Jayne-Anne Gadhia, chief executive of Virgin money, knew she was at a disadvantage by virtue of being female when her male business partner, who was going to help set up the Virgin financial services business, was able to have a meeting with Richard Branson while he was in the bath; the colleague came away with 2.5 per cent of the company.
All she was able to do was negotiate a £20,000 pay rise on her £60,000 salary at what was then Norwich Union. While she was pleased with her £20,000 pay rise, she said: "If we really want to make a difference, some of us have to get narky."
She was speaking at the UK Finance Personal Finance Conference in Banking Hall, London in May, taking part in a 'fireside chat' with Catherine McGrath, managing director, transactional products and payments at Barclays, and hosted by journalist and broadcaster Naga Munchetty.
They were discussing the issue of women in finance, and why it was so hard to find gender equality in financial services. Ms Gadhia said: "There's a woman at work who's ex-army. She's been to Afghanistan. [When asked] what scared her in Afghanistan, she said 'spiders'. If you can't recruit someone in financial services but you can [send women to] Afghanistan, there's something wrong."
She said the main reason women were not drawn to financial services as a career was because of the work culture, especially the macho, bonus-driven work ethic.
"It's not about women having babies or women being carers, it's because women don't like the culture." She said that women tend to rail against it when men over-assert themselves in the office to get their bonus. "Women say, 'I'm not prepared to be part of this culture'."
Ms McGrath said this was not a culture that she recognised at Barclays, but said there were ways of changing it. She said: "We've got very good at articulating the big issues – when we see something racist or sexist we call it out.
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"But do we call out these small things?" She cited an example of looking at a job description one day and it described the candidate as 'he'. "These sorts of things happen all the time.
"When you come from the Antipodes there's an expectation you're not as polite as everyone else. I take every advantage of that. I'm quite comfortable to call it out – if you do it with a bit of humour and never hear it again, it works a treat.
"If you hear it a second time you have to have a conversation," said Ms McGrath.
She lamented that, in many ways, things had not changed much from when she was starting out in her career.
She said: "When I started work, the prime minister of New Zealand was a female, and I didn't think [latent sexism] would be a problem. But when I look at my niece, she still needs to have some of these conversations." She added that maybe she and her colleagues needed to do more to call out minor comments that contribute to the problem.