Former FSA enforcer Margaret Cole: Women are more sharing of their vulnerabilities as leaders

You Live And You Learn: Margaret Cole, general counsel, PwC and formerly chief enforcer at the Financial Services authority, on working in a man's world.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 27 Feb 2014

I was disappointed when I didn't get the top job at the FCA [Financial Conduct Authority]. I really wanted it and I thought I'd do a good job. I struggled with the decision to go, but people were telling me it's good to leave on a high before anything goes wrong.

I did think very hard about going to a bank. But it was all about making money for yourself, and cultural change doesn't seem to be happening quite yet. I couldn't see myself spilling the beans on the dark arts of a regulator.

When we were reforming the FSA's enforcement division, my team spoke candidly about how dreadful it was going to feel making people redundant. It would make me in particular unpopular, but it was the right thing to do. I think women are more sharing of their vulnerabilities as leaders.

The press said utterly daft things about me as a woman that they'd never say about a man. I read about myself going through the City with guns blazing and eating razor blades for breakfast.

I've never felt particularly attacked for not having children. It's horrible, because it's very presumptuous. If you choose not to, what's the big deal?

Of course I doubt myself. I think it's very common for women and not for men. I've been in board meetings where another woman or I will make a comment and not really be heard, and a man will say the same thing and it'll be a 'marvellous suggestion'.

I was brought up in a terraced house in Preston with an outdoor loo. My mother was determined that I would be extremely well educated and have every opportunity, because she didn't. She was always quoting Shakespeare. I did my whole FSA leaving speech in quotations.

My mother was a closet communist and sent me to an Israeli kibbutz when I was 17. Until then, I'd only met two people who weren't Catholics. It changed my whole life. If I'd gone straight to Cambridge I'd have been a swot, but it made me realise there was something else out there.

Horses are my great passion. I used to go and muck out the stables when I was a kid to get free rides. I compete in one-day events - I'm terrified by the cross-country, but it's really good to take your mind off working, because you're figuring out how to survive.

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