Wise words from women in finance this International Women’s Day

The UK’s financial services industry is known more for men in suits than women. This is changing, but how far along the gender parity path has it come? What can organisations do to attract more women to the top? What can women do to get there?  Do they want to be there at all? How can the industry engage better with women?

We asked some of the women who were there already to share their experiences and thoughts on gender parity for International Women’s Day #PressforProgress. 

On how the financial services industry is changing…

“Women starting a career in investment today do so at a really interesting time. Technology and A.I. in particular, look set to play an increasingly important role in advice and investment and that will change the role of the Investment Manager.  One way it will change is, I believe, to place an increasing emphasis on relationship management, a skill that women tend to be good at. Women starting out today should emphasise the benefits of not only their technical expertise, but also the so-called ‘softer’ skills that traditionally have been seen as less valuable, a value call that is rightly changing. As the analogue and digital experience merge, service, authenticity, empathy and Trust are more important than ever.” Juliet Wedderburn, Director of Private Client Investment Management at Charles Stanley

“Pensions is male dominated, and pension trusteeship even more so – I have sometimes looked around at conferences and 95% of those in the room are white men aged over sixty. In the past I sometimes felt boards were only looking for those who fit that identikit mould, but things are changing.  Today I am more likely to find that panels are actively looking for diversity (of all characteristics) and in practice being different makes you stand out.”  Naomi L’Estrange, trustee at 2020 Trustees

“Investment Management may have been male dominated in the past, but that is changing. Women possess the required technical ability and intellectual talent, just as men do, but I believe they can offer an alternative approach in the way they talk to and empathise with their clients. Understanding people, and what motivates them, is a very important part of the job. In a client focused environment, which is as much about the customer as it is about their investments, this is an important strength.” Shelley Leaney FCSI, Charles Stanley Wealth Manager

On attracting more women to senior roles…

“If looking to identify female talent for top roles consideration of how you communicate is as important as the ability of those you are seeking to attract.  For example, the use of the word ‘gravitas’. Telling an individual that they need to develop gravitas tends to either mean ‘I wish you were a man’ or refers to an outdated style of leadership that has been proven to be less effective than a more nuanced (and indeed authentic) style. More specific pointers, such as seek out experience at a senior level, via channels like committee membership – both internal and external – is helpful to the talented hopeful and provides the existing leadership team with a framework of candidate improvement that they can measure against.”   Naomi L’Estrange, trustee at 2020 Trustees

“Financial services does not have a good track record of engaging with women.  Many is the time in the past at a conference I have been asked for a hot beverage, as the man asking has assumed I am part of the facilities staff. Whilst I see more women entering the advisory profession we need to encourage more women into these roles by making it clear that high levels of empathy and emotional intelligence make for great advisers.  Whether the adviser is female or male, a greater emphasis on these skills will certainly allow female clients to better engage.”  Anne McClean, Financial Planner, Charles Stanley

On how to get ahead in business as a woman…

“Professionalism, taking every opportunity to learn, a ‘can do’ attitude, resilience and optimism (balanced with realism) are the keys to being successful.  As you progress in a career, there will be times when you have set-backs; having the strength to see these as opportunities takes courage but builds your ability to handle any of the tough challenges which life in general throws at you.”  Marianne Ismail, Group Chief Executive, European Wealth Group

 On becoming a pension trustee or board member…

If you are a woman who is a member of an employer’s pension scheme, do think about standing as a pension trustee.  The responsibility is significant, but there is lots of support available and an inquiring mind is more important than specific knowledge – you will pick up the (horrendous) jargon soon enough.  Pension trustee boards badly need volunteers of all kinds, but especially those who can bring a different view point. The “member nominated” role is unlikely to be paid more than expenses, but is highly rewarding in other ways and great for your CV.  And if you are a woman with pensions/investment expertise and strong communication skills, professional trusteeship can provide that holy grail – a role where you can use your knowledge and experience to make a real difference, great variety – working with lots of different people, the challenge of balancing the protection of members with what can be an existential threat for sponsoring businesses, and (last but for many of us not least) options for flexible/part-time working.”   Naomi L’Estrange, trustee at 2020 Trustees

“There are only five investment trusts in the UK that have more women than men on their boards and Impax Environmental Markets plc, a Board on which I sit, is one of the five.  Diversity is healthy, but it is the knowledge and experience of the individual that is important for effective boards.  All five Board directors at Impax Environmental Markets plc were appointed for their knowledge and experience and their lengthy careers span audit, investment, governance and environmental matters, which equip us to oversee the shareholders’ interests.  Increasing the diversity of thinking at all levels in an organisation, including board level, can only be of benefit to all shareholders.”   Aine Kelly, Board Director, Impax Environmental Markets plc

“Being a great trustee involves open, pragmatic and constructive communication which women can excel at and research suggests that pension trusteeship is one of the very few areas with a reverse gender pay gap – because a higher proportion of the (few) women involved are being paid to do it!”   Naomi L’Estrange, trustee at 2020 Trustees


On how the financial services industry could engage better with women…

A lot of women switch off from the subject of investment due to myths that continue to perpetuate. Women are more than capable of managing their affairs, we just need to link back to their lives and needs to make it more relevant. Whilst there is reams of information available, it can be overwhelming working out where to start or what to improve. Initiatives increasing financial literacy for all are helpful. Most women want a meaningful conversation, they are interested, they just haven’t found the right outlet.”   Anne McClean, Financial Planner, Charles Stanley

“Improving financial outcomes for women will require collaboration between the insurance and financial planning profession, policymakers, employers and society. We need to find new ways of educating and engaging, consider policy approaches that can pave the way for alternative forms of access to risk and financial solutions, and to make financial planning and insurance more relevant and accessible.  And there needs to be more emphasis on the “whole person”, recognising there is no one size fits all.”  Jane Portas, CII Insuring Women’s Futures Committee lead on Women’s Risks in Life

“There is a need for more radical approaches, an urgency to engage women on their terms, to equip and empower them to manage their own financial risks in life. Evidence suggests that today’s women are simply unprepared. If we don’t address this, we will not have the resources to sustain the current situation. To help drive this change we have established the Insuring Women’s Futures Market Task Force to work with the profession and collaborate with policymakers to effect innovative and broad change.”  Sian Fisher, CEO of the CII and Chair of the Insuring Women’s Futures Committee

Guest blog by Karen Wagg – for more info kw@redleafpr.com

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