Board members discuss International Women’s Day

Today we’re proud to celebrate International Women’s Day at LGPS Central Limited.

Being an inclusive employer is important to us and to mark the occasion, we asked our Chair, Joanne Segars, and fellow Non-Executive Director, Eithne McManus, to share some of their thoughts on women in the financial services sector.

Why do you think it’s important to increase the proportion of women and support women’s development in the financial services sector?

Joanne: All industries should reflect the communities they serve, and as an investment management company supporting pension funds to pay pensions for nearly one million people, that means we serve a diverse community at LGPS Central Limited. It’s also important to have ‘cognitive diversity’, which is broad and diverse decision making in the company. In other words, we want to avoid ‘group think’.

Eithne: Over my career I’ve worked with lots of talented women and seen the great contribution they’ve made to their firms. However, there is no doubt that various factors lead to women leaving financial services early or not progressing in their careers, leading to a huge loss of talent for the sector, and frustration for these women. By supporting women to stay in financial services and develop their careers we should be able to tap into these abilities, to the benefit of customers, companies and the sector as a whole.

Have you seen a lot of changes in the role of women in financial services during your careers?

Joanne: Yes! I’ve been working in pensions for over 30 years. Back when I started, the whole sector was very “male, pale and stale”. There are now far more women in pensions and in investment, and more women in senior positions. In fact, I’d say the LGPS is leading the way. Just think about the number of senior women in our own Partner Funds. But there’s a long way to go, especially in investment management.

Eithne: Yes. I qualified as an actuary in the Republic of Ireland in 1989 – only two years after the first female actuary qualified in Ireland. There were no female executives within the company at that time and a real shortage of female role models. Four or five years later, following my move to the UK, a woman was appointed as Chief Executive of the company I worked for – and this sent shock-waves through what was then a very male dominated organisation, particularly on the sales side! Now, the industry is much more diverse, particularly at entry level, and it is no longer a talking point to see a woman acting as a CEO or a CFO. However, there is still a significant underrepresentation of women in senior roles, both at Boardroom level and more importantly at the senior management and executive level.

What would you do to make financial services a more diverse sector to work in?

Joanne: I think we can lead by example. And we need to remember that diversity isn’t just about getting more women into jobs in the sector. It’s about attracting people from a really diverse range of backgrounds, gender, ethnic backgrounds, class and so on. That’s why the graduate recruitment programme we’ll soon be launching is so important. We’ve got a real opportunity to bring people into the Company from different backgrounds and see them rise through the organisation. Part of that is also about recognising we need to be flexible in terms of our employment practices and we’re determined to ensure that’s something LGPS Central Limited does well.

Eithne: In relation to gender diversity, there’s a lot of good work already being done in financial services firms, with mentoring schemes, flexible working at a senior level and return to work schemes to support women who have taken breaks for family reasons. There is also good work being done on the cultural aspects. However, diversity is much broader than gender. For example, when I look round meetings in financial services companies, I’m always struck by the under representation of BAME groups. I’m also concerned about discrimination against LGBT colleagues, or those of minority religions or older ages. Disability is another huge issue for financial service. I’m a member of an insurance company board where one of my fellow directors has a physical disability, but this is very unusual in our sector. In order to make things more diverse we need to look seriously at how every minority group is supported in the workplace and look at mentoring and support schemes to try to develop all sorts of people. This will enable firms to benefit from the different skills, experience and talent these individuals can bring, and to enable individuals to realise their full potential.

Have you come across any barriers at work because you’re a woman?

Joanne: I’ve been pretty lucky. I started work as a journalist and then worked in the trade union movement for 13 years, which was very much focused on equal opportunities for all. That’s not to say I didn’t encounter some choice comments along the way, or sexist views (or ageist views – I was a lot younger then!). But I had the support around me to ensure I could rise above that.

Eithne: I have been very fortunate in my career in that as far as I am aware, I have never been held back due to my gender. In fact, the desire to promote gender diversity awareness may well have presented me with opportunities which I might not otherwise have been considered for.

What’s your advice to women starting their career in financial services who would like to progress?

Joanne: Go for it! You’ve got the opportunity to make a real difference to people’s lives.

Eithne: Work hard, believe in yourself and celebrate your successes. Look out for mentoring, networking and training options and use them to the full. Always be aware of career development opportunities. Take advantage of flexible working/career breaks if that’s what’s right for your personal life, but stay in touch with the workplace and the sector so that you are well positioned to return with enhanced skills.

Diversity is an important part of LGPS Central Limited’s Responsible Investment work – is it something you think investors will give more consideration to when making investment decisions in the future?

Joanne: Absolutely. There’s plenty of evidence to show that high performing companies are those that are the most diverse, not just in the board room but elsewhere. One of my favourite statistics comes from a McKinsey Report called “Why Diversity Matters” which showed that companies in the top quartile for gender, racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. So more diverse companies are likely to be the companies which will make the better long-term investments. The work led by the pensions and investment industry which is asking for more and smarter reporting on workplace issues will provide important information for investors and for our responsible investment work.

Eithne: I’m sure many will be aware of the strong research evidence which shows more diverse companies produce better results for their shareholders. So, I think this will be an area for the future. At the moment, the focus tends to be on gender diversity, perhaps because this is easy to measure, but I think over time investors will move more towards a more general definition of diversity – including race, disability, sexuality, age – so that we move towards a genuine diversity of thought within all firms.

Committed to inclusivity

LGPS Central Limited is committed to inclusivity and are proud members of the 30% Club Investor Group, an initiative to encourage UK firms to have at least 30% female representation on their Boards.

As part of our Responsible Investment work, we take part in various interviews and research into gender inclusivity and engage with the industry regularly.

One recent success story was our work with Tullow Oil Plc, a UK-listed energy company we invest in. When we first began our relationship, they had no female board members, but following our collaborative engagement, they now have three!

We will continue to work hard in improving inclusivity in the industry wherever possible.

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