View from the Street: Reasons to be Cheerful

@WalshyMEC

View from the Street: Reasons to be Cheerful

This is a column about diversity, gender bias and financial services. Wait! Come back!

One:

Last Friday, around 600 S5 girls (15-17 year olds), gathered in Edinburgh for the first FUTURE AS5ET ‘investing in diversity’ conference.
 
They came from all over Scotland, from as far afield as Orkney, Shetland, Benbecula; from across the Highlands, from Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders and everywhere in between.
 
The event was originated, financed and arranged by a publicity-shy group of investment managers, to address the lack of gender and background diversity in their sector, by reaching young women at a point in their lives when early career paths are forged.
 
They heard from Chelsea Cameron, a remarkable young woman, whose positive outlook on life we would all do well to learn from; from Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister; and Jayne-Anne Gadhia, CEO of Virgin Money. Women, and a few men, from the investment management industry were joined by entrepreneurs, sportspeople, creatives, engineers, charity workers and others to educate and inform, giving practical advice on career development, explaining the finance sector and the jobs available within it.
 
High profile female fund managers exist, but aren’t representative of the whole. We heard that only one in 10 fund managers are women – a stark statistic, all the more so when you consider its implications for every other industry. Greater diversity in fund management supports better outcomes throughout the business world and hence society. Investment managers choose where to direct billions of pounds of our pensions and savings. They make decisions about which companies and industries to support and which boards should receive their backing. If they are so minded – and criticism that they lack such proactivity is perhaps indicative that a more diverse and challenging outlook is required – they can directly contribute to shaping better corporate citizens.
 
Two:
We are making progress. In Scotland, the gender pay gap for those in full time work has halved over the last 10 years, to six per cent. The overall pay gap remains stubbornly in the teens, reflecting the nature of much part-time work. It's no surprise, then, that currently less than a quarter of board members are women and at executive committee level, the ratio is even worse, at just one in seven.
 
To tackle this, the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill is currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament, seeking 50% of non-executive appointments to be women by 2020, by encouraging women to apply for such positions. The First Minister commented on Friday: “It's not favours for women, it's better for everyone. People from different backgrounds should have the same level of influence as each other”.
 
Three:
At the other end of the political spectrum, shocked at the statistic that only 14% of senior roles in the financial services industry were held by women, then Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne commissioned Jayne-Anne Gadhia to review the representation of women in senior managerial roles in finance.
 
The resulting landmark report was published in 2016, along with a charter to which around half of financial firms in the UK have committed, pledging gender balance across financial services. That’s a considerable proportion of a large industry committing – at executive committee level – to embrace diversity.
 
Gadhia stresses the need for this to be integral to strategy, not a tick-box exercise. Crucially, it must be a vision for bringing diverse people together and creating, jointly, a world that is more colourful and creative as a result. It must not be simply about bringing women and minorities into a man’s world.
 
As for the laggards, Gadhia encouraged people to vote with their feet: “if, after challenging intolerance, we can’t change the culture of our organisations, we should leave.”
 
Finally: “You can’t be what you can’t see”
 
Unless you’re Nicola Sturgeon, of course, who hadn’t considered a career as First Minister when she was growing up for a very good reason - the role didn’t exist.
 
Chelsea Cameron grew up on a council estate, the child of drug addicted parents. She did not limit her ambitions and nor should any young person setting out into the world of work today. She implored the audience on Friday to “choose positivity” and to take joy in the journey.
 
The fact that diversity is so high up the agenda, that hundreds of teenage girls gathered in the EICC to talk and listen and be inspired by these women, feels like another good reason to be cheerful today.