Opinion 

Motherhood remains biggest obstacle to female ascendancy in the City

Angela Lascelles

Angela Lascelles

When I started working in investment, the industry was very different to now.

My father, who was a stockbroker, told me a woman couldn’t be successful in the profession.

I have now been working in investment for more than 40 years, including over 30 of those as a fund manager and head of OLIM Investment Managers, a firm I co-founded in 1986 on the cusp of the Big Bang. 

The sector has changed considerably and gender equality has improved significantly, but balancing a demanding career with raising young children is still one of the biggest challenges to success in the City.

Improvements to parental leave and flexible working have made the task easier, but the strains of the job remain. 

There are now far more women in investment; in my graduate intake, only two out of 30 were women. But the gender split across entry-level investment roles is now much more mixed.

Women were outnumbered and without obvious financial role models in the 1960s, 1970s and even 1980s; now we have widely recognised and outstanding senior leaders such as Helena Morrissey and Anne Richards.

But since the 1970s, the average length of the working day has crept up and many investment roles require 7am starts and long days not conducive to being there for young children.

The skills required to be a successful investor – an analytical brain, interest in economics and business, mathematical competency and confident communication skills – are the same for everyone, but the opportunities to sharpen them are not always as plentiful for women.

A better balance

Current initiatives targeting gender diversity are well-intentioned but can be patronising – we already have a female Prime Minister, Bishop of London and Metropolitan Police chief, so how much more help do we need to get to the top?

Yet the general trend in recent years towards flexible working is to be welcomed by those balancing an investment career and motherhood.

It is a great shame when mothers have to decide which area of their lives to prioritise.

I was very lucky to be invited to work a four-day week by the late and very forward thinking Alastair Ross Goobey, who I worked for when managing investments for Courtaulds Pension Fund after having my second son. 

The ability to choose when and where to work has become ubiquitous with advances in technology, but not all employers are equal in terms of their culture, demands and approach.

A flexible and understanding employer can make a significant difference, though the needs of the business and colleagues should be carefully balanced with arrangements for the mothers.

I was also afforded substantial flexibility by setting up my fund management business.

Becoming your own boss has its own unique pressures and benefits, but entrepreneurship can provide a more malleable, if no less demanding, working schedule.

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