Talks at Oxford University

Today I went to an excellent free lecture as part of the Women of Achievement series which was given by Dame Helena Morrissey in the most beautiful setting of Pembroke College. This was followed by wine reception with delicious canape. Oxford is a city where there are always lots of author talks etc- there is a Facebook group here or it’s worth looking at Blackwell’s and Waterstone’s websites.


Credit: Catherine and Sarah Satrun

Helena has 9 children, is Head of Personal Investing at Legal & General, former chief executive of Newton Investment Management and is Author of A Good Time to be a Girl.

Not only successful at work but she also  established the 30% Club to campaign for greater female representation on company boards in 2010, she’s a trustee at the Eve Appeal, which raises money for gynaecological cancers, and she is a former chairperson of the corporate board of the Royal Academy of Arts.Here you can see the rise in % of women in board positions in the FTSE 100 (note: 2010 – 2011)

Image result for women on boards graph

Some of the things I took away from the lecture, these are my thoughts:

  • Diversity of thought

Diversity in terms of sexuality, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background and disability is incredibly important and what you often think of when talking about diversity. But also important is diversity of thought, which is shaped by culture, background, experiences, and personalities. Diversity in the workplace leads to diversity of thought. We are not all the same. We all bring different skills and viewpoints. By challenging others points of view and opinions we make our work the best it can be. Helena also talked about the dangers of ‘echo chambers’.

  • Emotional intelligence and empathy 

Teamwork makes the dreamwork. See the first slide below. Great teams show good social sensitivity in both genders described as ‘proficiency at which an individual can identify, perceive, and understand cues and contexts in social interactions along with being socially respectful to others.’

  • Influencing

Influencing is a different way of getting things done. This is not ‘command and control’ which is a more traditionally ‘masculine’ leadership style. Women bring skills that

  • Output not input 

Why are we measured by hours in the office? We go to work to do our jobs- if we can do our jobs working from home, within a 4 days week, in a different way – isn’t that mutually beneficial?

  • Authenticity

Helena was authentic to herself. She didn’t encourage herself to behave in a more masculine way, didn’t stop wearing bright clothes or talk in a different voice. We all need to be authentic to ourselves, whether we are men or women, to do well. For me, this also means if you want to be a CEO of an investment bank, that’s fine, if you want to stay at home with your kids, that’s also fine, just make sure you are doing your own thing!

  • Our lives are different now

We expect a work life balance because we know we will be working longer, living longer. We also expect more from our job. The Digital world offers opportunity to change. See the 2nd slide below.




Helena’s top tips include:

  • Leap before you look – this is something that I believe doesn’t come naturally fro women! 
  • Think big, start small, but start now 
  • Play to your strengths, work with your differences
  • Act confidently – I’m a big believer in this. People will take you more seriously if you at least appear to be confident. 
  • See your career as a labyrinth, not a ladderthis particularly resonated with me as someone quite early on in their career, with little idea of what I’d liek to do 
  • Help others where you can – pay it forwardgoes against the ‘queen bee syndrome‘ mentality which personally I do not believe in 
  • Create alliesinfluencing is more powerful than telling! Men are important allies in the change too. 
  • You want to be CEO – go for it!This reminded me of the study that says ‘Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them’ This goes back to leaping before looking! More reading here
  • There is no single right path – live YOUR life I think this is similar to ladder v labyrinth 

Q & A

The questions at the end were also though-provoking, here are some of the issues discussed:

  • Brexit – Helena brought a different perspective to the debate ( she voted leave) and argued that Brexit could be good for women. This is an different to the arguments of the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign. This links back to ‘diversity of thought’ and echo chambers.
  • Reframing ‘women’s’ events to encourage men to attend – talk about leadership qualities, get men to recruit other men, talk about equality, opportunity and feelign included
  • Philosophy – does having a philosophical background (Helena was a Philosophy undergrad at Cambridge) mean that you have a different way of looking at things in a traditionally more ‘maths’ job.

Barriers for women in the workplace: 

  • Gender pension gap- 2/5 of the size of men’s on average!
  • Paternity pay – there is a financial incentive for men to go back to work and women stay at home as maternity pay is much better than paternity pay
  • Childcare costs are unaffordable – Britain is one of the most expensive countries.

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