Jayne-Anne Gadhia: We need to create a level playing field

Virgin Money's CEO on what's holding women back in finance.

by Rebecca Smith
Last Updated: 18 Apr 2016

Jayne-Anne Gadhia has been open about the fact she didn’t think the progression of women in financial services was much worse than other industries. But having agreed to write a report for the Treasury (which will be out on Tuesday) the CEO of Virgin Money realised it wasn’t quite so straightforward.

The different perceptions, she feels, come with different ages. ‘We start off our career thinking I don’t want positive discrimination; I just want to make it on my own, don’t patronise me,' she says at MT’s Inspiring Women Edinburgh conference. 'And I definitely felt like that, but actually you do really need to intervene is what I’ve found – to be assured we’ve got a level playing field from people to succeed from. And that’s what we’re trying to do.’

As with many industries, representation of women isn’t an issue at entry-level. ‘In financial services, I think something like 62% of entrants are women,’ Gadhia explains. It’s once you start looking up the career ladder, this begins to change. ‘By the time you come to middle management that starts to fall back and left to its own devices, the average percentage of women above middle management will be 14%. By the time you get to the very top it’s tiny.’

The MT interview: 'Imagine a world where banks really had to fight for your business' - Jayne-Anne Gadhia

Her report covers the top ten reasons why people feel this is happening and she shared the top three at the Inspiring Women conference. ‘Women in general don’t feel they have supportive line managers and that’s really fascinating – that local, personal management not just at the very top but those you work with day to day, make a huge difference,’ she says. So from an organisation perspective, there’s a clear sign that firms can help gender equality across the board by improving this.

‘The second thing is think about the culture of the company you work in. There’s a lot of people particularly in financial services who feel there’s a culture of "being there" – you have to get in early, you have to stay late, you have to be seen to be there,’ Gadhia explains. She’s found women have said they want to do their job well, but that culture needs to be made more inclusive.

That ties in with her third point – many respondents said, ‘We’ve got great tech these days; make it available to me so I can work wherever I am. I’ll do a really good job – trust me to do that.’ There are of course, variables at different companies and Gadhia says the ‘general thrust of the solutions we’re suggesting is making sure the different institutions come up with their own tailored solutions for the women in their organisation’. 

On a similar thread, the conversation turns to the controversial topic of egg freezing. Some firms in Silicon Valley racked up headlines in 2014 for offering to pay costs of egg freezing. Gadhia had her daughter at the age of 41 after six attempts of IVF. ‘If I had my time over again I would have had my baby and done my job, not done my job first and waited for my baby,’ she says. ‘I would never criticise anyone for doing that, but now that I’m older I’d just say have your babies when you want and your job will find a way to fit in. As a society we’re much more accommodating about that.’

Britain hasn't, as a country, been quite so accommodating when it comes to the EU and its role in our lives – another hot topic doing the rounds ahead of the June referendum. Gadhia’s unreservedly pro-Europe. ‘I just feel we tragically live in such a difficult and dangerous world – I cannot for the life of me understand why we’d want to be separated from our friends. That’s my emotional point if you like,’ she says. ‘The fact that our daughters and sons can travel to Europe freely – I accept that it brings different issues around migrant discussion, but we are Europeans and how fantastic is that to have all that culture at our fingertips?’

She also says that despite the bureaucracy, without the EU everything from working conditions to parental leave could be a whole lot worse. ‘I think we should think about the true social justice that Europe has enabled us all to benefit from and not moan too much about the bureaucracy around it’.

It's this sense of positivity which she also applies to her own career – despite professing she's never had a gameplan, Gadhia doesn't bat an eyelid at the number of prospects she has at her fingertips today. (She does though, admit that saying yes to everything causes a headache or two for the employee who runs her office...)

‘I just think it’s such a privilege that we have so much opportunity put before us and if you’ve got an opportunity, you should really take it,’ she says. ‘I don’t know what opportunities will come my way in the next few years, but whatever they are I promise you I’ll take them.’

Missed out on Inspiring Women Edinburgh? There's still time to get tickets to our Birmingham conference on 21st April - check out the programme here.

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