When I started work at BP as an oil trader in the 1980s, I joined a team of five female and four male oil traders. This was in the days before Diversity and Inclusion was even invented, let alone taken seriously by many organisations. It was a successful and high performing team doing its job and accepted by all.
Since then, the number of women choosing trading as a career has fallen. In part, I believe this is due to the perception that trading takes place in a macho, male-dominated environment that is ill-suited or unattractive to women. Most undergraduates don’t have any idea of what a trading floor looks like, and any image they do have is derived from watching films based on “pit” trading, which isn’t how it works nowadays. In reality, it is much more disciplined and attractive.
I believe that, to be a great trader, it helps to be part of a great and diverse team, where individuals respond to evolving scenarios in different ways. Diversity of gender, cultural background, experience and thought all contribute to a richer learning environment. It is that diversity of approach which allows us to think creatively and come up with ideas that maximise an opportunity, and which also guides us to know when to close out a position and move on.
When there are different elements in the team that bring a moderating or balancing force, it helps to stop success going to people’s heads or them getting over-confident. This is extremely valuable in the trading environment. Personally, I believe you want people that get emotional about different things, stay calm about different things, and are coldly analytical about different things – that balance is where great teams emerge. If everyone is too similar you get “group think”. It is far better to have a team where there is lots of debate. As long as people respect each other, you get a better product and that is a powerful thing.
And that means we need to get more diversity, including women, back into trading. We are quite deliberately going to recruit more broadly and continue to aim for a more balanced gender intake ratio of 50 per cent. We have done a lot of work to ensure we get to this level. We have gone over our automated application processes, we have mixed interview panels, and we require balanced candidate pools, all with the aim of ensuring that unconscious bias is removed from the selection process. What we will not compromise on, however, is merit.
But we also need to make sure that we retain the women we have recruited and that we provide them with a platform to flourish. We are working on retention, to ensure that we have sufficient role models at the top to showcase the careers that women can aspire to in trading. That is particularly true with more experienced team members who may have started a family. We want to retain them in the business, benefit from the fantastic experience that they have to offer, and give them the career development that they deserve.
In an international trading environment where you are dealing with many cultures, we want to have a mix of people and cultures as well as genders – and I feel that the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Women play a critical role in helping us to achieve the diverse balance that we know will consequently strengthen our team for the future.