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International Women’s Day: Creating a culture where women thrive

8 Mar 2022

To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, we sat down with some female leaders from across Octopus. Ruth Handcock, CEO of Octopus Investments, told us what she thinks creates a workplace culture that supports women.

Ruth Handcock’s path to CEO of a financial services company is an exciting one. Among other things, it involved a stint in sub-Saharan Africa and setting up a brand-new bank, as well as starting a family along the way.

So, how have these experiences shaped how she thinks about empowering women?

Ruth Handcock

CEO of Octopus Investments

Leading by example

“I consciously make myself take risks,” explains Ruth. “I’ve always looked at sweeping statements like ‘women take fewer risks than men’ and thought, I’m going to buck that trend.”

“There have been a couple of moments when I’ve looked at job offers and thought I’d kick myself later if I didn’t give it a go. The first was a job offer to work within the Ministry of Trade, creating more investment opportunities in Freetown, Sierra Leone.”

“Perhaps equally risky, was leaving a role as finance director for a big multinational, to join two founders starting a new retail bank from scratch. We ended up getting the second new banking license in 100 years.”

“The risk felt particularly acute, because I knew I wanted to have kids in the next few years. But I received some great advice that families are unpredictable, and you’ll usually be able to find a way to get your career to work around it.”

Being human at work

As a CEO, you’re probably not surprised at Ruth’s tenacious outlook on life. What might be more surprising is the value she places on being yourself at work.

“I think one of the ways to create a neuro-diverse workforce, is to allow everyone to be themselves at work. Role modelling is critical to this. I try to talk about my home life, where I’ve messed up, and what I’ve found hard. I want people to be able to be human at work,” she explains.

“It’s also true when it comes to parental leave.”

“My biggest obsession when it comes to gender diversity, is unpicking the divergence in career path when employees decide to start a family.”

But Ruth believes having a company policy is only half the answer to more men taking paternity leave. She encourages employees to share their positive experiences with their peers and wants to boost cultural acceptance.

“I was really struck when some men in the company told me they only felt as though they had permission to take time off to have children, once they heard me talking about how excited I get when men tell me they’re taking paternity leave. We’d had an equal parental pay policy in place for a while, but I hadn’t appreciated the importance of having an open culture alongside that.”

Think like an owner and entrepreneur

Ruth is passionate about creating an environment that champions competency over visibility. She feels this is the kind of environment where a gender diverse workforce can thrive. It’s also why she believes Octopus has produced so many female leaders.

“Octopus has an entrepreneurial culture where employees gain recognition not by shouting about their achievements, but by recognising each other’s hard work and what they create as a result.”

“My biggest piece of advice – and what I continue to practice throughout my career – is to act like the owner of the business. Always keep that front of mind. Have confidence that people will notice your ability and commitment to making change happen, whether you shout about it or not.”

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)

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