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Women in Finance – Addressing the balance

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Sue Langley

Women’s Business Council Member

In her second blog as Women’s Business Council (WBC) member of the month, Sue Langley gives us an insight into working in the financial services sector.

It has now been six months since I took up my role as CEO of the newly established UKTI Financial Services Organisation, which sits within UK Trade and Investment, the business development arm of Government.
I can say, with a certain sense of pride, that I am lucky to have a team of dedicated professionals both from public sector and private sector backgrounds, from across the regions of the UK, and with a fascinating range of skills, experience and expertise.
In fact, having come from a very male dominated background in the City; one thing that strikes me when looking out across the busy work space at UKTI is the range of diverse groups. And it works. People from all regions of the UK, ethnic backgrounds, age groups and professional backgrounds are working together to achieve the common goals of the organisation and their individual teams.
The role of my team is to focus on the financial services sector, and specifically to work with overseas based companies to bring their high quality investment to the UK, and to help UK based companies to export to overseas markets. In this role, I come into contact with a great many people at home and abroad, and from both within government and industry.
And in doing so, I meet some inspiring women.
In what is traditionally a very male dominated domain, the newly appointed Lord Mayor of London is a woman. Fiona Woolf was elected Lord Mayor of London in September last year, only the second time in its 800-year history that a woman has held this office.
Which begs the question, is this an indicator of a change in direction for the traditionally stuffy image of the male dominated financial services sector?
After 325 years, in December, my previous employer, Lloyd’s of London, appointed its first woman CEO, Inga Beale. It was only in1970 that Lloyds admitted its first female underwriter, Countess Inchcape, and even then she wasn’t allowed to conduct business personally and could only communicate with clients through an agent. Fortunately, things have moved on somewhat since then. Although it is still compulsory for men to wear neck ties on the trading floor!
I was pleased to learn that in taking up her new role as CEO, Inga has pledged to address the gender balance at Lloyds. And I can say from my own experience that having women in the boardroom, as well as a range of talents and experience, clearly makes sense for corporate decision making.
The recent update on the Davies report that looked at the number of women on Boards showed that we are making great progress, but that we aren’t there yet. There are still only four women FTSE CEO’s on the FTSE 100. These few appointments are clearly not representative of the customer base those companies serve and something which I hope will continue to change in the right direction for the better. This is a message that I will be championing in my role on the Women’s Business Council as we continue to work with the business community to bring more women into positions of influence and power.
It’s therefore still important to keep focused. On the day the report was launched, I was interviewed on BBC Breakfast news about why there has always seemed to be a lack of female candidates at executive levels. It is true that there are less women at a senior level, but I strongly believe that headhunters and Boards need to be more creative about where they look. The skills required around a board table do not always require years of experience in an industry sector and a fresh approach and viewpoint often makes a real difference.
This is equally true for male or female candidates. Operational, technical and strategic skills are transferable and mixed approaches to assessing risk are essential. Too often headhunters and boards call for twenty or more years experience in a specific industry and whilst those skills are fundamental around a board table, so is a mix of experience, characteristics and backgrounds. The mark of a good Chairman is to bring together diverse views and opinions to constructively challenge the business from multiple angles and to drive it forward – mixed teams perform better.
That said, I am lucky in that I do meet some brilliant people, male and female in my new role; and as I take forward the work of the UKTI Financial Services Organisation, I look forward to working closely with both men and women and the brightest and the best from what is clearly such an important sector to the UK economy.
I very much look forward to the first anniversary of the Women’s Business Council’s work in June.

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