Series Four, Episode Four: Presidents Club exposé one year on & creating the next generation of tech talent

Posted on March 13, 2019

Madison Marriage, the Financial Times journalist who went under cover at the President’s Club & Wincie Wong, Head of Innovation for Supply Chain Services at RBS, reflect on the global story and discuss to what extent the world has changed. Other topics of discussion include gender pay gap reporting, the importance of exit interview data, demystifying the whistleblowing and escalation process, embedding tech lessons into school curricula, how diverse teams and inclusive leaders drive innovation, and why D&I is more important than ever in times of economic uncertainty.

 

Madison Marriage

Madison Marriage - DiverCity® Podcast

Madison Marriage graduated from Oxford University and began her career in financial journalism.  In 2012 she joined the Financial Times as a reporter. Madison is the FT’s tax and accounting correspondent, and previously deputy editor of its asset management section.

You can follow Madison on Twitter @miss_marriage.

 

Wincie Wong

Wincie Wong works at the leading edge of creative and disruptive innovation in the banking industry with a digital and financial services background and delivers transformation across RBS running a supply chain management team. An international speaker and a digital evangelist, she is passionate about spearheading the growth of a more diverse technology workforce as co-founder of the RBS Girls Can Code network and founding member of Tech She Can, an organisation of 60+ corporates working together to increase the number of women in technology roles in the UK. Having grown up in New York City, she’s spent the last 9 years across the pond in London where she is passionate about making innovation useful for customers.

You can follow Wincie on Twitter @winciewong.

Series Four, Episode Four Transcript

Julia: Hello, my name is Julia Streets and welcome to DiverCity Podcast, talking about equality, inclusion, and diversity in financial services. On this podcast, we seek to shine a light on positive progress, call out areas requiring further focus and offer lots of ideas to help drive change. Today, I’m joined by Madison Marriage of the Financial Times and Wincie Wong of RBS. Madison Marriage began her career in financial journalism in 2010, joining the Financial Times as a reporter in 2012. Her tenures have included deputy editor of the assets and management section. Today, her beat covers the world of tax and accounting. In January last year, Madison went undercover at the President’s Club gala dinner, writing a front page exposé that blew the cover and called time on decades of distasteful behaviour in the name of fundraising, reporting hostess harassment and unsavoury conduct. Madison, a very well welcome to the show.

Madison: Hello. Thanks for having me.

Julia: Drawing on her digital and financial services skills, Wincie Wong runs the supply chain innovation division at RBS, delivering transformation programmes right the way across the organisation. She calls herself a digital evangelist with a passion for making innovation relevant to customers. As the co-founder of the RBS Girls Can Code network is committed to growing more diverse technology workforces. She is a founder member of Tech She Can, putting together more than 80 UK companies to increase the number of women in technology roles and having grown up in New York City, Wincie has spent the last 10 years in London. Wincie, welcome to the show.

Wincie: So happy to be here.

Julia: As always at the start of the show, we invite each guest to talk about what they’re up to at the moment. Wincie, let me come to you first of all, what are you up to?

Wincie: Hi. I have been very busy.  As you rightly mentioned, I’m one of the founding members of Tech She Can, the Tech She Can charter started with just me and 18 other really awesome women in tech who were sitting around realising that we were all facing very similar issues in terms of progression, in terms of the ratio of women around us. What we decided is, you know what, we were all doing things individually in our companies, it’s time for us to come together and actually work across industry. We’re absolutely delighted that over the last year that we now have over 80 member organisations from across all industries. We have TESCO’s, we have some of the other banks as well. This is all about cross collaboration and cross industry.

Julia: There’s certainly a lot in there, we’ll pick up as we go through the show. Thank you Wincie. Madison let me turn to you. What are you up to at the moment?

Madison: I’m juggling multiple projects, My brain darts from topic to topic. On any given day, I’m probably working on between 5 and 10 stories simultaneously. Quite difficult to say exactly what they are now, because I obviously don’t want to reveal my stories before they’re published. In general, the thing that’s kept me busiest over the last 12 months is what’s going on with the big four accounting firms. The whole audit market being in a really febrile state, big regulatory reviews going on, tonnes of scandals. Hefty fines being dished out globally. There’s a lot to write about there.

Julia: I’m sure we’ll see these articles come out in due course as well. It’s fantastic. Let me just return to where I began with your biography, which is thinking, we’re one year on from your exposé with the Financial Times about the President’s Club. I’m really keen to hear your thoughts around what has changed. One thing that really struck me was the FT seemed incredibly supportive when the article came out. When you set out, did you imagine it was going to be such a huge story?

Madison: No, I thought it would be a big story. By which I mean, probably go on the front page and be really well read according to our normal metrics. But I did not expect it to explode in the way that it did. Within days, it was on the cover of pretty much every other national newspaper,  and also being picked up by newspapers everywhere internationally. Colleagues in our international bureaus where getting in touch from Italy, Australia, America, Canada and everywhere saying, “Oh my God, have you seen…. We’ve, we’ve been writing about it here too.” The global impact of it massively exceeded my expectations.

Julia: You’ve obviously had a lot of broadcast interest as well from that. I was watching one of your clips from News Night as well. I suppose as we sit here today, what surprised you most then, and what surprises you most now?

Madison: It’s really hard, I will come back to your question. Speaking to people about the events afterwards, about the President’s Club dinner. The overwhelming feedback I’ve had from other people is that something shocked each of them, but it’s always something different. Whether it’s the uniforms that the hostesses were made to wear or the type of harassment they received, or the fact that they are monitored going in and out of toilets or the things that were up for auction that night. There was an evening at a strip club alongside naming rights for a wing of a children’s hospital. Everyone you speak to, there’s something different that shocked each of them.

I think the night itself shocked me on many different, quite complex levels. I think the thing that shocked me the most is because I’ve never been at the centre of a media storm before, personally. There are elements to that that really surprised me, both how some newspapers reacted. There was one paper that tried to come after me personally in particular, in the end that didn’t happen, but that was really traumatising.

Actually I think it was probably a useful learning experience for journalists to be on the receiving end of that. The other thing was the trolling and the abuse that comes from a certain section of society when you do put certain people in the spotlight, there was a fair amount of that. I’d never experienced anything like it before. I believe that that kind of thing does make you stronger, but it was pretty unpleasant at the time.

Julia: I can’t even begin to imagine.  One year on now, I was very interested reading your article which you co-authored. One thing that surprised me was the various people who attended who were interviewed, their reaction. Obviously it’s not representative of everybody, but some were saying, yes, they were prostitutes but they weren’t hostesses. Yes, they were hospitality suites and rooms upstairs, but only a small minority moved to them. The one that really got me was, we do want to objectify women and the girls want to be objectified. This is one year on from when that came out as well. I wonder to what degree the world has changed. If so, how?

Madison: Part of the reason why we published that piece and included quite lengthy quotes from that individual and others, was to demonstrate the fact that there still are some real dinosaurs out there, and that some people’s attitudes definitely haven’t changed despite the global tidal wave of the MeToo movement. I think there is a lot to be positive about. I don’t want to sound too ‘pollyanna-ish’, but I think that to an extent, both the Presidents Club and all the other MeToo scandals that have embroiled companies around the world, from those related to Hollywood to some big financial services companies in the UK. They have realised the reputational risk of having these kinds of scandals attached to their names and I think are both rightly, stricter and tougher on employees, found to have engaged in improper conduct or illegal conduct.

Let’s not shy away from the fact that much of this stuff is definitely illegal, and should be prosecuted. I think if anything, I hope that my reporting, the most important thing that could have come out of it, is that any man or woman tempted to harass, grope, behave in a disgusting way, whether it’s a waitress, a hostess, flight attendants, a colleague, whoever,  might think twice about it. That would be the best thing that might have changed. And I hope that maybe it has given people food for thoughts in that respect.

Julia: I think it’s had a huge impact in organisations thinking about obviously employee behaviour, reputational risk and damage, but also a lot of our listeners are not only business leaders but also diversity inclusion specialist. I wonder if there’s anything you’d particularly, say to them about what should they pay attention to at the moment?

Madison: That’s a really good question because something which I find quite frustrating is a lot of major corporates have had really admirable policies in place for years, and say that they’ve been trying to improve gender diversity and other kinds of diversity for years. Yet the statistics are still so shockingly bad. I think something really brilliant that’s coming in the UK is the gender pay gap reporting. I know it’s not perfect and I know companies hate it for some fair reasons, ultimately it is shown that there’s far too few women in senior roles in almost every organisation that has to supply the data to the government in the UK. The fact that companies now have to report on it year in, year out, means that when journalists like me and elsewhere, start compiling, not quite league tables, but highlighting the worst offenders, it puts pressure on those companies to change and to practically do something, which they haven’t done before.

In a funny way, I found it a bit irritating over the last 18 months/ two years that companies are saying, we recognise our gender pay gap isn’t where we want it to be and now we’re going to do X, Y, Z. I find that frustrating given that this issue has been there for decades. Why do they have to wait for the government to prompt them and say, yup, give us your stats before they actually stopped putting tangible measures in place that might have an impact. I’m glad that things seem to be happening. The thing I would like to say is that if those changes don’t seem to be having any discernible impact and the year on year data it’s difficult to tell what’s working and what isn’t. But in five years time have a series reassessment, and exit interviews I think are really important.

I think not enough companies listen to staff who are leaving. I think it should almost be mandatory to compile data on that and see if there’s a repeated theme. Especially women when they start having kids, It’s well known that it’s a big problem. Companies struggle with retention there. I’ve got family members who’ve been through it themselves. Basically pushed out of a job within a year of having a kid, and the statistics on that have really appalling and there’s definitely more that companies could be doing to stop that.

Julia: Part of that is thinking about the entire career life journey, from young students and academics back into schools actually thinking about their journey and their appreciation of their role and contribution in the workplace, right the way through to representation on boards of both at gender level and then also ethnic minorities as well, which is something we talk a lot about on the podcast.

I’d like to bring you in here at this point, Wincie. Particularly about, going back into encouraging young talent way, way back into school. Because this is a pipeline question as well, really in terms of, encouraging diversity groups to get involved in technology and to think about their career futures. You were talking about Tech She Can and the impact that that is having. Talk us through some of the impacts and I’m really keen to getting some of the data around what impacts that programme had.

Wincie: As part of Tech She Can, I lead the Improve Education work stream, we actually have three. First is the Improve Education. Second is Image Overhauls for careers in tech. The third is Policy Change.

How do we actually change the policy to have lasting impact for what we’re trying to do? As part of the Improve Education work stream, we were really keen, as a network to actually do something. There’s a lot of networks who are really great that sit around and talk a lot about issues but don’t really do things and make impactful changes. That was the difference with this charter. That was something we really wanted to do, to actually change something.

We have created six lesson plans. A series of six lessons across different areas of tech that we teach to years, six, seven and eight in the UK.

Julia: What sort of age is that?

Wincie: Ages 10-13. We find that that’s particularly the age where children start to make decisions. So that by the time they get to GCSE level, for example, we saw in a research from I think 2016 is in the study that PWC did on girls in tech. Only 3% of the girls would select tech as a first choice as a career. We wanted to change that earlier on in the funnel. We came up with these lesson plans. We actually started a pilot with five schools in Coventry, one of which is the eighth most impoverished school in the nation, all the way up to middle class and more affluent schools. We really wanted a spectrum, a range of different students and see how they would respond. Really happy to say that at the start of the lesson plans, 45% of the students said they would consider a career in tech. Now it’s 60% of the students.

Julia: That’s girls and boys?

Wincie: That’s both girls and boys. Yes. That’s an important distinction. Although the Tech She Can charter is all about changing the ratio for women in tech. We’re doing that by creating lesson plans for both boys and girls and we call those lesson plans,  Tech We Can. We want it to be a lot more inclusive in terms of how we conducted those lessons. However, if you want to look at the stats for female students, we saw that only 30% of the female students said they would consider a career in tech at the very start of the lesson and by the end of it 56%. Almost double the amount would say that they would consider a career in tech. That was massively exciting. We also saw that about 87% of the students, in total enjoyed the lessons. Out of that 97% of the male students enjoyed it, whereas 80% of the female students enjoyed it.

We’re really enthused and excited. What we really want to do is take these lessons and now pilot with more schools hopefully and digitise it, get to a thousand schools. We’re in the midst of looking at our tech partners who have joined the Tech She Can charter to help.

Julia: Those 80 organisations to get behind it and to roll that out as well.

Wincie: Absolutely.

Julia: Fantastic. One of the things that I know you’re very focused on, but also in the industry as a whole about inclusive leadership and thinking about how do you embrace full inclusion and innovation, let’s call it in its broadest sense as well. But I’m very fascinated by the dynamics of where the investments lies and arguably, the world of VC and venture cap equity and also you work for a financial institution, very male dominated. Actually there are skews and arguably biases around how much money goes towards male established and run enterprises versus females as well. Love to get your thoughts on that.

Wincie: There is a lot that’s happening in this space. Not enough. I heard recently that there was a stat that only 1% of VC’s in the UK are female and that is absolutely appalling. There’s not enough women who are going to small businesses because they’re not getting the funding that they need. That’s something that’s a huge focus for us in the bank. One of the things that Alison Rose, who’s our CEO of our commercial and private bank has been charged with by the government, is to do a review on women in business and to see what the barriers are for women in business. This is particularly important in both financial services and in tech. he reason I focus on it is because tech is the fastest growing sector.

It’s the biggest sector for small businesses in the UK. If women are not learning about tech and not getting into it, and not confident in their ability to do that, they’re missing a huge opportunity even when they do decide to go into that business. As a bank, we have done a lot of commitments to have more women in business specialists who are responsible for helping more women go into small business and to help support them.

A really great example is, I have a very dear friend of mine Asma Khan who’s the chef and founder of Darjeeling Express Indian restaurant, in Soho in London. She is the first British chef to be on Netflix’s Chef’s Table. Absolutely incredible. When I first met her a few years ago, she was just running supper clubs with her team of amazing women. I remember her sitting with me and saying, Wincie, I want to open a restaurant, I really need to go bigger. However, I don’t know where to go for funding. I think I’m going to go crowd funding. I’m going to go do something in crowdfunding. I said, “But really Asma, why wouldn’t you go to a bank?” She said, well, isn’t a bank full of men in suits? they would never lend to someone like me. I’m very happy to report that we were able to prove her wrong. We were able to lend her the money that she needed to open that restaurant and to create this platform. She has an all female kitchen and she’s been doing a tremendous amount for other women in the food business.

Julia: It sounds amazing. Our focus really is more on the financial services. But may I just say that everybody, financial in services needs to eat. Have you been there? Have you seen the restaurant.

Madison: I have been, I took my best friend there for her 30th birthday.

Julia: Excellent. Love that. A few things I’ve been thinking about, which is, particularly this year, which is a year of change. I’d really love to hear both of your views on this, when we talk about embracing difference and diversity and inclusion, when we’re on the rise, when we’re economically doing very well, but of course this is a fascinating year of change and wonder how, at times of economic uncertainty, I don’t want to be the doomsayer on the podcast in times of uncertainty. Why does diversity and inclusion matter? Madison, let me come to you, first of all. Your thoughts.

Madison: There’s been academic research paper after paper and big consultancies like McKinsey putting out reports after report showing that more diverse teams perform better and you can apply it to the investment industry and how often management teams perform. You can apply it to the boards of high performing companies. I’ve also seen research that indicates the boards which are all male or, basically don’t have any diversity. Those kind of companies are more likely to be involved in scandals. There’s plenty of really solid research that shows, diverse teams do better. Actually in theory in a downturn or when companies are struggling, that’s a really good time maybe to be thinking about your diversity rather than putting that on the backseat because it might help you get yourselves out of a hole.

Julia: Of course in technology diversity really matters. If you’re building technology, you have to have diverse minds around it as well as individuals in order to put it through its paces effectively. Otherwise you end up with biases. The world you look at Wincie, which is around the technology as well. Why particularly more than ever before should listeners be going, “You got to make sure this stays at the top of the agenda.”

Wincie: Well, as a bank, we’ve been around for almost 300 years. That is a long time. The fact that we’ve been around this long or have survived all these years, is largely because of our ability to innovate and change and adapt. When you’re in a time of economic uncertainty, you need to make sure that your corporation or your bank is nimble enough to be able to adapt to that change. As you rightly say, Julia, the diversity is critical in that. I’ve always hired teams that were diverse and diversity takes on a lot of different tones. In innovation it’s extremely important if you’re coming up with ideas to have people who are introverts and extroverts for example, to have people who have different types of backgrounds, people who have maybe more cerebral psychological, academic backgrounds, as well as people who have maybe more marketing and advertising backgrounds as well as, people who are more technical.

You need people of all different backgrounds. It’s even better if they come from different cultural backgrounds, different genders, different points of view. We as a bank have a huge spectrum of customers. We bank a fifth of the UK. As part of that, we have customers who are all shapes, sizes, and different types of people. Unless we have people who are creating experiences that are also diverse, we can’t build those to be relevant in times of economic uncertainty. It’s during these times where it’s critical for all large corporations to really cut to the core, to really see what it is they have to create.

Julia: I think that’s a great moment there to take a pause and to invite in Robert and Cynthia who are going to offer some research to support today’s discussion.

Robert: In the Institute of Business Ethics, 2018 Ethics At Work, United Kingdom survey, 33% of the employees who took part in the research have been aware of misconduct at work and have decided not to speak up. The main reasons for this were because they felt they might jeopardise their job. They felt they might alienate themselves from their colleagues. They did not believe that corrective action would be taken and they felt that it was none of their business.

Cynthia: According to the 2015 Morgan Stanley Capital International, MSCI index, public companies with more women on their boards are less likely to be hit by scandals such as bribery, fraud or shareholder battles. The research has looked at more than 6,500 company boards globally. The research found that the boards with gender diversity, above and beyond regulatory mandates or market norms had fewer instances of governance related scandals.

Julia: Thanks, Cynthia and Robert. The links to the research can be found on our website, divercitypodcast.com.

That’s where you can find all our episodes and sign up for early notifications of future recordings. Please do follow us on Twitter @divercitypod, and DiverCity Podcast is available on BrightTALK and all good podcast channels. We’d love a rating because it all helps to promote the show.

So, what are you both feeling optimistic about?

Madison: I’ve definitely seen really concrete signs of companies that I write about making very serious moves to improve matters. By which I mean they are inviting external people to provide hands on training to staff about what to do if you’re in an uncomfortable situation or if you see a colleague in an uncomfortable situation, or would you flag it to anyone and those kinds of questions, which you might think about and worry solo without even sharing it with anyone else around you. Actually saying it out loud in a training environment I think can provide you with some really good ideas about what to do and how to flag it. I think the whole whistle blowing process is incredibly enigmatic and it needs to be demystified. You need to know, if I tell my line manager or I tell HR or I tell the head of my department, that this thing happened to me or happened to my colleague, you need to know exactly what the next steps will be.  Who is that person then going to inform, how many people total are going to know? Will everyone know? If you don’t know those things, and you’re 10 times more likely not to report it to anyone just because you’re scared. I know and I plan to write about this, some companies that are already doing this and introducing this kind of training to people and I would kind of urge other companies to do the same thing.

Julia: Wincie, let me turn to you then. What are you optimistic about?

Wincie: I’m really optimistic about two things. It’s something that you’ve brought up, about consequences. By putting the article that you did out and the huge movement that’s happened in financial services, there are consequences now for the people, whereas previously, this kind of behaviour proliferated because there were none. I think a lot of corporations and large banks have come out and said, this is no longer acceptable. What I’m really optimistic about is that next generation. Is about seeing them get excited about new careers.

When I was entering financial services, financial services was the sexy career. You know, there were a lot of movies about it and that’s where you were making all the big money, etc. Well that’s no longer the case. This isn’t always where you make the biggest money. I know that for the next generation they’re looking at the tech companies or they want to become entrepreneurs, which is incredible in order to make it big and some of them were having a huge amounts of impact in the world. What I’m excited about is helping that next generation see the opportunities and seeing that light in their eyes as well.

Julia: I think that’s a wonderful moment to end the show in terms of thinking about how do we encourage the next generation to come into the industry but also how the organisations step up, become accountable and also demonstrate that there are consequences to behaviours that are no longer acceptable within this industry. It’s been a fascinating conversation. I’d just like to take a moment to thank you both Madison and Wincie. Thank you.

Wincie: Thank you.

Madison: Thank you.

Kieron: This episode of the DiverCity Podcast was produced by me, Kieron Yates, on behalf of Julia Streets Productions. Thanks to Cynthia Akinsanya and Robert Pinto-Fernandes for their insights. You can find out more about the guests on this week’s show on our website, divercitypodcast.com. Whilst you are there, you can also sign up to our newsletter for all our latest updates.

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