Emma Douglas is head of defined contribution at Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM). After 20 years at the top of the pension and investing sector, she tells Laura Miller how diversity initiatives fail, the blunt answer to the female boss problem, and what she would do with a scratch card win.
You went from Modern History at Oxford to an MBA from Manchester Business School. Globally last year a 3% female pay gap for MBA graduates before studying grew to 28% afterwards. What is going wrong?
It would be great to see more women at the top. I am fortunate to be in a position where I can promote women into leadership roles; my senior leadership team is over 50% women.
We need industry-wide recognition of the talents women bring. Organisations such as the ‘30% Club' help make a difference, but some progress on diversity should not forget inclusion.
Genuinely flexible working is still rare - we have a way to go before it is acceptable for a senior leader to work part-time. Changing this attitude would help women, and men, build a business life that works for them.
Threadneedle, Blackrock, Mercer and now LGIM - you have led at the biggest pension providers in the world. What helped you get to the top, and stay there?
Defined contribution was ‘new' when I started. I could build businesses from scratch at Threadneedle and Mercer and lead sales at BlackRock. I was mentored by some amazing people at strategic points in my career, but was fortunate DC was there to be shaped.
You have to enjoy what you do - I love that defined contribution isn't just about investing but making financial decisions less scary. Knowing my team can make a real difference to an individual's retirement income is a big motivator.
I would encourage people to push themselves. Try to acquire new knowledge and skills wherever you can.
What was the investment world like for women when you joined Threadneedle 20 years ago - and how has it changed?
I certainly see more women in leadership positions now.
I am lucky to work at LGIM where my boss and her boss are women. Most of my meetings have more women than men - or at least an equal split. It is a reality I enjoy and one I have helped create.
I have also been privileged to work with the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association (PLSA) - which takes diversity very seriously - for over a decade. I led board selection encouraging my female network to apply - we achieved 60% women."
Last year 29% of senior managers globally were women, the highest recorded by Grant Thorton but just 10 percentage points higher than in 2004. How can the UK accelerate parity in leadership between the sexes?
I often hear "how can we promote leadership among women?" and my blunt answer is, promote them. Recognise the skills they can bring and encourage aspiration.
A team member was nervous of taking on what she saw as a ‘pushy' sales role. I demonstrated how a subtle approach can lead to equal, even greater, success. She was nominated as a ‘Rising Star' last year.
I encouraged one of my managers to expand her role outside DC. She now leads a team of 600 people. LGIM gave me the opportunity to lead and I pay it forward.
‘Mansplaining' may have only entered the lexicon in the last few years but many women know it has been going on for much longer. Have you ever had it happen?
Yes, I would be surprised if it hasn't happened to most of us at some point.
Increasing women's visibility, within organisations and externally, helps alter perceptions about women in positions of authority. It is all about changing expectations of who you expect to exercise power.
UK women end up poorer than men in retirement. What should the industry and government do to fix the balance?
The industry has been doing a lot of great work on this, particularly the Insuring Women's Futures initiative and NOW Pensions. Partly it is the gender pay gap, but there are specific issues we can address.
A great quick fix would be to make pension sharing on divorce automatic, or at least make couples have to opt-out of pension sharing rather than opt-in.
Harder to fix is women who take time out to raise a family in their 20s or 30s and miss out on contributions. It is very hard to catch up. We need to make sure women understand this risk and consider paying in more before they have their family.
What was the best piece of advice you have received and who from?
Sarah Aitken, my boss at LGIM, said to me, "we don't get paid to do the easy things". Leaders should expect to make the tough calls - that is why we are in our positions."
What initiatives work best to encourage genuine diversity, and which fail?
They must follow through on what is promised. Being able to work flexibly is often especially attractive to women, but I have seen these initiatives flounder when most requests are turned down.
Clearly there is a balance between the needs of the individual and the business, but for initiatives to work they must be more than lip service.
What was the last book you read and why?
My Brilliant Friend' by Elena Ferrante. I was really keen to read it after seeing the adaptation at the National Theatre in January. I can't decide which was better: the production or the book, but both were fantastic.
What would have been your dream career if you hadn't entered investment?
Running a theatre or a drama company. Earlier in my career I produced and directed shows at the Edinburgh and New York Fringes. At one point I had three shows running for a month and spent every weekend in Scotland, using up holiday to cover it.
My husband is a theatre producer and my daughter is a drama scholar. Obviously we talk about pensions in the evening rather than theatre!
You win £10 on a lottery scratchcard - save, spend, or invest?
I know I should say invest, but I would definitely spend as I would see it as the universe offering me a treat.
Women in Investment Festival
The Women in Investment Festival, in partnership with sister publications Professional Adviser, Professional Pensions, Investment Europe and Retirement Planner, is a one-day festival that seeks to serve as a beacon for the benefits of a truly diverse industry for all, whatever gender, colour or creed.
Although it will naturally talk to and celebrate the achievements of women, we also believe we should showcase the role men play in the equation, and highlight examples of best practice where their support is helping to drive change for true gender equality.
It takes place on Tuesday 3 March at the Brewery in London and we are currently running a discounted super early bird ticket price. Head over to the website here for more details.