Full house when women in competition policy run a breakfast networking event in London – Kate Collyer, Director of Economics, Markets and Mergers at the Competition and Markets Authority

The City

Kate Collyer is Director of Economics, Markets and Mergers at the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), following on from previous roles at the Competition Commission (UK) and the Cooperation and Competition Panel. The CMA is a non-ministerial department of UK Government working to promote competition for the benefit of consumers, both within and outside the UK. Kate’s role sits in the Office of the Chief Economic Adviser of the CMA.

Kate Collyer

Kate Collyer

 On 5th February 2015 the CMA hosted a breakfast briefing event to promote and support women working in competition policy in the public and private sectors. The event was organised by Kate and the keynote speaker was Equalities Minister, Jo Swinson.

The role of the Competition and Markets Authority

The CMA’s role is as a non-ministerial department of government who oversee competition policy and consumer protection policy, which really means that we are looking to make sure that markets are working well for consumers, and ultimately for businesses and the economy.

In practical terms what this means is that we investigate markets to see whether there are features that might be meaning that they don’t produce the right kind of outcomes for consumers. So at the moment we’re looking at the banking sector and at energy – both high profile markets and areas where you may have seen some of our activity.

We also look at mergers. So we investigate mergers between firms to make sure they won’t give firms the ability to raise prices and in other ways harm consumers.

We have a role with regards to consumer protection, so making sure that consumer protection is enforced in the UK economy. We have recently done some work looking at online games for example and thinking about the ways in which prices are displayed so consumers are able to make well informed decisions when they’re purchasing in-app online games.

Finally, we have a role investigating the conduct of firms including agreements and conduct which prevent, restrict or distort competition.

My role in economics, markets and mergers

So that’s just a few examples of the type of work that we do, and then my role is to work as part of a senior leadership team in the economics group, leading that profession and working through all the management for that team, ensuring that the work we do as a profession is of the highest quality.

My specific remit is with regards to markets and mergers work where I’m responsible for making sure that we produce the right kind of outcomes. It’s quite a niche area, competition policy – it’s quite specialist. It’s got a relatively small group of technically specialist lawyers, economists and other professional groups. We get to work together as part of big, collaborative teams.

Whether you’re working in the public sector or the private sector, most people’s experience will be working with other professions, so it gives a particular reward in the sense of not just working with other economists – you get to work with lawyers, accountants other types of professional as well, which is particularly rewarding.

From the public sector perspective we really get to make quite a big difference for people and obviously the impact on our own lives as well, so some of the cases we bring really do have high impact for the UK economy and there’s something very rewarding about being involved in that type of work.

Breakfast briefing event to inspire women working in competition policy – getting the help of others to find a way to progress

We recently held a breakfast event and it came from the group that I’m part of that was formed about 18 months ago. So a group of ten of us, competition lawyers and economists with similar levels of experience in our industry got together and decided that we wanted to meet up regularly – the idea being to provide a support network for one another, a bit of support and encouragement, and to provide a little bit of inspiration as well.

So we meet every month. We talk a little bit about what each of us is doing, the sort of challenges that we face. We provide a bit of support and feedback to each other. Sometimes it’s just about getting someone else’s perspective on a problem that you’re dealing with that helps you to find a way through.

Women providing each other with the ‘push’ to progress and the support that they need

Through this we’ve been thinking about how we might take the next step for our group. We’re all really keen to share this support network that we’ve got because all of us have found inspiration and encouragement getting a group of people together and giving each other the ‘push’ that you want and the support that you need in your career, particularly when you’re thinking of that step forward and taking on a leadership role.

So we really wanted to find a way that we could help other people in our industry to do the same and one of the ideas we came up with was that we would hold a breakfast event: Get a group of inspiring role models together to have a bit of a discussion and as a result of this, get people talking to one another and start a bit of a networking culture and keep that going within our industry.

That was where this all came from and we had an amazing response when we started talking to our respective organisations, getting their support to host and to organise it. Everybody jumped at the chance to get involved. My own Chief Executive at the CMA was really very supportive from the very beginning and has helped in terms of providing the facilities here, so the breakfast event was held here at the CMA building and all other sorts of encouragement as well.

We were lucky enough to be able to get the Minister for Equalities, Jo Swinson, who is also the minister for our sponsoring department at the CMA, so she obviously has an interest in this area of competition policy as well. She is a great, strong advocate for female equality and gender diversity.

An overwhelming response brought about by an unmet need from women

So we had a great panel and partly as a result of that we tapped into an unmet need within the sector, because we had an overwhelming response when we send the invitation out. More than 200 people responded in a week and a half, saying that they wanted to come along and it turned out that the invitation was bouncing from one person to the next as people were sharing it, and there was quite a buzz around it all which was amazing.

On the day itself we have over 150 people turning up and we had standing room only at the back. The panel discussion was absolutely fantastic. Everybody spoke very honestly about the sort of challenges that they faced and how they coped with them. People with different careers and different trajectories they were able to talk about how they’d got to where they were in their very successful careers.

There was quite a lot of humour and there was a lovely debate and it got to the point where all of us wanted to carry on, but unfortunately we ran out of time!

Women talking honestly

I think it really resonated with us, hearing these incredibly successful women who were just talking very honestly about things that had found particularly difficult, what they’d done and their own tips for how you might make it work yourself. There was a very real, honest discussion that was happening as people were prepared to show their own vulnerabilities. There’s something really inspiring about hearing people with the confidence to talk about what they found difficult in their own careers and I think all of us took a lot of strength away from that.

I think the confidence to talk about feeling able to make mistakes is a really important step as well and getting a discussion going along those lines where people are able to show their own human side is really important so you don’t have that stress of aiming for perfection all the time and fear of failure, which can hold so many of us back.

How events like ours make an impact – an exponential effect

The main message we got was how much of a need and desire there is for this type of event. The huge response was really quite beyond what we expected and there’s clearly more that we can be doing to bring people together to have these types of conversations to talk about how we can provide role models and networking opportunities for women. Events of this sort are really important for helping promote the role of women within organisations.

The specifics that we’ve taken away from our brief are that we’re going to start putting together networks – so supporting other groups of people to get together. We took names at the end of our event of people who were interested in being in touch with other people and we’re each of us going to support a new network of people coming together – however works for them – but something along the lines of the network that we’ve got going for ourselves.

There’s an exponential effect that you could have from that if each network then supports other networks to grow and develop and then you having things working across different industries and sectors and it spills over. This is the sort of opportunity for all of us to help women by providing that support network that’s so valuable.

About women and men: Promoting gender balance across government and the Civil Service

There’s a lot of work going on around promoting flexible working policies and that’s not just for women, but also for men – so raising the profile of giving people opportunities to take parental leave – shared childcare responsibilities. I think that’s an important thing as well in terms of promoting the message which isn’t just about supporting women, it’s about supporting women and men to share responsibilities, for example over childcare, in order to make sure that the gender balance throughout organisations, all the way up to leadership roles, can be more balanced.

Another thing that we’ve achieved here at the CMA is that we have very good gender balance across all of the different roles, so our organisation overall is a pretty good split 50/50, and that’s reflected at most levels.

It’s important is that we’ve got great, strong female role models throughout the organisation and I think that helps to promote that gender diversity. That’s true in other parts of government as well.

Within Civil Service departments there are those strong female role models. There’s a particular challenge for technical specialists of thinking where they might take their career and needing the support and encouragement to take that next step where you’ve got to thing a bit more strategically. You might need stand back and take a slightly different perspective. That might be a bit uncomfortable if you come from a technical background.

Having role models and inspiration to do that is very important and that’s one thing that the CMA in particular is doing very well.

“The motherhood penalty” – are reasons for losing female talent more complex?

There are challenges for women regardless of whether they are parents or not parents. Women want challenging roles just as much as men and they want those to continue throughout their career. There’s an interesting question to be asked about why it is that women may not be finding these roles within particular organisation.

The idea of “the motherhood penalty” and why it is that we lose out on female talent in organisations is such a personal concept. Although where I work has a very good gender balance, in my industry the ratio of women in senior leadership roles is much weaker, so we have about 50/50 intake and graduate level and then it goes down to about 20% of senior competition lawyers and economists are women.

Why aren’t women reaching senior leadership roles?

There is something there that is a challenge for us to understand why that is happening. So not just the attrition within organisations, but across the whole industry: Why is it women aren’t reaching those senior leadership roles?

There are lots of different reasons for that and it was a feature of the panel discussion, with each of the women talking about their work within their own organisation had helped to play a part in making some changes. For example one person was talking about the need for a supportive environment, so making sure that people have good mentoring schemes, people can speak to in confidence when they’re talking about planning their own careers and they want to achieve a good work / life balance.

That’s not important just for women, it’s also important for men. Creating that kind of environment can take some time and be a challenge. That’s one of the things we need to recognise. These aren’t changes that can happen overnight, but the more we can talk about it, the quicker that change will happen and the better it will be.

It’s fascinating when you do talk to women who have been incredibly successful in their career and the sort of the advice that they have. It’s so valuable to hear those things. That’s one of the things that so good about the breakfast event.

Simple advice that makes sense – it’s OK to say “no

There were a couple of very simple pieces of advice that seemed to really make sense, which perhaps you wouldn’t think of yourself. One of the conversations was saying that, “Actually, if I want to make sure that I get a work / life balance, sometimes I just say no. I don’t explain, I don’t need to provide an excuse, I just say no to things.”

I think for all of us that was a bit of an important moment to realise that it’s OK to do that. People were looking around the room saying, “I think I’ll try that!” Never apologise, never explain. Just say “no”. It’s really quite empowering!

What is next for the group?

Our group has lots of ideas about what we want to do next, so we’re going to be setting up these networks and helping other networks to form. We’re thinking about other ways in which we might put on events for example and other perspectives we can take on all of this.

What’s been really different having this group has been how we spark off each other, so somebody will come forward and say, “I’ve been thinking this might work,” and everyone will say, “That would be brilliant. How about we do it this way?” The reaction you get from people encouraging you means that if you make a suggestion you feel some responsibility for taking it forward.

 

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