As a former fund manager, I’ve been trained to be sceptical of assertions that ‘it’s different this time’. But as a business leader and campaigner, I’ve also learned it is possible to create the change we want to see.
Today, I believe we can – if we so choose - forge a very different working and family environment than anything we’ve been used to in the past. Ways of working and living that will enable both men and women to have greater choices, flexibility and better balanced lives, improving companies, society and the economy.
These are big claims. So what makes me so confident? I realise my optimism is out of sync with many commentators, who routinely despair over the relentless revelations of sexual harassment, glaring gender pay gaps and inequalities in business.
We need to recognise those unsavoury behaviours and practices had been going on for years – what’s changed is they are being exposed, and the responses are quick and decisive. Any great change is likely to be accompanied by struggles and disturbing episodes – this is part of the process, not reason to feel despondent. It's certainly not reason to lapse back into a battle of the sexes. If we want to make progress, not just a point, men and women need to work together.
What’s important is to take a fresh look at gender equality, to consider the issue in the context of the many other indisputable and ongoing changes affecting how we work and live today.
Up until this point, gender diversity initiatives have tended to be just that, special programmes rather than genuinely incorporated into how we go about our business. But now, with the digital revolution shaking up how we communicate, socialise, shop and influence, we have a bigger opportunity to shake up working practices.
Reforms to our working lives can happen in ways that will appeal not just to women, but to anyone who wants a rewarding, sustainable and balanced life.
Many companies are still only tentatively considering how we can work smarter, more productively, and be more engaged; the best companies are taking more radical steps, making all roles open to flexible working, measuring outcomes rather than hours spent at a specific desk. They are also recognising the most creative and innovative teams are likely to be diverse in many respects – not just by gender, but with different experiences, educational backgrounds, ethnicities and abilities.
The investment and savings industry stands to particularly benefit from a change of approach and momentum. Our male-dominated profession has a reputation for hiring ‘traditional’ talent. Yet successful fund management has always been about outcomes not inputs – and a combination of art and science to deliver those outcomes.
Many of those in industry leadership positions today have diverse backgrounds and life experiences. I am known for having many children, for example, but that’s not the only ‘unconventional’ aspect of my own life story. I’m a philosophy graduate, went to a co-ed state school and have a reputation for challenging the status quo – all of which has been (mostly!) helpful in my career but also, I hope, to those companies where I’ve worked.
The Diversity Project, an intensive and collaborative initiative supported by around 50 organisations across the investment and savings industry, is now aiming to create a whole new generation of fund managers. The hope is this new generation will be diverse across multiple dimensions, to improve outcomes for customers and to better represent those who trust us with their money.
Our motivation is strong; we want the best talent, and the next generation of both young men and women expect to work in inclusive cultures, to have work-life balance and employers whose values align with their own.
I’ve seen change happen once many people start to share the desire to reach a certain outcome, then work together towards it. Right now, there’s reason to be confident that it’s different this time.