ach week, we present an influential woman whose career and style has inspired the Silkarmour team to aim higher and dress better. This week’s Silkarmour woman is Helena Morrissey, CEO of Newton Investment Management and co-founder of The 30% Club.
Poised to meet the CEO of a billion-pound investment management firm, Helena Morrissey’s now PR-advisor was surprised to meet a woman in a well-cut suit, brooch and pair of Louboutins. “I thought: she’s the CEO and she dresses…like a woman. I had never thought of it that way: in a room full of pin-striped suits, a skirt and heels is discreetly defiant.” Professionally speaking, Morrissey is most certainly defiant. Motivated by a work-ethic that she insists is home-grown, she is the CEO of Newton Investment Management in which she controls almost £50billion worth of assets and a team of 400 people. In addition, she chairs the Investment Association, representing £5.5trillion worth of collective funds across the UK’s fund management groups, and is the chair for the corporate board of the Royal Academy of Arts. Oh and she’s a mother to nine children. And to think you thought you had a busy day…
Morrissey is one of a few fundamental pillars among the scaffolding of building a gender-balanced future for corporations. Co-founder of The 30% Club, the aim is is to ensure a minimum of 30% of women on FTSE-100 boards; a figure which currently stands at 26%, up from a bleak 12.5% when the initiative launched in 2010. Unlike other movements, her circle of troops are wielding the language that all their colleagues understand to partner up; performance and profit. Gender equality is not “a woman’s issue” for Morrissey, but “an economical issue” and any company worth their credentials “should be thinking about how to attract the best talent for the future". Pitching a vision of increased performance and profit through diversity is the way forward as it translates to every level of the business, argues Morrissey. “Men and women are biologically very different” she says, but “balance and diversity are key for business; women have proven to be good consensus-builders and risk-averse and those qualities are very useful in the City.” In building her case for bringing companies on board with the 30% Club, Morrissey combines the sociological evidence with cold, hard statistics of the past; “You can go back to the financial crisis as evidence that having one type of person running companies didn’t necessarily yield the best result.”
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Complacency is also part of the problem. Describing the issue of maternity leave as “depressing”, Morrissey is aware of the reality of her mission; taking on a culture that has been established for centuries. Her own experience with discrimination first occurred when she returned from having her first child. “When I was passed over for promotion I asked if I was doing anything wrong. The man’s answer was that I had just had a baby.” Despite her progress, Morrissey was shocked to see how much hostility her work generated in others, including “a lot of hate mail.” Whilst she is strongly anti-quota in securing the goal of 30% – a strategy she calls “solving one injustice with another” – she's confident that the increased awareness of championing women and having those who lead by example are key to achieving their goals.
As support continues to grow for her work, Morrissey’s heightened awareness of how to influence both genders is what will ensure success. Whilst she is targeting the male-dominated boards with data, she connects with women in appealing to their desire for a well-rounded life. She’s open about how her role as a mother to such a large family has actually improved her communication and management skills as a CEO. Putting these skills to work on a daily basis, she believes that “women are ambitious but our ambitions are about the whole of our lives." Practicing what she preaches with her polished appearance and indulgence in exclusively wearing heels to work, she understands the importance of connecting with professional women on a personal level as the woman who is leading the way for gender equality needs to be likeable. "The question is: how honest should you be? Because if people had visions of me dragging baskets of laundry across the floor, that wouldn't probably encourage people to persevere in their careers.” Indeed, 'having it all' is a balance even Morrissey has struggled with and is acutely aware that it affects women more; not because they don’t like taking risks but that “we’re super aware of the risks we do take.” All the more reason to support her in ensuring The 30% Club can reach a 50% gender ratio.
Career Golden Nuggets
On improvising: “Be open to possibilities and see that it can go much further by not scripting it all out.
On being yourself; “It grieves me when people suppress their characters. I think more ideas would come out and we would have a better business culture if people were more themselves. You can have a personality and you can still do things that you believe in.”
On working with others: 'One of the things I have learnt from the 30% Club is that if someone says, "I'm doing this all by myself, this is all me," you don't get very far because you've built walls around yourself. It's far more powerful when people say, "Look, nobody gets the credit for this, we're just all going to solve this problem together, because it needs solving."'
On knowing your value: “My advice, when women come and say things like their pay is lower than their male peers, is that they really do have to leave. No one wants to be a quitter but why should you spend all your energy fighting that, rather than being somewhere people will appreciate how brilliant you are?”