She has over 18 years of experience in investment stewardship and sustainable investment and was, until recently, an Investment Director in the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) team at Aberdeen Standard Investments. Deborah is an Ambassador for the 30% Club, having been instrumental in driving the work of the 30% Club Investor Group since its inception in 2011.
She has been shortlisted for the 2019 Award for Achievement.
How does it feel to be on the shortlist for the Award for Achievement?
I am delighted because it is in recognition of my work to empower the female talent pipeline, both as an investor and through running The 100% Club. I am passionate about supporting women in the workplace to realise their full potential because of the economic opportunity of fully utilising half our population. If we achieve UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality and empower all women and girls, we will facilitate a more prosperous, fairer and peaceful world. In addition, diversity will enable a more inclusive finance industry reconnect to the people it serves and address the trust deficit it faces.
I founded The 100% Club in 2011. Originally, it was a network for female governance professionals and it has flourished into a successful multi-sector alliance. It is my contribution to retaining women in sectors challenged on gender balance. Encouraging women to network, and giving them access to networks, should be given much more prominence as we strive for better gender balance. One of the UN’s seven drivers for women’s economic empowerment is changing business culture and practices. Providing collective platforms to empower marginalised groups is key to cultural change, especially in sectors challenged on gender balance.
The 100% Club is based on a philosophy that values the distinctiveness that women bring to the workplace, can you sum up what these are?
Women bring a variety of distinct skills to the workplace including improved collaboration. Women also bring a different style of leadership too. There is a brilliant speech on leadership from Mark Carney where he identifies the four essential and universal attributes of leadership - ambition, clarity, purpose and humility – and states that “leadership is the acceptance of responsibility rather than the assumption of power”1. Linked to this idea about the changing nature of leadership, a recent academic study of female CEOs found that women develop a unique leadership style whereby they feel comfortable and respected as leaders. From the study, it emerged that women adopt a more ‘transformational’ style of leadership, including serving as a role model, and where emphasis is placed on human relationships, a positive teamwork environment and supporting self-development of employees, whereas men tend to be more ‘transactional’, where motivation of others is based on reward and punishment.2. If we want to transform corporate culture, we need to recognise the transformational leadership traits that come from more diversity at the top and throughout organisations.
How did your career path lead you to where you are today?
I have worked in financial services for 20 years. I originally wanted to be an accountant but it was not for me so I moved into corporate governance and shareholder engagement. I had found my niche as governance resonates with me – it’s essentially about accountability - and I really enjoy standing up for pensioners and savers who invest in capital markets and who the finance industry is ultimately here to serve. It is a privilege to be a representative of other people’s hard earned savings.
In 2010, Lord Davies led the Government’s first enquiry into female board representation at UK companies and the 30% Club was formed by Dame Helena Morrissey. Diversity began to emerge as a key investment issue and I was part of the inaugural group of investors who formed the 30% Club Investor Group in 2011. Since then, it has been fascinating to be part of the debate and to have helped build the Investor Group into a global coalition of 35 investors, with £11 trillion in assets under management, who are publicly committed to improve diversity in public companies through the active exercise of shareholder rights. Through public advocacy and private market ordering, we have demonstrated the transformational power of investor capital but there is still much more work to do.
Can you tell us about a time you were out of your comfort zone professionally and how did it ultimately help you?
I am not a natural networker. This might seem strange for someone who runs a network for women. However, one of the reasons I established The 100% Club was because I wanted to have a way to network on my own terms rather than that dreaded cocktail reception at the end of a conference where you are supposed to ‘work the room’. I always found myself on the periphery of the room and I do not find it easy to interrupt an established group of people. Many of these traditional forms of networking rely on stereotypical male behaviours (holding court, perceived confidence in self and viewpoint) and research from EY tells us that these types of networking opportunities are actually deeply stressful for people.3.
This feeling of being outside my comfort zone ultimately led me to set up The 100% Club and the idea resonated with many others. I provide a space for women to gather, empower each other and collaborate and I want to demonstrate the importance of networking for career advancement and personal development.
Who has been the most influential person in my career and why?
My Mum, Esther Gilshan. She has a very strong work ethic, which I try to emulate as best I can, and she is an invaluable source of advice, support and counsel. My Mum is also very sensible, encouraging and can see issues from a different perspective, which has been hugely valuable to me. She is a brilliant role model and the importance of role models is well proven.
What are you looking forward to in the next few months?
I am leaving my role at Aberdeen Standard Investments to concentrate on developing The 100% Club to achieve its full potential and to pursue new opportunities. I want to do more focused work on diversity and to take The 100% Club to the next level. I am very proud of its success since I founded it in 2011 whilst also having a full-time demanding day job. So I am excited to see what else I can do through The 100% Club and other work in order to further boost the female talent pipeline in many industries that are challenged on gender balance, including the financial services industry.
This is why initiatives such as the Women in Banking and Finance awards are so important. We have to do all we can to recognise, celebrate and empower female talent and we also have a responsibility to ‘pay it forward’ for future generations.
1. “Reflections on Leadership in a Disruptive Age”, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, 19 February 2018.
2. ‘Claiming the corner office: Female CEO careers and implications for leadership development’, Andromachi Athanasopoulou, Amanda Moss-Cowan, Michael Smets and Timothy Morris, 14 December 2017.
3. ‘Fully Connected: a look ahead to working and networking in 2020’, Professor Julia Hobsbawm, a white paper published by EY, April 2014.