I'm being called ‘dame mum’ at home,” chuckles City stalwart and mother of nine Helena Morrissey who was acknowledged in the Queen’s birthday honours list last month for promoting diversity in the financial services sector.
“The damehood proved that diversity is actually a thing,” says the leading City fund manager who set up The 30% Club in 2010 which campaigns for more women to join UK boardrooms.
“It’s almost a 100 years ago that women got the right to vote in this country and they had to endure such awful suffering to get that. Then a 100 years later, a woman gets a damehood for working on the same sort of thing, that’s progress,” she says.
Morrissey’s damehood came just a month after she started her new role as head of personal investing at Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM). Previously, she was CEO of Newton Investment Management for 15 years.
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The diversity journey
The 50-year-old began her career in the asset management industry in 1987 when “taking clients to lap dances” wasn’t frowned upon.
“There was overt discrimination and a macho culture in the City back then,” she recalls. “We’ve grown leaps and bounds from then.
“When I went back to work after having my first child, I thought I was about to get promoted but I didn’t get it. My boss said, ‘there’s nothing wrong with your performance, it’s your commitment after having had a baby’.
“That gave me a fire in my belly and I knew I had to do something about it,” she says.
Since the launch of The 30% Club in 2010, the proportion of female directors in FTSE 100 companies has gone up from 12.5 per cent to 27 per cent.
Morrissey has had her fair share of knocks in her 30-year-long career.
“Everything that is now a success was hugely unsuccessful to start off with,” she says frankly.
“The year 1999 was annus horribilis for me. I had had my fourth child that year and I had not been well physically. I was bottom of all the performance leagues and I was top the year before. When I went back to work I felt like I had totally failed. But you come up with a coping mechanism.”
Undeterred by the setbacks, she says she made “standing out work in her favour”. Over the course of her career, she has won numerous awards and was appointed CBE in 2012.
“When the awards were just getting started, all the other nominees were called Paul. I sometimes wondered that ‘did I just win because people could identify me more easily?’
“I learnt that being different made me stand out a bit and I think everyone should work that difference.”
This is the lesson Morrissey wants to give to women in her new book titled “A good time to be a girl: How to succeed in a changing world”.
“You don’t want to pretend to young girls that inequality is fixed but you don’t want them to fall on the first hurdle either,” she says.
Her new role
Morrissey rubbishes claims that her decision to step down from Newton was due to differences over Brexit.
Last year, Newton’s parent company BNY Mellon instructed employees to not comment on the referendum publicly whereas Morrissey spoke her mind about why Britain should leave the EU.
“People read too much into why I didn’t take up a more managerial role or a CEO role after stepping down from Newton. I’d been CEO [of Newton] for 15 years and I did think there was another job in me. I wanted a role where I could make a real difference to how a business engages with its customers. A lot of people don’t trust the fund management industry. They feel they either have to pay too much in fees or their money would be put to bad use. I want to change that.”
The kind of Brexit the City needs
The star fund manager says that the Brexit conversation needs to move on.
“There has been so much emphasis on hard and soft Brexit, they are all concepts we essentially made up. What we need is a good Brexit,” she says.
Morrissey believes the City will take a “pragmatic approach” to Brexit.
“Our job is to manage uncertainty, risk and opportunity and that’s what the City should be focussing on.
“We all want to make sure we have the right talent, we don’t want protectionism in anyway and we want to be very global in our outlook. We all want to have a good, orderly transition.
“We should all gather around the table and talk about what we want as a vision and work backwards from that,” she says.