Sunday 26 October 2014 11:50 pm

Anne Richards: We need a new plan to bring women back into the square mile

"It is bad, shocking, awful. Since 2008 it has got worse. As an industry we’ve managed to deter a chunk of half of the population. We’ve got to get that sorted.”
Aberdeen Asset Management’s chief investment officer Anne Richards does not hold back on the City’s gender  imbalance. 
For her entire professional life, she has worked in male-dominated industries; first as a scientist at the Geneva-based Cern, home to the Large Hadron Collider, and then in finance when she moved into asset management.
“It grieves me that when I went through university, 10 per cent of my class were female in the engineering class, and that has probably got worse and certainly not better in that time,” she says.
Richards believes that a combination of underlying discrimination by bosses, male and female, and finance’s unfortunate macho image have conspired to put women off entering finance – and to then keep them down once they are in the door.
Her City experience certainly shines through in her proposed solutions:
One, get more data so firms can actually analyse where they are going wrong with female staff. 
Two, remove names and other identifying features from CVs to strip out at least one layer of discrimination – inadvertent or otherwise – from job applications.
And three, a behavioural economics-type solution, finding words and pictures in job adverts which do not repel  women candidates.
Richards also works with the 2020 Women on Boards group in the US to promote female non-executives. So what about quotas for women on boards?
“Let’s say I like really robust and aspirational targets with a timeline. Putting a number on it focuses the mind,” she says. “But my reluctance comes more from the fact that there are many aspects to diversity, not just gender. As soon as you make gender the focus of that diversity, you risk diminishing the other aspects which are also important.”
Richards has worked on a long series of panels on equality, skills and employment, but that has not distracted from her day job.
Right now, it is the topsy-turvy world of markets and monetary policy which is giving fund managers a headache. “We’ve now got this peculiar situation where everything hangs on the word of the Fed and ECB and that feels the wrong way round to me,” Richards says.
“They’ve become the market driver – they are being relied upon to sort out everybody’s problems for them, when there are genuine limits to what monetary policy can do.”
The situation means that bad economic news can lift markets, as investors hope for looser monetary policy: “It is mad, it is bizarre, bad news is good news,” she said.
Behind that, there is a lot of gloomy economic news. Despite all the room given to governments by European Central Bank president Mario Draghi’s promise to do “whatever it takes,” Richards is exasperated at France’s and Italy’s failures to act to make their economies more flexible, and to encourage entrepreneurship and growth.
With that backdrop, she is trying to look through the Eurozone’s gloomy economic picture to underlying investments, and firms which are looking for longer term growth.
It helps that Aberdeen has had a long-term view of its investments, and matches that with payment of bonuses in shares, deferred for several year, she says.
“We kind of recoil a little against sharp suits and too flashy a car,” says Richards. “We’re not hair-shirted, but there is that element of down-to-earth, common sense.”
Does that mean she is doing her bit to change the culture of the City and make it a bit less macho?
“I don’t like it to come in and find people in the office at 8pm. That is very different from the investment banks.”
University: Electronics and Electrical Engineering, University of Edinburgh. MBA, INSEAD.
Early career: Research fellowship at Cern, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, Geneva.
Move into finance: Analyst at Alliance Capital from 1992, then JP Morgan Investment Management and Mercury Asset Management.
Leaving the City: Richards joined Edinburgh Fund Managers in 2002 as chief investment officer, then joint managing director.
Aberdeen: Aberdeen Asset Management bought EFM in 2003. She joined the board in 2011.
Other roles: Director of Esure, vice convener of the Court of the University of Edinburgh, chair of the Cern & Society Foundation.
Lives: In Edinburgh with her husband and two children.