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International Women’s Day: Ice skating, risk-taking, and breaking the glass ceiling

8 Mar 2022

To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, we sat down with some female leaders from across Octopus. One of those leaders is Wei Fu, Head of Commercial Finance at Octopus Investments.

Thanks for taking the time, Wei. What’s the biggest thing you care about when it comes to gender diversity?

I’m a glass half full kind of person. I’m optimistic and I see women having more opportunities than issues nowadays. There are still challenges, but I think we’ve come a long way in the last ten or twenty years.

For me, everyone in their position needs to feel personally invested in the issue. At work, you can’t feel that this is somebody else’s problem. You need to have a personal connection and be responsible for the team you manage or the talent you spot. If everyone does that, it makes a big difference.

How did you end up a senior leader in finance?

I didn’t set out to be in finance. I would say I stumbled upon it and really liked it.

I left everything behind in China and came to the UK. Back then, the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) qualification was just starting out in China. I came across it and thought, if it’s expanding to China, I could go to the UK to study it instead.

After qualifying as an accountant, I joined a traditional practice. When I reached the level of audit manager, I remember looking around and seeing six male, middle-aged partners sitting in their glass offices. I was thinking, I’m Chinese, twenty-something, I’ve no chance. I didn’t see myself going anywhere.

That’s around the time I found Octopus. It was my first job stepping into the financial services industry. I’ve loved it and grown with the company.

Moving to the UK seems like a huge challenge. Have you found that taking risks has accelerated your career?

Maybe I’ve been very fortunate that each time I took a risk I came out stronger. But I would encourage more women to take risks. I do find it builds your resilience.

I was born in a rural region of northern China near Russia. Five months of the year it’s frozen. I remember one time I was ice skating and fell into the lake. I vividly remember thinking, I’m in so much trouble. I walked to my mum’s office in minus 20 degrees. I thought she was going to be so angry. But she just laughed and said that’s such bad luck. I think if she’d responded to me differently, I might have never gone back to ice skating.

Don’t be afraid to fail.

Later when my family moved to a southern part of China near Hong Kong, that was a massive change for me. Every day it’s short sleeves. People speak a different language. They eat different things and wear different clothes. It was like a new country for me. That really helped me adapt to change, and that’s a great skill for anyone in any career.

I think for women especially, just go out and try new things in life and work. That will have a big pay off if you do it bit by bit.

What would be your advice to women starting a career in finance today?

Go for it. I hope my personal experience encourages people. I came from a different country with broken English and no idea where I’d end up. I’ve been able to do this. I even started my career a little later than many people would have. If I can do it, anyone can do it.

My other advice would be that it’s okay to take a break and slow down. I also think it’s fine to not have a grand plan of where you want to be in three or five years’ time. I just want to do a great job now, and when the time’s right I’ll look a bit further ahead.

Just don’t get comfortable for too long. That usually means you’ll stop learning and growing. Be a bit restless and make those incremental steps.

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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