'The dinosaurs are still out there' - Jayne-Anne Gadhia

See the Virgin Money CEO at MT's Inspiring Women Edinburgh conference on 17 March.

Last Updated: 11 May 2016

What is the biggest challenge facing women in business today?

I think that corporate culture remains a fundamental issue that business leaders must resolve. Even with a liberal and high-profile agenda, I find that beneath the surface old-fashioned, alpha male attitudes are still alive and kicking in more businesses than we would hope and expect.

There is definitely a theme coming out where some men feel that they are being discriminated against if 50% of jobs are to be held by women. Some even assume that quality of output would be reduced as a result! We need to go much farther and be much clearer in explaining that women and men contribute equally and that a diverse workforce adds value, insight and productivity.

I was also horrified to hear, at a recent dinner, a senior and successful business leader who is exactly the same age as me saying publicly - 'what if you employ a woman and the next day she says she's pregnant - go on, tell me how you deal with that?'.

The dinosaurs are still out there and still running businesses. Men and women need to deal with them if we are to achieve a diverse, fair and productive workforce as the foundation for economic success and stability.

What advice would you give to women pursuing a career in finance?

Never give up! There's no doubt that a career in finance can be tough. It needs hard work, commitment and there will be setbacks. But it is an industry that is essential to society, that builds communities and which changes lives.

It needs EQ as well as IQ. And we need people - men and women - who can get that balance right. And then the rewards are well beyond money - they are about making a real and sustainable difference. Financial services does that and needs people to make it happen. I hope it will be you that makes that difference - and - despite the inevitable knocks - you will have fun along the way.

What is the biggest challenge you have overcome personally, and how did you do it?

I think that part of the difficulty women in business face is that men can assume that their emotions, responses and deep seated beliefs can come from the wrong place. I have been accused of being 'hormonal' or 'menopausal' on a number of occasions when I've really just been putting forward a different view to that of my bosses. We do need to learn that men and women are different and we should value that. The alternative is that we force women to behave to male norms - and that is not what diversity is about.

Some time ago I was dealing with a particular issue and was certainly not being heard. People tried to dismiss what I thought was a material issue and were cross when I kept driving it through. I got some external advice and was told that, in similar situations, business leaders (not always women) create a crisis to bring matters to a head. I did that - painful as it was. As a result Richard Branson spotted there was a problem, got in touch and helped sort it out. I've learned never to be too proud to accept help - but sometimes you have to flag that you need it.

Hear more from Jayne-Anne Gadhia at MT's Inspiring Women conference in Edinburgh on 17 March. 


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