Author: Maha Khan Phillips
Women have been inspiring other women throughout history, whether socially, economically, culturally, politically, or through the roles they played within their own families. To celebrate International Women’s Day, Professional Investor asked leading women from the investment industry to talk about the women that inspired them most in their own lives. Some participants have chosen high profile figures from the political, social, judicial, or corporate landscape. Others have emphasised the role of mentors in their careers, or family members who broke barriers and paved the way for change:
Gina Miller, leader of the True & Fair Party, transparency campaigner & co-founder of SCM Direct, inspired by Maya Angelou:
There are so many courageous women who have fought against the odds to make the world a better place and to make the cornerstones of our society fairness, equality, kindness. I am humbled by women I regularly meet in small community charities, at the coalface, fighting against poverty, abuse, exploitation, for the voiceless. Women who combine strength and softness, comfort and challenge. Women who stand up, speak out, and strive on their passion to help others, and make the world a better place.
Over the years, when I have been bruised in my own fights, I seek solace and comfort in the works of the incredible Maya Angelo, who inspired the title of my autobiography ‘Rise: Life Lessons in Speaking Out, Standing Tall & Leading the Way’. She was not only an extraordinarily talented poet, but a civil rights activist who befriended Malcolm X, until his assassination in 1965. Then in 1968 she helped Martin Luther King organise the Poor People's March in Memphis. She understood the power of language, that words could be weaponised for good and evil, for hate and love, to stir audiences and reach into their hearts.
Indra Nooyi embodies my investment philosophy that the most resilient and successful companies are ones in which good leadership considers the creation of broader prosperity for all respective stakeholders, with a constructive attitude towards shareholders and financiers. I admire her business acumen and drive. Indra successfully led a strategic redirection of PepsiCo, called ‘Performance with a Purpose’, which focused on environmental concerns and sustainability. Under a healthy corporate culture, employees were encouraged to stay with the company, and parental paid leave was extended. Indra’s legacy as chairperson and chief executive officer created long-term growth; net revenue almost doubled and produced at least nine chief executive officers who went on to run large public companies. Moreover, she is a high achiever outside of the corporate world. From playing cricket as a child in India, Indra eventually joined the International Cricket Council Board as their first independent female director. She is also self-disciplined in her adherence to Hindu teachings and traditions, and compassionate – Indra serves as an honorary co-chair of World Justice Project. I am pleased that we share a love of music, although my youthful tribute to The Supremes pales to insignificance compared to Indra playing guitar in an all-girl rock band.
Jessica Hardman, head of European real estate portfolio management and head of UK Real Estate Group, DWS:, inspired by Ruther Bader Ginsburg:
Ruth Bader Ginsburg spent her life fighting for women to be treated equally. She has become an inspiration for women and girls around the world and broke many biases both in her personal and professional life. A working mother from the start, Ginsburg studied law at Harvard and Columbia, in the time when very few women were admitted. When she struggled to secure employment as a trainee lawyer due to her gender, she followed an academic career with a focus on gender equality. From here, Ginsberg chartered a strategic course, taking aim at specific discriminatory statutes one at a time, and building on each successive victory. Her great achievements led her to be appointed to the U.S Supreme Court.
I am inspired by Ginsburg’s enduring career and strategic mind. She led cultural change for women by unpicking those laws which enforced inequality. Ginsburg’s career spanned four decades, and no doubt she navigated many roadblocks and challenges. Ultimately her resolve, intelligence, and ability to convey the benefits of equality is truly an inspiration for breaking the bias.
Rekha Misra, global chief operating officer at WTW Investments; United Way US board member, inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
In addition to all the women who shine a light on issues of career/family balance, gender disparity in household and professional responsibilities, and the need for accessible childcare all while maintaining dual roles as attentive mothers and dedicated professionals, I am hugely inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, all day, every day. She chose a difficult path into the women’s movement, fighting out issues like equal pay in often male dominated courts. In the process, she laid the legal framework for women’s rights and minority rights.
Every one of us who wants to be treated equally by our employers and our government officials owes so much to her. She was a remarkable combination of humility and genius! Countering the narrative that second wave feminism is misandrist, Ruth Bader Ginsburg showed how the patriarchy negatively impacts men and women. She has inspired me to choose my moment, to choose my words – carefully, and to stand up for those who need support. And when necessary, to fearlessly diverge and wear my dissent with purpose.
Having spent the first ten years of my career working at the World Bank in Washington DC, and then at an environmental investment start-up in New York, I determined to return to Europe. What, I pondered, would be a good next move, to continue to work at the nexus of investment and sustainable development? Fortunately, I landed a great role within the leading ethical investment house of the time in London – Friends Provident, known for its Stewardship Funds. I joined a team of three, one of whom was, and continues to be an inspiration – Karina Litvack. A dual French-Canadian national, Karina is fluent in five languages. She has a fierce intellect, phenomenal drive and tenacity. As we developed and rolled out a completely new concept – an engagement service for our clients – Karina led the charge in delivering hugely effective engagement with companies on environmental, social and governance issues. She went on to lead that team, within F&C, until 2012. Since then she has held numerous advisory and NED roles on boards. Along the way, she has raised three impressive daughters and hosts refugees at her home. A true inspiration for any woman in responsible investment.
When I think about people who have enabled me in my career, directly and indirectly, Hannah Grove definitely stands out. She’s now a non-executive director at Abrdn, but I worked with her a few years ago, when she was chief marketing officer at State Street. Her achievements are many. She was in American Banker’s list of “Top 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking” four years in a row. The inspirational ‘Fearless Girl’ marketing campaign she led pushed the dial on improving female representation in senior roles - showing the highly influential power that marketing and communications can have on inciting positive change.
With a lack of role models that look like me – she has been a sponsor, counsel and guiding light for me. She has taught me to carry on working hard, the art of respectful challenge and killing people with kindness. She is always honest and constructive in her feedback and has a remarkable ability to bring others up with her. She retired after 22 years at State Street but has taken a seat on reboot. – a think tank a group of communications professionals that I founded to support more positive dialogue on race and ethnicity in the workplace – and I can see her still supporting and nurturing the next generation of leaders. To me, this is what an ally and a role model looks like.
Caroline Vincent, ASIP, multi-asset fund manager, Wesleyan Mutual Society, inspired by Gladys Williams:
What does an inspirational role model look like? In my opinion, it can come in many different forms, and that source of inspiration can be something extraordinary, or just an act that lights a fire in someone that inspires them to achieve greatness.
I have always been surrounded by strong female figures. My mother stands at the top of any list. But, in terms of breaking the bias, I would like to shout out my great Auntie Gladys. For a woman who was born, almost a century ago, she was a trendsetter and broke into areas that most black women, had not ventured. Born in Grenada, a small island in the Caribbean, she began her career as a teacher. She then emigrated to America and continued teaching; she then chose to take a degree in nursing. At that time, not a lot of women, and especially not black women, had degrees, it was not a requirement of work, it was something she was compelled to do to enhance her knowledge and teaching. She progressed to head of midwifery at Brooklyn Brookdale Hospital, again, an outstanding achievement for a woman of colour in the 1980s. As a teenager, my aunt was the only person I knew that had a degree and achieved such professional success, she has always been my inspiration.
Elizabeth Geoghegan, CFA, fixed income portfolio manager, Mediolanum International Funds, inspired by Christine Lagarde:
For me, breaking the bias starts so much earlier than at the start of our career. It starts with the women and educators who inspire us to learn and excel. Today, so much young talent working in the finance industry flows from the education fields of science, mathematics and economics. Yet, so often, these are not areas that attract females. Reducing this imbalance is a crucial aspect to eliminating gender bias within industry. Christine Lagarde, chairperson of the European Central Bank, former International Monetary Fund president, and an inspiration within the industry is a passionate advocate for women’s education: ‘We must carry the banner for women’s education. Women’s education is not a threat; it is a blessing. We must make it a global priority, because it is one of the leading causes of our day’.
Heidi Gunkel, head of client services at RBC Asset Management, inspired by Jane Goodall:
As an animal lover, from my early childhood I have been fascinated by wildlife and been passionate about its preservation. I have always admired and followed Jane Goodall’s pioneering work studying and protecting chimpanzees. She redefined the conservation of the species and for over 60 years has continued to provide a vision to protect our planet. Her instrumental work has been an inspiration for many in her own field, she’s improved the lives of people, animals and the environment, and has led others to follow in her footsteps. I find her bravery inspirational and also applicable to all walks of life and fields of work. Travelling at a young age from England to Tanzania and venturing into a little known world seems as daunting today as it must have done more than 60 years ago. Her innovative views and relentless pursuit has enabled her to break boundaries, explore the unknown and overcome obstacles. Her fearlessness and persistency are personality traits we all look to find in ourselves to make meaningful contributions within our own personal and professional remits and to inspire change and promote diversity and inclusion.
Jane wanted to do things that women didn’t do, despite the lack of female role models in her field. Sharing our journeys with females around the world is our very own contribution to the removal of biases and obstacles for future generations of female leaders. In Jane’s own words: ‘Every individual has a role to play and every individual makes a difference’.
Vera Diehl, portfolio manager, Union Investment, inspired by Margaret P Naylor:
Young, small, blond, a woman who studied biology and at the same time a successful, talented top fund manager? How does this fit together? All of this is true for Margaret P. Naylor – my first boss in London at my first employer Morgan Stanley Asset Management. Maggie picked me as her junior, she hired me straight from university and taught me everything I know today – bottom-up stock selection, detailed company analysis, the ability to assess a company’s franchise, competitiveness, the likely effectiveness of its future strategy and how to evaluate an appropriate fair value. She had full trust in me, she was extremely inspiring and enthusiastic about our work, highly motivated and highly professional, too. Yes, it was tough from time to time to go through this training and I lapsed into self-doubt, if I was good enough for her demands – could I ever work up to her top standards? She shared her deep company knowledge with me, her experience, we discussed, we debated, we disagreed and in the end we came up with brilliant investment ideas. I learned how to stay patient and how to work in a disciplined way, and I learned that giving in is no option: “Try harder, think more!” Thanks, Maggie! You have my deepest gratitude!