Covid-19 has thrust flexible and remote working into the spotlight with many financial institutions finally realising that it is possible. For women, this may just be the start of their assent, en masse, to the top jobs, or at least we hope so. In a week in which we’ve celebrated International Women’s Day, Helen O’Neill, chief operating officer at Tatton Investment Management shares her experience of what it is like being a woman in a senior position, and what it takes to get there.
Almost 12 months ago to the day the UK, like much of the world, started its fight back against the Covid-19 pandemic. Businesses closed their doors; temporary offices were set up on dining room tables and in spare bedrooms; and everyone adapted to a life of lockdown.
What we didn’t know then was just how long those temporary offices would be needed or that for some that space would double-up as a classroom for children requiring home schooling.
And while the Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it numerous challenges, it has shone a spotlight on flexible working – something that has typically held women back from securing top financial services roles.
There are some interesting data sets relating to women in the financial services sector – in 2020 only 17% of financiers with Financial Conduct Authority accreditation were female. In 2019, just 15% of the top jobs in financial services were held by women, with only 4% of firms being run by them.
Part of the challenge for women in business is that they do have babies and naturally, when they do, they want to spend time with them. Returning to work can be difficult – the mental challenge to get back to where you were before having a family and the fight to rise up the ladder – I’ve done it myself and I found it hellish, and as a result of that lack of support, businesses lose good people.
When I returned to work after having my daughter, I worked at a large bank in the City and aside from that general feeling that you just can’t do the job anymore, mentally, there is also the guilt of being away from home. I remember getting that call from nursery telling me that my daughter had a temperature and having to inform my manager that I had to go home – I felt guilty, worried, scared, even, about having to have that conversation. Couple that with the train being delayed – I resigned the next day.
As a female COO, it is experiences like these, where the work/life balance, flexibility and respect were lacking, that has informed the way I like to operate within my team.
Women are natural leaders because we have a certain set of skills, the main one being that we tend to listen more. It may sound trivial but homing in on the needs of individual team members, working out their agendas, is really important when it comes to implementing change.
You can’t change the world on your own – a leader needs to be able to manage. You need to be tough enough to make those hard decisions – cut those who are holding the team back while pushing those eager to succeed. Listening is not a weakness, and neither is changing your mind.
We’ve all heard it – it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind – a statement packed full of negative connotations – she’s too emotional, she’s indecisive, she’s not in control. Why does it have to be that way? Surely the ability to admit to getting something wrong and adjusting your approach demonstrates strength?
We all make mistakes. Be honest, be transparent, that then builds trust which leads to the team working harder, remaining loyal. At Tatton we don’t have a massive team, but we all go above and beyond our pay cheques.