08th Mar 2019

A very personal reflection on International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day (IWD) has come around again and as usual, it raises many questions from both a business and personal perspective.

From the former, I wonder is 20-20 Trustees doing enough internally to support equality of opportunity (to justify doing an IWD blog at all)? Are we using our influence as asset owners to make a real difference when it comes to gender diversity? How important is diversity within the realms of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) which have replaced ‘responsible’ or ‘ethical’ as the new buzz words.

And, as a privileged person whose career in the male dominated pensions world is going very nicely thank you, should I be “over” gender diversity? Should I be concerned that gender is often the only diversity characteristic for ESG monitoring and should I be more focussed on diversity of ethnicity, (dis)ability, opportunity/education and sexual orientation?

From a personal perspective, I see both huge developments in terms of what women are brave enough to say, yet I am disappointed by the often terrifying backlash which certainly prevents me from saying what I really think. And I struggle with how best to assist my teenage sons to navigate this new world without boring them to tears with regular lectures. But it’s not all bad. I look forward to following comedian Richard Herring (@Herring1967) who famously spends International Women’s Day responding to the men demanding to know when their day is – and raising funds for Refuge in the process (it’s November 19th in case you are wondering).

However, this year in particular I can be very proud. My supremely talented singer/composer/conductor sister-in-law Joanna L’Estrange (@JoannaLEstrange) having been inspired by Oprah’s speech at the 2018 Golden Globes has composed a song –  Twenty First Century Woman Song. She assembled an incredible group of West End stars, recording artists and crew to record the song at Abbey Road – only to discover it was the first ever all female session there. She has now persuaded another group of fantastic women including Joanna Lumley, Mel Giedroyc and Ruby Wax to star in the video. The single is being released on 8th March in support of girls’ education charities such as the Malala Fund. 

Joanna has also been encouraging women to tweet something about themselves with the hashtag #weare; which sent me into another batch of navel gazing. Anyone who follows me on Twitter (@naomi_lestrange) will see a possibly baffling combination of pensions, organic gardening, classical/choral music, climate change activism, feminist comedians and a tentative admission that I’m not desperately keen on Brexit.

I worry sometimes that this is not appropriate for the Managing Director of a successful Financial Services business.  But over the last year a few things have made me realise that it’s not only OK but important to show your full self.  First, in my interview for the Actuarial Council of the Financial Reporting Council, I admitted that I am quite the hippy environmentalist at heart but felt I had to hide it to be taken seriously as a financial services professional.  The Chair of the Panel, to my surprise, asked me to stop hiding – so I have.

A couple of old friends have got in touch to say they admire what I’m “doing” about feminism and it’s encouraged them to do more – I didn’t think I was “doing” anything really, just ranting occasionally when I get extra cross about a particular example of casual (or not) discrimination.

I have realised that feminism and equality are about everyone getting to choose what they do, and care about. You do not need to be 100% focussed on your day job to be a great employee – you will be a better one if you have other passions in your life to keep you physically and mentally healthy and #balancebetter.

The gender pay gap will narrow when all people (especially men) can choose to work flexibly to fit with their priorities/responsibilities without being seen as “less”, and when we value all contributions more equally including those which are unpaid/less well paid/”women’s work”.

Research tells us that boards, and teams, work best with people with diverse backgrounds, knowledge, and ways of thinking – especially those willing to ask the “stupid” question; so, on this International Women’s Day let’s all feel free to be proud of our idiosyncrasies, our hobbies and passions, and everything that makes us different and really not that different.

#weare #managingdirectors #trusteesoftheyear #singers #proudandhopetobegoodenoughparents #organicgardeners #hippies #europeans #people #twentyfirstcenturywomansong

Please look out and tweet/share/buy Twenty First Century Woman Song – it’s fabulous and I couldn’t be prouder. http://www.joannaforbeslestrange.com/twenty-first-century-woman-song