Equipping tomorrow’s women to thrive

Mum and daughter photo by Blaise Vonlanthen on Unsplash_crop

There are few women at senior levels within the pensions and investments industry. Dawn Turner, CEO at Brunel Pension Partnership Limited, examines why and how this trend must change.

When Dawn Turner was invited to become CEO of Brunel Pension Partnership, she had a clear idea about the kind of company she wanted to head up. “Denise Le Gal was already in the role of Independent Chair of the Board, so it was clear we had potential to be a truly gender diverse business,” she says. “That was something that resonated with me.”

From the early days of Brunel, which launched in July 2017, this meant a board with a fifty-fifty gender split, with four men and four women, with other strong females taking on key roles throughout as the company developed.

And yet, across the finance industry, there are significantly lower numbers of women in leading roles than men. Although figures have improved in the last decade, they remain at disappointing levels.

Turner believes much of this is due to perceived gender expectations in the so-called STEM subjects: sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“A survey conducted by Accenture in February 2018 showed that girls go from describing STEM subjects as fun and enjoyable between the ages of seven and eleven, to regarding them ‘boy subjects’ when they reach secondary school,” says Turner.

The research also indicated that parents, teachers and societal biases steer girls towards more artistic and caring subjects. “The daft thing about it is that my job is both caring and creative,” Turner exclaims. “Yes, I bring 30 years’ worth of experience as a finance professional to the role, but I also need to make sure my workforce are at their most effective and that’s about caring about their wellbeing, creating an environment that allows them to be themselves and feel valued. I also need a creative side to find solutions to business problems and bring diverse perspectives together to enable innovation. Besides, there is no basis for the idea that there are ‘girl jobs’ and ‘boy jobs.’ It’s our society that has made those assumptions.”

Turner is keen to encourage up and coming generations of women to consider the breadth of possibilities made available simply from continuing with STEM subjects up to and beyond GCSEs and A-Levels. “Whatever personal attributes you then draw on, these skills open up doors into a multitude of industries that are more commonly associated with men, from financial crime analyst to responsible investment officer. Why should the male half of the population be at the front of the queue for jobs with great salaries and benefits?”

This issue is particularly relevant at Brunel Pension Partnership, which manages the £30 billion investments of 10 likeminded Local Government Pension Scheme funds. “Our clients are at the heart of everything we do, and I think it’s notable that of our more than 600,000 beneficiaries, well over 70 per cent are women,” Turner comments.

A variety of skill sets

Furthermore, Turner points out that there are numerous possible routes into the investment world. “Wherever your strengths and interests lie, a wide range of degree and apprenticeship subjects can equip you to take your first steps into the industry,” she says. “We want women to be aware that this is a career that’s open to them, and that utilises many different skill sets. The roles and personality types are incredibly varied, making this an attainable goal for any young woman, or young man, to pursue.”

Brunel office with Values3_pic by Rebecca Faith Photography

The task of retaining women and encouraging them to apply for senior roles presents a more systematic challenge.

“At Brunel it was important to me to establish a flexible working culture,” Turner says. “A positive working environment contributes to attracting and keeping valued staff, and flexibility regarding working hours and location enables greater productivity and contributes to employee wellbeing.”

Brunel’s company culture promotes mobile working and sensible working practices that allow staff to manage their own hours. Laptops and mobile phones enable staff to work from anywhere that suits them, with conference calls ensuring important meetings need not be missed due to location.

“I hope this contributes to ensuring that staff who are parents, or who have other caring commitments such as elderly parents, are able to balance their home life requirements without their work life suffering, or vice versa.”

Work/life balance

Turner herself has brought up three children, one of which is in her final GSCE year, and has her 85-year-old mum living at home, as well as a Dachshund and a Giant Schnauzer. “Occasionally, I might need to take my mum to hospital appointments or attend my daughter’s dance classes, but if I take time out of the working day for this, I simply make it up when I can.” It’s a flexible viewpoint she’s instilled among her staff, which recognises their ability to make rational decisions about their working practices.

Flexible working at Brunel, including smart working enabled by mobile technology, equips staff to fit their work responsibilities around life responsibilities, and vice versa. This increases individual autonomy while boosting productivity and wellbeing.

Brunel’s upper levels include Chief Compliance and Risk Officer Laura Chappell, who has more than 20 years’ experience in Risk and Compliance and is a keen horsewoman, and Chief Responsible Investment Officer Faith Ward, whose background is in environmental science. Faith is regularly nominated for industry awards for her role in initiatives to improve standards in responsible investment, corporate engagement and diversity.

“I’ve surrounded myself with the best people, half of whom happen to be women,” Turner says. “We need role models who show us what we can achieve, and I’d say each of my top tier management and board members fulfil those criteria, regardless of gender.”

But rising to these heights can only happen if girls are encouraged to consider studying the school subjects that will equip them for these roles and are aware of the multi-faceted roles available within the finance industry, which includes pensions and investment.

GoodMoneyWeek_logoWith this in mind, for Good Money Week 2018 (29 September to 05 October), which this year is focusing on women and finance, Turner and her team headed into Bristol school Ashton Park in October 2018 and January 2019. “We enjoyed talking to pupils who are making decisions that will affect their futures, and will visit again. This is our chance to share our own stories and enthusiasm for STEM subjects, and talk through the opportunities they can lead to,” Turner says. “STEM subjects don’t mean turning your back on caring or creativity – they open you up to different ways to utilise these aptitudes and have the chance to make a hugely positive impact.”

Watch an excellent video about diversity in the investment management industry.

Turner, who, along with Denise Le Gal and Faith Ward, is an ambassador for The Diversity Project, credits her own upbringing in part for her success. “I was fortunate to have parents who brought me up in such a way that I never thought I would be limited because I was female,’ she says. “As my horizons broadened I began to realise that this wasn’t how the whole world behaved. The unfairness of this struck home strongly, and on issues wider ranging than gender. I became passionate about encouraging acceptance of difference and thinking and ensuring diversity and equality in the organisations I worked for and had contact with.”

About Dawn Turner

Dawn is Chief Executive Officer for Brunel Pension Partnership Limited. She draws insights from over 30 years as a finance professional in diverse roles. She began her financial career as a finance trainee (what would now be called an apprenticeship). Dawn was sponsored through her accountancy qualifications, an approach she chose rather than going to university. She has had a varied career, starting at the West Midlands Gas Board in the finance trainee role mentioned above, before moving into fashion and retail with Laura Ashley and subsequently into manufacturing, distribution and retail with Courage Brewing Company. Immediately before joining Brunel, she was CEO of the Environment Agency Pension Fund.

Dawn is passionate about the role of pension funds in moving to a more sustainable business world, highlighting the need for robust governance and the effective management of climate and water-related risks to protect investment returns. She values contributing to her community and as a resident in Wales is able to do this by being the Deputy Chair of the Joint Audit Committee for the Gwent Police. When she’s not working, you’ll find Dawn watching musicals with her daughter and mother, walking the family’s Giant Schnauzer and Dachshund, and enjoying the coastal beauty of the UK’s southwest.

About Brunel Pension Partnership Limited

Brunel Pension Partnership Limited (Brunel) brings together £30 billion investments of 10 likeminded Local Government Pensions Scheme funds. We believe in making long term sustainable investments supported by robust and transparent process. We are here to protect the interests of our clients and their members. In collaboration with all our stakeholders we are forging better futures by investing for a world worth living in.

Brunel is one of eight national LGPS pools, and will manage investment of the pension assets for the funds of Avon, Buckinghamshire, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Environment Agency, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Somerset, and Wiltshire.

Find out more at www.brunelpensionpartnership.org

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