Mimosa chocolate and International Women’s Day

Mimosa, chocolate and International Women’s Day

The PLSA champions diversity, addressing it at conferences and beyond Caroline Escott reports.

Here’s a question for you: what unites Russia, Sierra Leone, Mongolia, Zambia and – very recently – Berlin (but no other German state)? Full marks for those of you who guessed it: they all celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8 March with a public holiday.

In 2019, 8 March will also be the last day of the PLSA’s Investment Conference in Edinburgh and, while we cannot offer attendees a public holiday or gifts of mimosa and chocolate (which is how the Italians and Albanians choose to celebrate the day), we will be marking IWD in our own way.

On the Friday of the Conference, the PLSA will be running a series of videos highlighting the recent developments on gender equality and diversity in the pensions industry, while conference attendees will be able to participate in a number of sessions on which discuss diversity throughout the investment chain.

First up will be a panel of experts from across the financial services industry discussing whether the City’s culture and approach to diversity has significantly, and fundamentally, changed in the 10 years since the financial crisis. There will also be a session to give schemes some practical tips and techniques for holding their asset managers and investee companies to account on corporate governance issues – including gender diversity – in the 2019 AGM season. And for those who feel like some reading on the train journey or flight home, we will be launching our new workforce disclosure report, which examines how well FTSE 100 companies are doing when talking about and measuring their workforce composition, diversity, skills and engagement.

Stepping up our work

But diversity (gender, ethnic, neuro- or otherwise) shouldn’t just be something that the industry forgets as soon as we unpack our bags. It matters as much for the pensions industry itself as it does the performance of the companies that schemes invest in, or the quality of the service provided by schemes’ advisers and asset managers. Yet the average trustee board is 80% male, with 3% of trustees under 40, a median age of 55 and with 78% of trustees having been educated at degree-level in business or management – so there’s some way still to go.

This is why the PLSA has been stepping up its own work on diversity, beyond marking IWD at Conference. Building upon our 2017 Breaking the Mirror Image campaign, we’ve been trying to raise awareness and change the industry’s culture and approach. Because we know it’s important for an industry trade association to seek to embody best practice, last year the PLSA signed up to HM Treasury’s Women in Finance Charter, publicly committing to a 50% ‘equality’ target of women on our senior management team; a target we are proud to have achieved not only at this level, but also on our Policy Board – our most senior policy governance body.

We’ve also been lending our voice and support to the growing number of fantastic industry initiatives in this space. You’ll have heard from many of these organisations in previous editions of Viewpoint: they include NextGenNow (which seeks to promote and encourage younger pensions professionals), The Diversity Project (which is trying to modernise the full length of the investment industry), and the Young Pensions Trustees Network (which brings together both potential and actual younger trustees to share experiences and tips). 
2019 will continue to see the PLSA ramp up its efforts on the diversity and modernisation agenda, and we hope that by marking IWD at our popular Investment Conference we’ll spark some interesting conversations and shed a bit more light on this issue. And, of course, should attendees feel so inclined, I feel certain that any offers of celebratory mimosa flowers and chocolate would not go amiss.