and she wants to do something about that. I also really admire Diane Abbott MP. She's overcome many challenges in her lifetime, and she doesn't always get the respect she deserves. She's always spoken up on human rights, civil liberties and women's rights, and as a black woman of a certain age, in a male dominated profession, she's had to have a strong backbone to keep standing up and speaking out.

What are your future ambitions?

I'm passionate about building the Accord of the future and making sure everyone knows about us. I want members and non-members alike to know what we can do for them, and how we can achieve things together. I hope that once we're through this pandemic, Neil Magill, Richard Joyce and I can get out and visit sites and speak to members about the things that matter most to them. Being president or a vice-president is a privilege and we're working for you all, and I really want everyone to know how we're here to help.

Thanks Carol.

Lucy Maller recently attended the TUC's Women in Leadership school and ... we'll share more about this in the next MyAccord magazine where we'll be interviewing Lucy about her experiences throughout the course and her thoughts on next steps within Accord.

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