‘Stories fit for TV’
The speakers provided candid accounts of their experiences with gender in finance, an industry long known for being male dominated.
“As a woman, a black woman, in the financial industry, having had a global career, I have lots of stories that could make for TV episodes one day,” said Odaro.
She described experiences of feeling invisible in a room and spoken over at meetings – even at the leadership level.
“It’s often not done deliberately,” said Odaro. Rather, it occurs when the “picture you have in your mind of leadership is not this person you’re looking at.”
Asp, one of the original members of Nordea’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, emphasised that organisations must be genuinely willing to change their corporate culture and reshape their power structures. Part of that means having senior leaders scrutinise how they identify talent.
“People like me, a middle-aged white man in a senior position, have for too long fallen into the trap of more easily seeing talent if it comes in a package that looks like myself, although with less grey hair,” he said.
Getting the right ingredients
In terms of solutions, Odaro emphasised the importance of building the pipeline early. She used the analogy of a menu.
“When planning a menu, you need to start from the point of getting the right ingredients in place for the finished meal,” she said. While it’s often said there aren’t enough women at senior levels, it’s important to hire them at junior levels so they can rise through the ranks and one day become senior women, she noted.
Nordea’s Asp shared his experience as a young Swede trying out his wings in investment banking in London. While the gender balance was fairly even in his junior years, the relative number of women shrank as they grew older, more senior and family life entered the picture.
“This was, and partly still is, a failure,” he said.
Odaro added that, while she has never heard a male friend express having to choose between career and starting a family, this is a dilemma many women still have to confront.
The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us new ways of working, which Nordea will continue to use post-pandemic, including opportunities for remote and flexible working, Asp noted.
“I think we can take giant strides for parents of both genders of small children if we can help decrease the daily stress of the life puzzle… We can help people find balance in life,” he said.