To answer this question fully I need to take you back to the early 1980’s – I attended school in the village where Billy Elliot was set; Elvington Colliery in the film, Easington Colliery in real life. Career choices were limited for most, with the Army, some light engineering firms or council work being the main avenues for employment. It was a very male-oriented hierarchical structure too, in that – usually – the men went to work and women stayed at home and looked after the family; this was how life had been conducted for many years. It would have been very easy to perpetuate that life too, however a combination of the miners’ strike reducing local employment levels even further and rising opportunities coming from deregulation in the financial sector at the time encouraged me to take a fund management degree at a university in the South of England and embark upon a City career which has so far lasted some thirty-three years and counting.
The City was still very much male-dominated too when I started there in the late 1980’s, with a few notable exceptions in the Securities Services world – inspiring ladies like Susan Livingston at BBH and Margaret Harwood-Jones at Midland Securities Services. As time passed I saw opportunities for women within lateral-thinking and progressive firms grow – for example Penny Biggs, under whom I worked at Northern Trust in the early Noughties, and Teresa Parker. Other stand-out examples in the industry included Ann Doherty at JPM and Joanna Meager at RBC but very few others.
It strikes me as very odd, having grown up in a single parent family with a strong role-model mother, that firms weren’t, and to a degree still aren’t, making the best of an amazing resource right under their nose, and also embracing diversity of thought with its obvious, myriad benefits. As I’m blessed with three daughters (and an extremely capable wife) – whether they choose to go into the City or not – I want them to experience a level playing field with respect to their career options, so when Kate Webber, who I had come across whilst doing some hiring at Calastone, explained to me what she was looking to do with WiAS I was keen to assist. My role on sitting on the WIAS Advisory Board is to provide insight and balance from a male perspective, and share my experience, as a hiring manager, candidate and recruitment firm owner as required. Kate has pulled together a diverse and energetic group and our partnership with the Embark Group is proving hugely complementary and successful – and the imminent launch of the WiAS website www.wias.co.uk will provide a fantastic repository of relevant information and publicise WiAS courses, events and conferences.
As with most areas of life, and this is something I endeavour to do each day, it is true to say that the more you put into something the more get out of it so I’d encourage both women and men, whatever their age, background or role, to actively engage with WiAS – I guarantee it’ll be an enlightening, enjoyable, rewarding and educative experience.