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An Exclusive Interview with Jayne-Anne Gadhia, Founder and CEO Gadhia Group

Every company knows that diversity and inclusion are good in theory, but what about in practice?

In this interview, Jayne-Anne Gadhia shares with us how inclusion can not only add to employee happiness but how it can also have a positive impact economically.

As the former Chief Executive of Virgin Money (before their sale in 2018,) Jayne-Anne Gadhia explains her mission championing women in one of the most male-dominated industries on the globe–finance. Her time spent at Virgin Money working alongside Richard Branson, empowered her to understand that personality and purpose were keys to a workplace rich in inclusion.

In this interview, you’ll discover:

  • The impact of an alpha male banking culture in finance
  • The Women in Finance Charter
  • How to create a culture of individualism
  • The importance of having a “purpose”

Listen in above (cc available), or read below the transcript of our interview with Jayne-Anne. You can also listen on Spotify, iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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FIONA: Our guest today is Jayne-Anne Gadhia, best known for her tenure as chief executive of Virgin Money from 2007 until its sale in 2018. Jayne-Anne is one of the most powerful women in finance. She was made a Dame in the 2019 New Year’s honors list for her contribution to financial services and women in the finance industry and is now launching a tech startup called Snoop. In 2015 Jayne-Anne led a government review focused on the representation of women in the financial services industry. Her report led to HM Treasury’s Women in Finance Charter, a commitment by firms to work together for gender equality in financial services. To date, more than 270 firms have signed up to the Women in Finance Charter with pledges, including setting internal targets for gender diversity in senior management and moves to link directors’ bonuses to meeting those goals. Today, I’ll be asking Jayne-Anne about her personal experiences and why diversity and inclusion matters, as well as getting her advice on how we can all contribute to more inclusive world. Welcome, Jayne-Anne.

JAYNE: Thank you very much, Fiona.

FIONA: Can you tell us a bit about what you’ve been up to lately?

JAYNE: Well, as you say, we sold Virgin Money to the Clydesdale Bank, CYBG, on the 15th of October 2018. You can tell that that’s a date that’s written across my heart and life changed very dramatically. I’d set up that business from scratch. I’d been hugely busy with it. It was something that defined me and I think the question as we move on from those big things in our lives is who are we? What’s our purpose and what defines your next? I can’t say that I’ve answered all of those questions yet, but I’ve been super busy and of the several things that I’m doing at the moment, not for profit work. I’m also just about to start work with the Bank of England on the Financial Policy Committee, which I’m really looking forward to. As you say, I’ve set up a new business with a number of old friends and colleagues and it’s great to be back around the table starting from scratch, to be honest. It’s called Snoop and Snoop is a character who searches the web in the world to find ways in which we can make you better off in everything that you do. We’re very excited about it, with about 17 people working away in an office in Waterloo actually at the moment and looking forward to bringing that out for everyone.

FIONA: Amazing. I look forward to it. First off, I wanted to ask you something we ask all of our guests on Inclusion Works. Can you tell us what personal experiences made you aware of diversity and inclusion issues?

JAYNE: Gosh, there’s a lot of them really. First of all, I guess my husband is Indian. I remember when we first met a very, very long time ago, and I’ve been married for 36 years or something, so we met perhaps about 40 years ago. At that time, mixed relationships were less normal than they are today. I remember us being in a Chinese restaurant once going for takeaway, actually, after my husband had thrown one of the sort of skinheads from the local area out of a party a few weeks previously. We were at the counter at the Chinese takeaway and my husband said to me, “Don’t pick up the takeaway. Just go to the door.” We got to the door. He said, “Right now, run like hell.” And I said, “Why?” He went, look, there’s Charlie and a bunch of skinheads and they’re after us. That was the first time that I’d ever really realized the way in which the world works differently depending on who you are and who you’re with. That was a big eye opener from a racial point of view. From a diversity point of view, I think the thing that stunned me was that over the years a number of people had asked me to get involved with sort of women’s networks, and I’d always not wanted to do it. It always felt a little bit sort of self-serving or niche or something. Then not very long before the big thing happened, somebody that I had a huge respect for said to me, if we’re going to say, you need to do this because you’ve had a good career and it’s time that you gave something back. I thought, well, yeah, that’s definitely right. Then not long afterwards, I had a most … Funny enough, it would be exactly four years ago. It was the Mansion House speech that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the governor of the Bank of England host. Funny enough, this year’s speeches in two days time. At this particular speech, I remember going into the Mansion House and it’s a very grand place and it’s full of, I’m sorry to be a little bit critical like this. It sounds critical. I have lots of friends who are aging white men, but it was full of aging white men, all in black tie and DJs and everybody looked the same. It is quite an intimidating room to walk into, particularly as a woman, whoever you are. I looked out for somebody that I knew, recognized one of the heads of the big banks and went to talk to him. As I was talking to him, I saw a guy walking over to me who I’d always felt was a little bit negative on me. I had always felt, rightly or wrongly, that he’d talked down to me. I assumed that he’d come to talk to the guy that runs the big bank rather than me, who knows if that was right or wrong. But as this guy got to us, the banker turned around and the two of us were left together and this man said to me, “Where are you sitting tonight?” The table plan for this event is really complicated. Lots of people there and the writing of where you sit is very small on the table plan. I said, “I haven’t got my glasses. I don’t know where I’m sitting at the moment,” which was right. This man said, “Well, let me have a look for you.” With a flourish, he unveiled this table plan and he went, and I have told this story more truthfully than the word I’m about to use. He went, “Gosh, you’re sat next to the chancellor.” It was your George Osborne at the time. It was interesting because I remember feeling both how funny and how delighted I was that that particular thing had happened. But in sitting next to George Osborne, the thing that he talked to me about was how bad financial services was in terms of women getting to the top. It was fascinating that I’d not seen it in the way that he described it previous, and the two things that stuck out for me were, first of all, we know that we have a productivity problem in the UK, and the Chancellor’s point was that actually diversity and equality will help productivity. We’ll increase the workforce and we’ll bring more skill into the workforce and we’ll bring more flexibility into the workforce. The more we bring women and men together to create a more productive economy, the better for all of us. I hadn’t properly thought about it like that before. Then, the second thing he said to me was financial services is worse than any other industry for women getting to the top. Why is that? I thought that doesn’t make sense to me because I’d always sort of accepted, if you like, that perhaps women decide that were more sensible than men decided to go back to work and not to go back to work after they’d had children and stay at home, and I respect that too. But then I realized when I got a second, women will be making that decision in every industry, not just financial services, why is it worse here? Of course as a consequence of that conversation, the Chancellor asked me to look into why it was and I came up with a lot of support and help from my team with some analysis as to why this might be. It was nothing to do with motherhood and it’s all to do with culture. It was such a fascinating revelation for me that

For me, that meant that I’ve been on a bit of a crusade, who knows how much difference it’s made, to try and open people’s eyes to the culture that pushes half of the population away. I think it’s really important that we keep on that journey.

FIONA: A lot of interesting things you said right there struck me, especially just the fact that you were at the table and that you were sat next to George Osborne in that. Being able to get into that room full of powerful people and being able to have a seat at the table is the first step to being able to enact change like you have. Speaking of culture, I know you’ve spoken very openly about how an alpha male banking culture and a lack of cognitive diversity are a factor in, for instance, the recession that we had back in 2008. How far do you think we’ve come in changing that since then?

JAYNE: No, not nowhere near far enough. I think that there’s definite awareness. Undoubtedly, there’s much more awareness in the last decade over the need for diversity. I not only speak to my friends and colleagues in the city and around the country who are much more eager to hear the story and agree that diversity brings more balanced decision making, which are conversations,

I think that broadly everybody agrees with that. I think what we haven’t achieved yet is sufficient emphasis, I suppose. I need a stronger word than that. But anyway, on the point that this isn’t something for the good times, it’s something for the tough times. What I find at the moment is broadly where organizations hit tougher times, and by the way that can be at the beginning or later on in their lives, so it’s quite difficult. Fin techs, for example, seem to find it quite difficult at the moment to bring women in. Funny enough, in my new business, Snoop, the same is true and we’re very actively focused on it. I think it’s that as you’re sort of rushing to get the business and the idea and the vision out or your panicking perhaps to solve a big problem in a company, you forget the fact that diversity is important because it isn’t at that point a priority. I think when people, all of us, me included, really understand that wherever you are, that should be the priority. Because actually, it’ll help you set up a better business and help you to solve your problem more effectively. Then, I think we’ll have made a huge difference. In summary, I’d say I think we’ve definitely made big strides in terms of awareness. Actually, Fiona, you mentioned the number of companies that have signed up to the charter. It’s now very recently we’ve announced the new number, which is 330 firms.

FIONA: Oh my gosh.

JAYNE.: They employ 800,000 people in financial services, so it has definitely created a very broad base for the conversation. But, now we have to instill it I think in the culture so that it’s just the way that we do business in the good times and the bad rather than something that’s occasionally seen as a nice to have in the good times.

FIONA: I’d love to hear a little bit more about the Women in Finance Charter. Can you tell us about kind of how it came about, what it’s all about, and also what you sought to achieve?

JAYNE: It’s funny how it came about. You remind me of something that I shouldn’t really talk about, I suppose, but some of these things, these policy documents all sound sort of grand and highfalutin, don’t they. I remember the day that we decided it was time to pull together all of the information that we got and work out what we were going to present and to recommend. Myself and two colleagues sat in a taxi driver’s cafe in sort of a back street in London, and I remember having a chili con carne and chips and a glass of red wine. My colleague who was so instrumental in this, Emily. This café was called the Astral Cafe. She said we should call it the Astral Report, really. I think that sort of thing, I mentioned it as slightly funny, but that’s sort of what I mean, that I think these things have to be real, not just academic. Do you know what I mean?

FIONA: Yeah. Practical.

JAYNE: Exactly. That’s a very good word because what we wanted to do was to make sure that the recommendations were practical and engaged the people that had to make them happen. What we said was let’s not look at this as an HR issue. Let’s look at it as a business issue because we can see that the boards and the executive teams of today are focused on hitting their targets and are focused on delivering the objectives that they’ve set and frankly focus on earning their bonuses in financial services. Let’s make this a business conundrum like any other. Let’s not make it something that seems like a softer HR issue, if you see what I mean.

FIONA: Yeah.

JAYNE: That’s where the thought came up for the way in which we’ve designed the charter. Broadly, we started off by a survey of many thousands of people in financial services. We sent it to men and women. 80% of the respondents interestingly were women, but 20% is still a pretty good response from men. The three key pieces of learnings, really, I think were this. Because financial services does have a bonus culture, what women said was do you know what, I just don’t believe that I’m treated fairly because at the end of the year when bonuses are paid out, my male colleagues tend to go to our boss, bang the table and say, I’ve had a really good year, pay me well. Whereas as a woman, I don’t want to go and bang the table. I want my boss to come to me and say do you know what? You’ve had a great year. Well done. Here’s your bonus. That particular cultural position, I think, is really interesting. It led to the second thing, which is what women say is, and of course if you have weak senior management, they listened to the people that bang the table. So, please can you make sure that our senior management are strong enough to know what’s really happening and by the way are not infected, if that’s the right word, by unconscious bias. Let’s make sure that we have unconscious bias training so that they do treat me as a woman who’s softer in the way in which I expect my contribution to be recognized equally to a man that might understandably be banging the table because he’s done a good job. But, it shouldn’t mean that he gets paid more because of that behavior. Then, the third thing was that men and women actually said in that our new tech world, let’s make work more flexible. Women in particular didn’t like what happens in a lot of financial companies where there’s this sort of culture of needing to be present. I think frankly it was investment banks that got most criticism for this. People were saying, well, I’m sort of expected to be there at seven in the morning and I’m expected to be there until 9:00 at night. I don’t really need to be, but I feel if I’m not, I’m sort of not valued as much. Whereas, actually if I get my job done, whether I do it at my desk in London and or my home in somewhere else, shouldn’t that be valued equally? Those were the three key points. Having found those findings, if that’s the right way of putting it, we then say what we’re going to do about this then and shared those findings with the financial services industry and suggested that because the other piece of work that we’d done was to look at how much better business benefit came from diverse teams. Credit Suisse did a report which showed that diversity isn’t just socially good and just, but it’s economically good too because businesses with diverse teams generate two percentage points more return on equity than businesses that don’t have diverse teams. We’re able to go to the businesses and say we’ve identified all of these things that you can do. We’ve identified the business benefit. Now, our proposal is that you tell us rather than us setting quotas, you tell us your objective for managing more women into your senior positions over time. Be prepared to publish that strategy and be held accountable for it. Please make sure that in the same ways business results are part of your objectives when you pay bonuses, make sure that diversity is also included. It was really interesting because one of the really good things was bad in the beginning of my story. But as we were about to launch this report, I wanted to get many influential people in the city behind it, or at least understand what they were going to think about it. The day that I was supposed to be speaking to Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, sadly my mom died. Obviously, I couldn’t speak to him. Anyway, he rang me a couple of days later and he said to me, I’m really sorry about your mother, Jayne, and I can’t do anything about that, but I can help with your report. I think it’s a really good thing. How can I help? I said to him, well, could we launch it in the Court of the Bank of England? He said, yes, of course, we can make that happen. Of course, because the invite went through the Bank of England and the governor himself said that he would speak, my guess is it brought in many, many more many men, much more senior people than I would ever have done on my own. The room was full. It was full of very senior people in the industry. The governor himself spoke about the importance of diversity. I hope I didn’t sound too arrogant, so I think that the report was a good piece of work, but I think it was super important to have somebody so important and influential being absolutely on it. It meant that people left that room thinking this isn’t just a piece of puffery. This is something that’s essential now in our city. It’s taken hold, the Treasury, as you say, HMT, have properly embedded it in all that they do. Both George Osborne and subsequently Philip Hammond have fully supported it as have their ministerial teams, and so it’s got traction. People talk about it. Many have signed up to it. It hasn’t changed the world, but it’s made a difference and we need to keep on banging that drum.

FIONA: Yeah. I love that. Thanks for sharing the story as well. Going back to kind of one of the things you said about flexible working made me think a bit about, for my opinion, I think that one of the greatest barriers to women’s progression into top leadership roles is our assumption of what a leader looks like and how a leader behaves and, of course, those are oftentimes aligned to alpha male behaviors. I wanted to ask you what was your experience being one of the only female CEOs in finance for many years in the UK? Did you ever feel like you had to change to fit the mold of what was expected to you as a leader?

JAYNE: I think that without a doubt, I have seen women in senior positions who have had to fit in over the years with the Alpha male culture, some of them have become more alpha male than some of the men I criticize. I think that’s a shame, although I think it’s a truism, isn’t it, that we will sort of change our behavior to fit in. Now, and so I’ve been very lucky, and the reason I’ve been lucky is I suppose in three things, if I can remember them. Many years ago, I was just setting out my career really and I did an MBA at City University Business School, which it was called at the time, now CASS. There was a wonderful professor there called Ronnie Lessem, who was seen to be extremely eccentric. Anyway, I liked him a lot. I remember one of the things that he said was, isn’t it ridiculous that people are different at work than at home and wouldn’t we all be so much more effective if we would just ourselves? I remember it just … I can’t remember the reason why, but it particularly resonated with me at that moment. I think that I was trying to be something I wasn’t and trying to work out how to fit in. I was feeling the strain and I thought do you know what, that is exactly right. Obviously, I need to behave properly. But broadly, as long as I look myself in the mirror, work hard, do the right thing with a sense of purpose. If it’s not good enough, it’s not good enough. That was a very powerful lesson for me because oddly, well maybe not, I found that my career developed beyond that, perhaps as a result of that. That was the first thing. I think the second thing is that working Virgin helped that because Virgin is a unique culture and Richard Branson does encourage people to be individuals and to be different and to be themselves. I felt able to flourish in that environment. I think if my career had been developed in a more traditional company that expected people to behave in a particular way, then it might not have turned out as it did. Then, I think thirdly, I would say that as a consequence, however, I’ve probably become a little bit of a marmite figure, and so there are definitely people who see me as difficult. I always feel a bit upset when that’s the case because obviously I don’t think I’m particularly difficult at all, but what I am is I’m clear on what I think is right and stick to my principles. I think that sometimes compromise is often been the way in the city or the most senior person has always been the one that said this is what we’re going to do. I think it’s really important to know what you’re going to set out to do, what’s important to you. Just to reinforce, obviously, it has to be the right thing. But as long as you think it’s the right thing, it’s delivering what all of your stakeholders want, whether that shareholders or your colleagues and staff or customers, all of whom are equally important in my life, then I think you have to stick to your principles and not be influenced by the way in which it looks like this culture values people. Then, we started to change things, I think.

FIONA: I think it’s interesting. You say that kind of some people see you as difficult. I wonder whether you ever considered that there’s an undercurrent there of kind of stereotypes of people’s traditional expectations for women that are coloring their judgment of you. Like, if you were a man saying those things would you be perceived the same?

JAYNE: Yeah. I mean there is no doubt at all that I have been treated differently because I’m a woman. Lots and lots of other women experienced the same thing, I think. I was interested when despite everything that’s happened subsequently, now let’s think back when Teresa May became prime minister and she said something like, I’m proud to be called a bloody difficult woman. I think that some behaviors in women that are valued in men, whether that’s knowing who they are and being confident about what they do and moreover, sometimes seem to be devalued in women because there’s an implication that makes us less feminine and it can be held against us as a consequence. I think we do need to understand people as people without unconscious bias and try and look at what they’re saying and doing rather than our expectations of their behaviors.

FIONA: Yeah. Absolutely.

JAYNE: But so yes, to answer your question, undoubtedly being a woman has been, has had its own particular challenges for sure.

FIONA: I what you said, too, about Virgin’s culture and how that kind of infused into Virgin Money’s culture of being able to be yourself, being an individual, being able to be contrary. I’m just wondering how can our listeners within their own businesses try to create that culture of individualism and which also is correlated of course with inclusion and belonging?

JAYNE: I think that the thing that I always felt was really important was to have purpose in business. By the way, sorry, I sound like the past tense.

Although when we started asked in the very early Virgin Money days, that was particularly unusual. I worked at RBS for six years, and I started Virgin a long time ago. Then, RBS bought my business, my Virgin business. I went there for six years and brought some of my team and then came back to Virgin subsequently. It’s been an interesting sort of ability to understand the differences between those two types of culture. What Virgin allows me and my team to do was to identify that a sense of purpose is really important in business, certainly was important in our business. When I came back from RBS to Virgin Money, we concluded that with the team that came back that we didn’t want to just set up a bank and make money for our shareholders. We wanted to create an environment where everyone was better off, shareholders as I say, and staff and customers and the people that we do business with. We created that as a corporate ambition. We called it EBO for everyone’s better off, EBO. The thing that I really found was that as the business grew and became more and more successful and we acquired Northern Rock, it created a culture where people could identify with that, that sense of purpose and make it their own. It actually was also a culture where if you didn’t share that sense of purpose and you actually thought I just want to be here to pay the mortgage. Actually, the cultures have pushed you out and so it was very reinforcing in that sense. I would encourage everybody before they set out on a career or when they’re in a career to consider am I at work to make a difference or to make money. If it’s only to make money, that’s probably all of these questions are probably not quite so relevant. By the by, I’m not criticizing that. Some people do need to go to work and make money and have the sort of fulfillment outside their work lives. But where you feel as I have always done that we spent an awful lot of time at work, I’d much rather make a difference while I’m there. I do believe that business that employs so many people in this country obviously has an influence on the way in which our society develops. If you really do want to make a difference and you need to be associated with or involved with a business with purpose, by the by, I’d add to that that also if you believe that diversity agenda is important, you should make sure the business you work with has signed the Women in Finance Charter because what does it say about the culture if they haven’t, if you know what I mean. If you’re a part of a business with purpose and you share that purpose, then actually being able to flourish individually within the context of the purpose is something that everybody celebrates. I think that’s what makes it such a virtuous circle. I remember that we, Virgin Money, had acquired Northern Rock back in 2012 and we’d talked about this culture of making everyone better off. The reason that it was so powerful was that I as the CEO didn’t need to explain what that meant. Of course, it was a different thing for anybody in the business depending on what job they did. There was a wonderful woman who ran our Dorking branch, and every quarter she’d do me an update on what she’d been doing. I didn’t ask her for it. She just wanted to tell me. Her name was Doreen. She’d always do this update which she called the Update From Doreen’s Dorking Diamonds. I remember on one occasion that she’d sent me photographs. She said, I’ve been really thinking about this thing about making everyone better off. In Dorking, I wanted to have a geranium sale and all of my customers brought in geraniums. We had this wonderful plant exchange. I thought, Oh God, I didn’t really think that … Well, I didn’t really mean by eBay was that we turn a bank branch into a geranium exchange. Then, I thought but why not? If that’s what she thinks is eBay and that’s what makes her customers happy and what fulfills the team and has been a bit of fun then actually that’s entirely positive. She loved writing to me to tell me about it. Now, could we have done that RBS? Absolutely not as far as I … Certainly not at the time that I was there. It’s an extreme example, but I think it’s the way in which you can be who you want to be if you share the purpose of the business that you work with.

FIONA: Yeah. That’s interesting to think about how a purpose can kind of unite people across our difference …

JAYNE: Absolutely.

FIONA: And build that sense of belonging together.

JAYNE: Absolutely.

FIONA: Thank you. Finally, what’s one simple thing anyone listening could do this week in their workplace to build inclusion?

JAYNE: Now, there’s an interesting question. I think that despite the fact that this, as I say, can seem like a soft issue, the thing that’s made most of a difference for me is when I measure it. For example, at Virgin Money, even after I’d done all of this work and we were so focused obviously as a result on diversity at Virgin Money. I remember that the year end performance assessments all came in, which I feel as if I’m talking about bonuses all the time here and that’s not really the case. I suppose it’s an area that is emotionally important and financially to people. Before they’re all signed off, so all of my team do their work. Before they’re all signed off, they would come to me and I’d just look at the distribution of bonuses. It was the first year that we’d split. What do men get and what do women get? Much my shot and horror, in Virgin Money, men were being paid, not just payment, men were being recognized much more for their performance than women. I just send it back to my team and said, is this really right? Of course, they looked at it and went, no, absolutely not. Now that we’ve actually seen it written down and analyzed like that, it’s not right. Of course, it came back with a much more normal distribution curve around an equal balance of men and women because the business had an equal balance of male and female staff. That was a real lesson to me around I do believe what gets measured gets done and then when it’s measured and done, it should be transparent so that everybody can go really. Because actually, I don’t think many people are bad. I just think they don’t see enough to know how to do the good thing, and so I think I’d say, what is it in your business that you could measure and make public that really is going to make people go really? Is it like that? Because it made a huge difference.

FIONA: To get buy-in as well.

JAYNE: Absolutely.

FIONA: Well, thank you so much, Jayne-Anne, for sharing these insights with us.

JAYNE: Thank you.

FIONA: I’m sure there’s a lot for listeners to take away and I’m just wondering if anyone listening wants to connect with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?

JAYNE: Well, you can find me on social media, so I’d say Twitter or LinkedIn.

FIONA: Brilliant. Well, thanks again and thanks to all of our listeners as well.

JAYNE: Thank you, Fiona.

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Be sure to follow Jayne as @gadhiaj.

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An Exclusive Interview with Jayne-Anne Gadhia, Founder and CEO Gadhia Group

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