To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, we sat down with some leaders from across Octopus. Jennifer Ockwell is Head of Institutional at Octopus Investments and Jonathan Digges is Chief Investment Officer.
Jennifer, in addition to her role at Octopus, is a trustee and board member of The Diversity Project, a charity promoting diversity in the investment industry. One concept she is passionate about, is male allyship in the workplace. So, when we asked for her thoughts ahead of International Women’s Day, she was keen to get a male colleague in the room. Jonathan Digges, Chief Investment Officer at Octopus Investments, joined her for the discussion.
Jennifer, you’re passionate about male allyship. It might be a new term for some, could you start by explaining what that is?
Jennifer – A male ally is a man who actively supports gender equality, to ensure we all have the same opportunities and experiences at every stage of our careers. Being an ally is more than just signing up to charters or industry wide initiatives. It means changing the way you act when you witness poor behaviours. For example, it could mean refusing to be part of an all-male board or panel discussion – taking positive action to ensure you have the impact you need.
Jonathan – I agree, it’s vital men are involved in these discussions. Over the last 30 years of my career, the workplace has changed dramatically – in a positive way – and people are having conversations they weren’t having before. To make a difference when it comes gender diversity, I think it’s about getting educated on the issue without blame or confrontation. Constructive conversations with both men and women in the room are critical to that.
What do you think are the benefits to a business of greater female representation?
Jennifer – Diversity initiatives across every minority group are imperative if we want to achieve greater cognitive diversity. I read a great book recently, Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez, which exposes the gender bias women face every day. From government policy and medical research, to technology, workplaces and the media, this book reveals the biased data that comes as a result of excluding women from decision making groups. One example would be that European car manufacturers, to this day, still design the driver seat air bag to accommodate the weight of an average man. These decisions can literally be the difference between life and death.
Jonathan, you mentioned your 30-year career and seeing things evolve. How do you think we can attract greater diversity over the next 30 years?
Jonathan – At the end of the day, most businesses are growth led. Any decision made is so the business will succeed. We should champion diversity because it’s obviously the right thing to do. But I think it quickly becomes a priority, and very authentic, when people also see how it contributes to the success of the business. Because it absolutely does. Diversity of thinking is extremely valuable – it’s how you produce innovation.
Pictured L – R: Jennifer Ockwell (Head of Institutional Investments, Octopus Investments), Jessica Franks (Head of Retail Investment Products, Octopus Investments), Emma Davies (Co-CEO, Octopus Ventures), Wei Fu (Head of Commercial Finance, Octopus Investments), Ruth Handcock (CEO, Octopus Investments), Kristy Barr (Distribution Director, Octopus Investments), Samantha Ling (Head of Operations and Fund Formation, Octopus Ventures)