Anne Richards Interview

1. What was your dream job as a kid and why?

I didn’t really have one.  I wanted to be a doctor until I realised I was way too squeamish.  And then I discovered engineering, so that kept me pretty focused.  I did apply to be an astronaut, though, so maybe that was secretly it!

2. What is the best and worst decision you’ve ever made?

Best decision – saying yes when my now husband asked me on our first date.  Worst decision – gosh, that’s a tough one.  Like most people I’ve made lots of stupid decisions in my time.  I try and move forwards, not backwards, so I don’t spend too much time dwelling on past errors.  Financially it was probably selling our London house when we moved to Edinburgh!

3. What has it meant for your career to be part of the WEF’s Young Global Leader initiative?

The YGL community is marvellous – eclectic, inclusive, inspirational.  The direct career impact is relatively intangible.  More important is the sense of shared values and a desire to help others in that community – it feels a supportive and welcoming group.

4. Have you been aware of a ‘glass ceiling’? If so how have you tackled it?

The numbers are pretty compelling – whether a glass ceiling or a sticky floor, it is still tougher for many women to progress than for many men.  I feel I have generally been lucky in my career in that I have come across relatively few managers who have been unable to see further than my gender in assessing my competency.  Some women are sadly less lucky.  My advice to women caught in that situation is move quickly.  Don’t imagine you can fix it.  But what you can do potentially is fix it for the next person, so I like to remind women to make sure they are fair and balanced with their own direct reports.  It’s a sad fact that studies show men and women suffer from the same subconscious biases around gender.

5. What part do you think the media has in maintaining the ‘Gender Gap’?  What should they be doing differently?

The media is not only a mirror reflecting society.  It also informs society.  Giving an equal share of voice to men and women as spokespeople or “experts” is one tangible thing it can do to help.  Another is through the images it uses – think of all those scantily clad women!  A third is around how women are described in articles: frequently they are defined by their relationship to a man (mother, grandmother, wife, daughter) rather than simply allowed to “be”. And, finally, challenging the number of stories where women are portrayed as victims rather  than for their achievements.

6. Now that women can and are expected to ‘have it all’, how have you coped with the work / life balance?

I think of it as “work/life integration”. Balance suggests they are in opposition whereas I think they are mutual supportive: I work to support my family and my family supports me in my work.  I accept I can’t be everywhere, so I try to focus on whatever I am doing to the best of my ability, whether watching the school play or chairing an investment meeting. I try not to agonise, I try to keep commitments when I make them, and I try never to take any part of my support system for granted.

7. When things get tough, how do you keep yourself going?

Stay calm, don’t overreact and never lose your sense of humour.

8. What was the best bit of advice you were given when you were starting out?

Have an answer to the question that you hope no one will ask you.

9. What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?

I think many of them believe that inequality ended when women got the vote (which of course is still not the case in some places). There are still inequalities and they will still need to battle to overcome them.

10. Do you notice any differences in the way women and men work? If so what implications does this have for a wider view of women’s capability in the workplace?

I don’t see many generic differences – there are more differences between men and men and women and women than between the sexes in aggregate.  However, women on average do have a more measured attitude to risk, and they do seem to have less of a disposition to crime, if you look at prison poulation! There is still a perception, however, that skill for skill women are less competent. We see this in research which shows women are promoted on performance (ie they have to demonstrate factually that they HAVE done something) whereas men are more likely to be promoted on potential (ie they don’t have to demonstrate they HAVE done something, only that they have the potential to do it.)  This is an example of a subconscious bias we need to work to overcome.

11. What is the most effective way you have seen women support each other in the workplace?

Networks that help women share their experience and develop business contacts are powerful.  However, the most powerful thing women can do is be a sponsor for other good women.  Fight on their behalf to get them that great role.  Suggest them to the headhunter when they call.  Look at the women in your own team and make sure you are helping them realise their full potential.

12. Should the government intervene in altering the gender dynamics of the UK workplace? If so what initiatives should they put in place?

Increased transparency of gender split at every level in an organisation is helpful, because it forces the organisation to reflect on biases it may not be aware it had.  The government could also consider erasures such as gender blind CVs, mandatory advertising (even if only internally) before new senior appointments are made and targeted gender split of long and short lists for external hires. More childcare support for working parents would also have a dramatic and positive effect, as would better elder care support.

13. Do you support the use of quotas to bring more women into positions of leadership?

The debate on targets versus quotas is irrelevent. It’s really playing with semantics.  It doesn’t matter what you call it because the effect is the same if we know the direction of travel.

14. What would you like to see change for the next generation of women at work?

We’ve touched on many of things that will help, but the biggest change I would like to see is a societal one. Toys should just be toys; there are no “girl” or “boy” subjects at school; and most importantly, girls and young women should not have to fear a higher level of public criticism and comment than their male peers on any aspect of their appearance or achievements.

15. Can you leave us with a quote that inspires you?

I think this quote from Mother Teresa is a good reminder that we all have the power to change the world, even if only in a small way, for the people around us:  “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”

16. … Is there anything else you would like to add?

I love this very sound piece of advice from Carl Sagan.  “It pays to keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.” I’ve found it useful in my career more than once!