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Series Three, Episode Six: Diversity in Trading and The Next Generation of Senior Management

Adam Conn, Head of Trading at Baillie Gifford, and Mark Fryer, Director and board member of ABSTRACT, discuss improving diversity on trading floors, supporting the next generation of senior talent, accelerating the pace of change at board level, creating inclusive organisations, how flexible working can improve employee retention, why firms with rigid recruitment processes may be missing out, and why we must improve perceptions of financial services in order to attract people from outside the industry.

Links & Resources from this Episode

FTSE Women Leaders Hampton-Alexander Review

Adam Conn

Adam Conn is the Head of Trading at Baillie Gifford, based in Edinburgh, with oversight responsibility across all asset classes. He joined in August 2016 from Baring Asset Management where he held the position of Director, Head of Dealing. Adam began his career in 1985 as a junior trader on the floor of the London Stock Exchange with Scott Goff Layton & Co and has subsequently led dealing teams based in London, Hong Kong and New York. Adam is a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment and in 1990 was the first Member of the London Stock Exchange to be elected from a non-member Firm. Most recently, in 2017, he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by The Trade.

You can follow Bailie Gifford on Twitter @BaillieGifford.

Mark Fryer

Mark is a Director and board member of ABSTRACT, a company specialising in creating and delivering Learning & Development programmes that change people’s lives by crafting intelligent education within trusted frameworks, while embedding behavioural change to permanently improve performance and results.

He enjoyed a long and successful career in banking and financial services during which time he specialised in the areas of Private Banking and Wealth Management. Mark’s leadership qualities ensured that RBS, as they progressed through the late 1990s, had a highly-skilled and very effective nationwide presence in the Private Banking market. It was these qualities that resulted in him being asked to lead the Private Banking business for RBS Group, through the takeover of NatWest. He created and led a wealth management business from nothing to over 1,000 people with £7 billion assets under management.

He believes that his achievements are a consequence of ‘simplicity of thought’ and the importance of ‘relationships in business’ in all that he strives to achieve. As a result, he specialises with ABSTRACT in leadership, performance management, strategic change, critical thinking and decision making.

Mark has also been instrumental in the development of our ACCELERATE programme, which specifically supports female career development. Mark leads our client relationships with banking and financial services clients and has delivered the programme in the UK, Ireland and internationally.

Series Three, Episode Six Transcript

Julia: Hello. My name is Julia Streets and welcome to DiverCity Podcast, talking about diversity and inclusion in financial services.

On the 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 Adam Conn and Mark Fryer. Adam Conn is the Head of Trading at Baillie Gifford based in Edinburgh, and has had a prestigious career in institutional capital markets, having held executive positions as Head of Dealing at Baring Asset Management and led dealing teams based in London, Hong Kong and New York.

Adam began his career as a junior trader on the floor of the London Stock Exchange in 1985, and was the first member of the exchange to be elected from a nonmember firm. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment, and last year Adam was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the industry journal, The Trade. Adam, welcome to the show.

Adam: Thanks for having me.

Julia: Mark Fryer is Director and board member of ABSTRACT. A company specialising in creating and delivering learning and development programmes. He has enjoyed a long career in banking and financial services, specialising in private banking and wealth management at a major UK bank, leading relationships with clients in the UK, Ireland, and also internationally. Mark was instrumental in the development of the ACCELERATE Programme, which supports female career development. In addition to his role at ABSTRACT, Mark is a non-executive director for a medical company, Armstrong Medical Ltd. Mark, welcome to the show.

Mark: Thanks Julia.

Julia: As always, at the start of the show we invite all of our guests to take a minute to tell us about what they’re working on. Adam, let’s start with you.

Adam: Thanks very much Julia. The trading industry tends to be personified as the last testosterone filled area of the industry. The message I’d like to deliver is actually a really positive message. I’m very fortunate in my career, I’ve had three female bosses, which is something that you don’t get to hear a great deal about in trading. From that, I’ve been able to get an insight into what I need to do as a manager. If I speak to some of my younger colleagues, particularly my female colleagues, they say that it’s great that things are led from the front, and that the leadership of the firm is very intense, very committed to diversity and inclusion. But where it tends to fall down is the middle management. It’s the middle managers, and I am one of those middle managers, so there is a responsibility on me to really make things, or to develop things, for the next generation.

Julia: There’s a lot in there we’re certainly going to talk about in a second, but let me just take a moment to come to you, Mark. Mark, just one minute on what you’re focused on at the moment, and then I’m sure we’re going to pick up on some of the things that Adam was talking about there.

Mark: One of the main initiatives that ABSTRACT are focusing on at the moment probably started about five years ago, and I sense it will probably continue for a few years yet, which is the topic of this programme today. It was an opportunity working, in fact, in conjunction with the Financial Times for a research joint venture, as a consequence of which the ACCELERATE Programme was born, and the various guises that that’s developed since.

What we noticed was that actually there was a lot of discussion at the time, and since, about the need for gender equality. In our discoveries and research, we identified that actually what was required was the ‘how’, and that continues to be the case today, and I envisage will be for some time, but not for too long into the future.

Julia: I’m really keen to return to you Adam on this whole question that we were beginning to talk about around behaviours on the trading floor, and about the middle management on the trading floor as well. Are you seeing that there’s change at the moment? I mean you’re a true role model in the sense that you’ve been led in a certain way by female bosses. As you look left and right around the floor, do you see changing behaviours?

Adam: I see a lot of change. We were at the industry awards ceremony together, and I stood up … I started my career as you mentioned, on the floor of the London Stock Exchange. I think there were six female traders and yet every trading team was run by a lady who was responsible for all the telephony and making sure all of the orders got to the right trader, and so forth. So even though the trading was done by men, there was always a lady that was in charge. What I’ve been really pleased to discover is that, whereas it used to be at these industry events, it was really just a group of men who would sit down, and we all knew each other and it was almost the archetypical old boys’ club.

I stood at the podium at the awards ceremony and I looked into the room and it was 50/50, and I was struck by that fact, and that really led my speech. It was always going to be part of my speech, but it really was the only part that really mattered. What was wonderful as well was the reception it received from the room. As soon as I started talking about diversity, the room erupted, the room came to life. When I started talking about my own situation, I’ve got a daughter who’s 23 years-old, she’s looking to enter the workforce. I mentioned there’s probably no greater feminist than me because I want everything for her.

Again, the reaction was electric. If there’s one change … I don’t like to talk about quotas and numbers, and so forth, but I think in terms of attitudes … People don’t buy into what you are, they buy into why you do it. I think there was just this electric charge, that everyone in the room was in the same place. We want it to happen. We want there to be positive developments, whether it’s diversity in terms of gender or income levels, disability, whatever that diversity is, we’ve moved from a situation where people got their jobs because of who they knew, to now being in a meritocracy.

I think, I really felt that that evening rang the bell. Suddenly everyone … and remember I’m one of the old guys, so I’ve been there in the bad old days as well, so I can preach evangelically about things, but I’ve worked on trading floors and in trading rooms where it was a very male-charged environment.

Julia: Ultimately it’s all really about … If I think of all the trading floors that I’ve been on, it’s always about performance. It’s always about getting the results. As you look at teams that are much more diverse in their makeup, do you see that they have a … I don’t want to put words in your mouth, are they having an impact on performance, or is it still very much a ‘it’s a very good thing to do’, versus a commercial imperative, a performance imperative?

Adam: I’ve been at Baillie Gifford for two years and I’ve been impressed by the quality of the trading team that I’ve inherited from my predecessor. It is quite a male-heavy team. What I want to do is build on that, rather than tear it apart, or in any way denigrate it, because I think the team we’ve got is exceptionally strong and exceptionally good. Where I think it can benefit is just in the ideas of bringing young people through, male, female, just with different attitudes that can help to shape us for the changes that are coming. If we look at the world as a whole, we’re in a very fast moving world. It’s very complex. It’s very complicated, and it’s only going to become more so. The actual skills that we require are changing, and the fact that we’ve got young men and women who want to come into the industry maybe with different backgrounds, I think is incredibly positive.

Julia: Let me turn to you Mark, because in your introductory comments, you mentioned the FT research joint venture that formed the ACCELERATE Programme, and very much this whole question about how? Could you expand on that a little bit more? Is it how organisations are driving greater diversity to achieve what Adam’s talking about, or is it how do diverse employees make themselves attractive to organisations?

Mark: So if I go back to five years ago when we were invited by the Financial Times to do a piece of research jointly with themselves, to look at the characteristics, the factors affecting women in business, we discovered three things. Three de-accelerators, if you like, hence where the term ACCELERATE came from.

The first one was the conscious and unconscious bias, which I think is well spoken about, and I think is slowly but surely being addressed; still some way to go. There was then the double bind between starting a family, not starting a family, and the juggle between parents, but predominantly it falls on a woman’s shoulders. Then third and finally, what we discovered through interviewing over a hundred women, and these were senior women within the industry, and a control group of men, that there were career management skills that actually predominantly men were displaying versus their women counterparts.

Now I’m generalising because, as always, there are exceptions, and some women were very good at it, and some men weren’t very good at it, but the trends that we identified were these career management skills. Now like Adam, I feel very positive about the rhetoric, the conferences, the events. I also feel really frustrated because I have two daughters of my own who aren’t yet entering their careers. But I think there needs to be a lot more … and there is some, so it would be wrong to say there is none, but a lot more effort spent on addressing the how, because all of a sudden, if we take gender, for example, there’s a huge expectation on women to fulfil these opportunities, and yet what we discovered was that there were certain skills that they needed to display more. A lot of the women do have some of these career management skills, and be confident enough to put themselves forward for these opportunities in this much better world than it was five years ago, and certainly was 10, 20, 30 years ago. So I’m really passionate, and we’re really passionate, about helping women in terms of their career management skills so they can take control themselves in terms of where they want to go.

Julia: How do you do that? Do you go into organisations? Is that coaching? I know you’re a learning and development company, but what are some of the practical things that you do?

Mark: Well there’s a special formula to it, but I’m happy to share with you some ingredients. What we firstly recognise with our typical clients, which are large corporates, is the identification of that middle to senior management pool of talented women. It starts there and we help our clients identify that pool of talent. We then bring them together in cohorts of 20, and then it’s a layering approach because it’s not a one time intervention. You just cannot, with a one time intervention, flick the switch and suddenly create the capability in a woman to take control of her career.

So the formula consists of a number of interventions, ranging from building superior confidence, to mastering organisational politics, which most of the delegates least look forward to, but actually they get the most out of, promoting your brand and profile, utilising sponsors and mentors, and then boardroom readiness on the fifth module. Those five modules are done over a period of about three months.

Then during those modules there’s lots of case studies, ideologies, exercises for them to fulfil, and it’s a progressive journey Julia, which enables them by the end of module five, to go away and start implementing. Well they start before then, but really then take control of their career management efforts. We bring them back on the sixth and final day, a bit like a school reunion, everyone wants to show up with something to show off and demonstrate. So it’s a very effective formula that we’ve continued to develop and are continuing to develop as we learn from our clients.

Julia: It’s interesting, this middle management layer that we talk about, because Adam, you talked about it in the concept of when you’re driving change on a trading floor, maybe some of the institutionalised traditional thinking that sits with the middle management execs who are perhaps threatened or … Again, these weren’t your words, but this is what people tell me, they’re slightly threatened by change, and they’re maybe a little uncomfortable with change, which is understandable actually if you’ve been hired in a certain way, had your KPIs set in a certain way, et cetera.

Then along comes the middle management of women, as you were describing Mark, who are now being tooled up and trained up and being enthused. I’m interested in your observations about how those two worlds combine, and do they collide or actually are people welcoming the challenge of having a greater gender peer group, if you like? Is there some magic that’s coming out of that by being challenged by the opposite sex? That’s a question to either of you?

Adam: Maybe, if I can go first. I think what I’m really enjoying about this podcast is the positivity. I think the message, there’s no dwelling on things that maybe could be improved and so forth, it’s how do we make things better? One of the bigger issues has been not so much providing the opportunity, I believe, but it’s actually retaining staff that who for whatever reason, whether it’s for family reasons, or for non-family reasons, have decided to take a break. They want to come back to the industry. There’s a nervousness, there’s a lack of confidence, a perceived lack of support. It’s how we can really all work together to bring someone back in. If someone starts off as a junior, they get this wonderful induction. When they come back, it’s sort of, “Right, well just get on with that. You can do that.”

So we’re trying to rebuild that induction process. So when someone comes in, we go back to a mentor and a buddying system. It’s really about retraining people, just not assuming that the industry that they left, say two or five years ago, is the same one they’ve come back to, that their office skills aren’t necessarily the same.

Julia: And their technology skills as well.

Adam: And the technology has completely changed. So it’s a very positive message about retaining the talent. It’s not a question of yes, there’s talent, but we don’t want to use it. Those days, I believe, are totally, totally gone. It’s more a question of how do we bring people back in? I’ve had my own experience of this last year. Unfortunately my son was diagnosed with testicular cancer last year. I had to take some time out the office. I was allowed to work from our London office rather than Edinburgh.

The firm were immense about it, and I think the fact that people saw that I was able to do it gave that whole issue of flexibility, which I think has been one of the big concerns, if I can be flexible … The trading desk as a whole tends to work long hours, and so therefore, there was always this perception, “Well, what if I need to do childcare? What if I need to look after an elderly parent? How can I do that in that environment?” What we’re trying to do is change that perception so that everyone can be flexible, that there’s nothing competitive about working long hours, that in fact, the inclusion is actually our goal. Actually we can put that to trying to stand out from the rest of the competition.

Julia: And Mark, as you go into organisations, are you hearing similar stories or is this a journey that other people are trying to get on as well?

Mark: Interestingly, when we started first sharing and delivering our solution in this space for women in business, it was to quite a senior group of women. The feedback we got was absolutely superb, except they said one really important thing, and that was, “I wish we’d had this 10 to 15 years ago.” So we suddenly realised that our target audience, as you’ve indicated, was not necessarily the senior women who’d already made it to executive positions, because interestingly they’d got there through some of the blood, sweat and bullets – the hard way. In fact, some of them, the women in these senior positions were a lot tougher on women in middle management than some of their men counterparts.

Julia: You do hear some behaviours about pulling the ladder up behind you if you’ve had to fight particularly hard for that position.

Mark: Correct. Whereas what we want to encourage is more a ‘lift as you climb’ sort of effort and therefore, we realised our target audience was that middle to senior management to create the next generation, to cure the headache for HR, who are looking for the gender equality to take the helm now, and there will be those opportunities, but our efforts are very much for the next generation. So for people like myself and Adam who are probably of a similar age and similar background, I had a conversation recently with a friend of mine who’s still in a major bank in the UK, and he was feeling a little bit isolated with the efforts internally, around gender equality.

I commented to him, “Well, we should make no apology for this intervention.” This intervention has only been broadly in the last several years and yet we’ve had decades and centuries of inequality. So we should make no apologies for this intervention whilst the pendulum swings, and then we’ll start to reap the rewards and benefits of having greater diversity around those executive tables.

Julia: Wonderful. I think that’s a perfect moment to just pause the conversation as we turn to Cynthia and Robert who have been doing some research to support today’s discussion

Cynthia: In an attempt to drive behavioural change on the trading floor, senior sales staff at many of the major banks are using technology to coach employees to change their behaviour before they step out of line. A FinTech firm has created software called SafeScribe, that warns employees when they’re typing something that could potentially land them in hot water, so they can review and potentially reconsider their communications before hitting send. The software has a number of features which are designed to help protect companies from regulatory, legal, and reputational risk, including flagging the use of profanities, sexist, racist, or homophobic language.

Robert: A 2015 study by Imperial College looked at how increased hormone levels may cause traders to take more risks. Research simulated the trading floor in the lab by having volunteers buy and sell assets among themselves. They measured the volunteers’ natural levels of testosterone and cortisol in one experiment, and artificially raised them in another. When given doses of either hormone, the volunteers shifted their investments towards riskier assets. As many trading floors are highly competitive and potentially stressful environments, they may drive up traders’ cortisol and testosterone levels. The research suggests that, on a macro level, these hormonal changes could be affecting the stability of financial markets.

Julia: Wonderful. Thanks Cynthia and Robert, and links to the research can be found on our website, That’s where you’ll find all our episodes, and you can 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. It all helps to promote the episodes.

What I love about this conversation today is it’s been inherently so positive, which is wonderful, but Mark you referenced to having a frustration. Talk to us more about that.

Mark: Yes, I do. It probably would be helpful to reference the recent update to the Hampton-Alexander report. I read the statistics, I try not to infer or draw too many conclusions from those statistics, but they are important.

Julia: This is the FTSE 100 women on boards, is that right?

Mark: That’s correct, yes. Particular focus on the FTSE 100. But what’s good is the extension of that focus being applied to the FTSE 250, and the FTSE 350. What we find with these central interventions is that when focus is applied, something begins to happen. So that’s helpful, and lobby groups and programmes like this, Julia, bring great attention to the issue. But in the Hampton-Alexander review that was updated in June, it referenced the fact that now 29% of total positions at executive board level are fulfilled by women. 9% are executive positions, 20% are non-exec positions. I think there is potentially a bit of an effort to fulfil the target through non-exec positions, which I’m not entirely happy about because I think the real change will come when they fulfil the executive positions.

The spotlight is now shone on the FTSE 250, and in totality, 23.7% of those board positions are filled by women. That has only increased by 0.9% in the past year. So if you think about that for a moment, to get to equality, which is not actually 33%, which the Hampton report sets out, but that’s an important milestone, so I appreciate that. Equality is 50/50. So for the FTSE 250, at 0.9% a year, it’s going to take us till 2050 before we have equality, and quite frankly that is just unacceptable.

So where my frustration comes from is the promotion of the need has been fantastic. We know the case for having diversity on boards and at executive levels, the value that brings – the performance and the holistic performance of the company. My frustration though, is we need to be investing more effort, additional efforts, because there is a lot of effort being applied, but more effort in the how and helping these people from diverse backgrounds, be that gender or religion, or just culturally, to fulfil their career opportunities that are there in front of them in financial services.

Julia: And there are many barriers to achieving that, but they are also many unlocking moments. We talk about this a lot on the podcast, about the role of recruitment, and making sure we’ve got the right recruitment partners who are approaching that challenge in the right way. Adam, you must have recruitment agencies crawling all over you, wanting to have your business. Are there some behaviours in recruitment that you’d like to see changed? I think we have to talk more about the role of the recruitment firms.

Adam: I’m going to have to make this quite personal because we’ve had quite a steady team. So yes, we have a lot of people who were trying to show us talent. Our pick up of that talent has been very slow, just simply because we’ve had a team that’s been in situ for a while. I’m going to be selfish and just talk about my own daughter’s experience as a 23-year-old coming into the workforce. She is being asked continually to fill out psychometric tests.

Now a psychometric test is either going to do one of two things, in my humble opinion. It’s either going to produce a lot of people who are exactly the same, or produce a load of liars. I really believe that whether it’s experimenting through blind CVs, just being more innovative, actually taking more people in for interview, that actually firms are missing a lot of talent by going through these rigid processes. Particularly at an entry level, I would like to see a lot more openness, give people a lot of opportunity to attend interviews, to actually demonstrate and to showcase what they can do.

Julia: So let’s end the show with thoughts that you are optimistic about, reasons to be cheerful. Adam, let me start with you.

Adam: There are a lot of reasons to be cheerful. The industry and also society at large is moving in the right direction. It’s not just a topic that’s going to fade, it’s going to be a very positive topic. Julia, you and I were on a panel at TradeTech, which is one of the industry trading conferences earlier in the year, and it was in a women only session talking about diversity. As it happens, about a third of the room was men because they gate crashed. It was standing room only.

That in itself tells you there is this latent demand. The services that Mark and his firm offer or others, you can feel that firms are desperate to start taking advantage of this. Perhaps they don’t know quite how to do it just yet. As a firm, Baillie Gifford has written its own shared beliefs documents. It’s very much about what we do, and it’s the client first, and everything we must do must be for the client. But it also touches on two important areas. The first one is really how we make a positive difference to society as a whole. The second thing is, how we behave to improve the perception of our industry. Both of those … all of it is a very positive environment.

Julia, am I allowed one last moment, which is to really ask companies when they’re creating events, when they’re inviting people to talk, when they’re discussing important matters, could they look outside of the Christian calendar and actually look at all the calendars? That way, people from diverse backgrounds can all participate without feeling excluded.

Julia: And Mark, finish this off with reasons to be cheerful.

Mark: I think I’m a very optimistic person. I have two young boys, as well as two older daughters. But I’ll start by saying I’m maybe disappointed that my two young boys won’t perhaps ever drive a car or own a home with the advances in technology and the way the marketplace is changing. But in terms of my optimism for my daughters, who are shortly entering into their professional careers, I think it’s a really good time to be a woman, certainly better than it was five years ago, certainly better than it was 10, 20 years ago being a woman in business. So I feel really optimistic for them both. The other thing that Adam has touched upon is that human beings in society for the most part are good, and that’s starting to really shine through. There’s the odd little occasion when your heart sinks with what goes on in the world, but I think in the main society and human nature is good and it’s kind, and we’re starting to see that really shine through, and that bodes well I think for the future, not just in business.

Julia: Well, it’s been a great discussion. I just want to take the moment to thank you both for joining the show today. Adam and Mark, thank you very much indeed.

Mark: Thank you.

Adam: Thank you very much.

Kieron: This episode of 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, Whilst you’re there you can also sign up to our newsletter for all our latest updates. To be sure of catching all our future podcasts, subscribe to our feed in iTunes, or your favourite podcast app. If you’ve enjoyed this episode of DiverCity Podcast, remember to give us a rating or review, it all helps promote the show to a wider audience. Finally, our Twitter handle is @divercitypod. Thanks for listening.