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[A woman’s place] … is in the boardroom. And, of course, wherever the heck she wants it to be!  

 

Scots have been pioneers and innovators in the area of finance since the Bank of England was founded in 1694 by (among others) William Paterson. US Federal Reserve founder and 28th president Woodrow Wilson had Scottish roots. And Bertie Charles Forbes, pioneer of financial journalism? Yup, you’ve guessed it: a Scot who emigrated to New York in 1904. 

This year brings another milestone for Scottish pioneers in finance. Jane Fraser from Edinburgh has become the CEO of Citigroup, the first woman to become the leader of a major Wall Street bank. This is a significant step forward for our financial services industry. It’s a symbolic moment that reminds all women that they can break through the glass ceiling if they choose to challenge outdated norms.

The theme of today’s International Women’s Day is #choosetochallenge. Nowhere is that sentiment more appropriate than in finance. A tonne of progress has been made since I started Copylab in 2005. But there’s more to do.

According to our old friend Bertie Forbes’s magazine, there are still only seven female leaders among the 79 largest banks and financial services firms in the US and Europe. The percentage of women in CEO positions is even lower across the broader market, with 37 out of Fortune 500 companies led by women in 2020 (albeit up from just two women 20 years ago).

While the representation of women in the boardroom is improving, we’re still a long way from equity. And that’s surprising when you consider the research around the success of women-led companies. Data on the performance of US-listed companies showed that women-led firms delivered higher returns than male-led firms. And women-led firms were more open to learning, communicating and collaborating.

The body of evidence around women in senior leadership positions is clear. But changing corporate culture appears to be difficult, particularly among large firms.

Small companies, however, may be able to operate more nimbly. They (we) can employ women at all levels of the business and develop a pipeline of talent that creates equality at all levels.

At Copylab, we’ve built a team of more than 100 people worldwide. In the UK, Europe and Asia, our representation is currently 50:50; in North America, the ratio is 45:55 women to men. Six of our nine managers are women. And three of our seven executives, globally, are female. In particular, I’m delighted that Nicole Picard is the managing director of our blossoming North American business.

There’s no doubt that it is helpful that our business model lends itself well to employing women, especially those who are seeking to work on a part-time basis. But we’ve also deliberately created a working environment that encourages flexible working for all our people. And I’m delighted that the vast majority of our team – men and women – take advantage of our flexibility in some way.

I’m proud of all of our people and how they’ve coped with the extraordinary events of the past year. And I’m proud of the business we’ve built, in which the capacity to grow and succeed is based simply on ability and performance.

I #choosetochallenge other business owners and leaders to do the same.

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