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Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

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Aiming higher for true gender equality: Why it’s essential to create the change we want to see – Dame Helena Morrissey, Head of Personal Investing at Legal & General Investment Management

Dame Helena Morrissey is Head of Personal Investing at Legal & General Investment Management, having joined from Newton in 2017. In 2010, she founded the 30% Club, a collaborative campaign to drive voluntary, business-led change, which has now become an international approach, with chapters in the UK, Ireland, Italy, Turkey, the US, Canada, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Australia, Southern Africa and the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council]. Helena’s first book, A Good Time To Be A Girl, was published earlier in 2018.

Dame Helena Morrissey – image © Emily Moya

“…I was managing international bond funds and my competition weren’t just all men, they were all called Paul!..” 

Combining numbers with lateral thinking

I really just ‘fell into’ fund management after friends at university suggested I apply – it wasn’t an obvious career after a philosophy degree but I immediately loved the variety, the intellectual challenge and the chance to combine numbers with lateral thinking. 

New-YorkAfter a promising start spending two years in New York, I was then passed over for promotion at the firm I originally worked for and was told there was ‘some doubt over my commitment with a baby’. I left and then had a very different, positive experience at a smaller firm, Newton, where the founder, Stewart Newton, effectively became my mentor.

Within seven years I had become the CEO (and had another four children, going on to eventually have nine!). The firm’s assets under management grew from £20 billion to £50 billion by the time I stepped down fifteen years later in search of a new challenge. I started at Legal & General Investment Management, a £1 trillion asset manager, almost a year ago.

Engaging the nation to invest

My role as Head of Personal Investing is a new one for the firm, with a big ambition: to engage the nation to invest – particularly women and young people. Many people are reluctant, bored or scared by investments, or think it’s something that you need thousands of pounds to do, which isn’t true at all. We’re all invested in aspects of our lives – our homes, our children, our careers, our health – and we need to add financial wellbeing to that list so more of us can feel secure about our financial future.

We haven’t launched our new personal investing platform yet, but the first release will be in June, and my colleagues and I are hard at work on all aspects of that – ranging from the technology to make investing more straightforward, to different ways of engaging with those who haven’t invested before. I would just love to see far more people feeling confident that they will be able to afford a deposit on a flat, pay for a wedding or be comfortable when they retire. That, for me, is an exciting prospect!

30% Club

30% Club – an initiative that has helped double the proportion of women on UK company boards – came about as a result of the financial crisis. At the time, nearly 90% of board directors were men, and often very similarly-educated, white, affluent men, too.

As the regulators identified in their review of the failure of RBS, this similarly led to ‘groupthink’, not just people agreeing with each other, but shutting out dissenting opinions. I’d been running a rather unsuccessful women’s network at my own company but realised this was a moment to seize to try to do something a bit different. The members of the Club are the chairmen of companies – and when we launched in 2010, 99 of the FTSE100 chairmen were men!

Getting them involved (which wasn’t always easy) made a breakthrough possible. Women talking to women about women’s issues can make us feel less isolated but won’t get us actually promoted. It was amazing seeing how much progress could be made when men and women worked together to create the change.

I stepped down from running the 30% Club in 2015 but remain involved as a mentor on the cross-company mentoring programme (which has over 2,000 participants from 100 organisations this year), a speaker at events and with the US chapter (there are now ten 30% Clubs around the world).

Aiming for true gender equality

I’ve worked in the City for 30 years and though it may sound implausibly neat, my experiences fit into three distinct decades. The first, starting in the late 1980s, was an environment openly hostile to women. Sexual harassment and discrimination were widespread, and it felt quite intimidating to very often be the only woman in the room. I was managing international bond funds and my competition weren’t just all men, they were all called Paul!

The second decade was so much better for me personally because I was at a company were diversity was really welcomed, but in the wider industry I’d say women were more tolerated than welcomed. With legislation coming down the tracks, employers could see the need to offer equal opportunities but there was little sense that women might bring something additional to the thinking, and I think many women felt the need to fit in with the status quo, to be honorary men.

The third decade was one of real progress, catalysed by the financial crisis – suddenly, there was a real awareness of the benefits of diversity and many new gender diversity initiatives. It’s unfinished business, though. 

I think we’re on the brink of a fourth really exciting phase, where we can and should aim higher, for true gender equality. Working practices are changing, for both men and women of course, as companies embrace technology, which is liberating.

Increasingly, too, there’s a more sophisticated approach to diversity, a focus on diversity of thought, not just identity, reducing the association with political correctness, which has been limiting. I think there is another moment to seize today – to really shake up our roles and approaches to living as well as working, and become real partners with men, leaving many centuries of patriarchy behind.

Organising a 50/50 gender split event to raise funds for the charities forced to turn down donations from this year’s Presidents Club dinner

The original idea of one event in London has actually grown to be six events across the country, starting with a dinner on the opening night of the Chelsea Flower Show, 21st May and ending with the Lord Mayor’s ‘Grand Finale’ at the Guildhall on 29th October. In between, events will be hosted in Cardiff, Edinburgh, Manchester and Belfast, all under the banner Diverse City.

I think many of us had many different – and strong – reactions to the sordid revelations about the Presidents Club dinner, not only did it seem extraordinary that this type of behaviour was still occurring in 2018 (when anything and everything is discoverable!) but sad that so many charities would lose out.

I chair the Diversity Project, which aims to improve diversity across all dimensions in the investment industry, and one of my colleagues, Sarah Bates, dropped me an email titled ‘just a passing thought’ and tentatively suggested the Diversity Project could do something about this – and I immediately thought “yes!” – we should organise an event to replace the monies, something to repair the damage and not just moan about it.

I wrote to all the CEOs who support the Diversity Project for their reactions. Within a few hours, it was clear there was enough support to start planning, and a few days later it was clear that we should make this bigger, more inclusive across the country, and of course make sure the events are modern in every respect – no sexist auctioneers or waitresses-only table service. We’re going to raise money for local diversity charities, as well as replace those foregone as a result of the Presidents Club dinner.

Why it’s essential to create the change we want to see

The 30% Club experience taught me that we can create the change we want to see. I am dismayed by the idea that talented young people will be put off even considering a City career because they think it’s an old-fashioned, predatory environment. Not only might that discourage them from pursuing a career they might actually enjoy, but it will impede further progress around City culture, which is so important.

The City has not yet managed to regain trust ten years after the financial crisis and we are not going to, if we don’t work harder to explain what it is we actually do and how most people really are focused on delivering good results for customers. There are still pockets of retro behaviour, of course, but the pendulum has swung in a very positive way.

How Womanthology readers show their support for Diverse City

The response has been really overwhelmingly positive and I am optimistic that we can raise a good sum of money – and perhaps make this an annual series of events, held in different cities each year. If you want to find out more or get involved at any of the events, please go to:

Coming up next

A-Good-Time-To-Be-A-Girl - Helena MorrisseyAs well as the launch of Legal & General Investment Management’s personal investing platform in the summer, my recent book, A Good Time to be a Girl: Don’t Lean In, Change the System, will be published more widely over the next couple of months, including in the US and Canada and I’m looking forward to discussing the topic there. This year certainly feels like the Year of the Woman!

My role as a serial mother – and now a grandmother (my grandson, Julian, was born on Christmas Day last year so is now three months old) – means there’s always something coming up next! Over the summer we will all be together quite a lot, which I love, and there are a few children changing or leaving school, onto the next big phase in their lives. It’s energising, not always easy, but definitely my most important and joyful role.

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