Q&A with Kristy Barr and Jessica Franks
To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, we sat down with some female leaders from across Octopus. They had plenty to say on the topic of women in finance. Hear what they had to say in this series of insights.
On a busy Tuesday afternoon, Kristy Barr – Distribution Director at Octopus Investments – takes some time out to discuss gender diversity in the finance industry.
Joining her is Jessica Franks, Head of Retail Investment Products at Octopus Investments.
Early in your career, did you feel disadvantaged because of your gender?
Kristy – There wasn’t a financial services industry to speak of in my home of Perth, Western Australia. So, when I started working, I didn’t have a sense of what I should or shouldn’t be doing. I didn’t have friends’ parents in the industry telling me I couldn’t make it, or anything like that. I faced the same challenges as any other person starting their career, but I worked hard and eventually started making progress.
Jess – I went to a state school and was the first generation of my family to go to university. It wasn’t until I had that experience, where I met people with top grades from public schools, that I first realised I might be an underdog going into interviews at big firms. I soon learned that I had the ability to think for myself and that gave me an advantage in the workplace.
But gender wasn’t something I ever felt was holding me back. That’s why I’ve never done women in finance events.
Interesting, so you’re not a fan of the expression ‘women in finance’?
Jess – I think focusing just on gender can sometimes miss the point. Do you agree Kristy?
Kristy – I think it’s about diversity full stop. I’ve never considered gender a barrier. You’re just a person. Work hard and do a good job, if that’s not recognised then you’re in the wrong company.
Jess – I agree, it’s part of a wider issue of diversity. I want to work with people from backgrounds different to mine. If we all think the same way, how can we get to a well-kicked, well-tested decision? That for me is the reason why a business must encourage diversity.
What do you think is the main issue when it comes to gender diversity in finance?
Kristy – The image many people have of the industry isn’t as accurate as it once was. At Octopus Investments, the retail management team is fifty percent female. Demonstrating stats like this will help us to recruit more broadly.
Jess – I think the main reason there are fewer women in senior positions in businesses, is because a lot opt out after having kids. My partner and I have always had an equal approach to parenting. Shared parental leave is a huge step in the right direction. Companies should encourage it and men should embrace the opportunity.
What about outside the workplace? Do you think women are served well by financial services?
Kristy – As society and thinking has evolved, women have become much more involved in financial decisions. More of the world’s wealth will be in female ownership than ever before. I think financial services, particularly financial advice, is still figuring that out and how to meet the needs of women.
Jess – That’s a really accurate picture. I can remember thinking, my dad probably doesn’t have a financial adviser, so why should I have one? But plenty of women are in control of the finances in their home and would benefit from receiving financial advice. Women need to be included in this space and feel welcome, because the need is there.
Kirsty – Again it’s not just gender, but all kinds of diversity need to be showcased for things to move forward. The public perception of financial advice doesn’t yet reflect the dynamic firms that exist, those that are talking about digital solutions and new opportunities.
But if more firms across the industry embrace an entrepreneurial culture and are ‘walking the walk’, we’ll hopefully see existing perceptions evolve into something closer to how things have moved on.
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)