Naomi L'Estrange of 2020 Trustees was named Trustee of the Year at the Women in Pensions Awards. She speaks to Stephanie Baxter about her success
What does winning the Trustee of the Year Award mean to you?
It has been fantastic recognition, especially because of the focus on support for other women in the industry and acting as a role model. The awards evening itself was a great reminder of how many wonderful women work in pensions and I hope will inspire others! I have also received some lovely feedback as a result, both from a number of the judges, and from many other colleagues and peers - the awards rightly had a very high profile. I know that some have questioned whether separate awards for women are appropriate, given one would never have equivalent awards restricted to men. While I understand that point of view, and would like to see better representation across all diversity characteristics in the mainstream awards, I was positive from the outset as it will help in recognition of what women already achieve and encouragement to others.
What is the most important lesson you have learned in your career?
The more I experience in my career (and in life in general), the more certain I am that open, honest communication and trying to understand where the other person is coming from is the best approach to nearly every problem. We face very difficult and complex situations as pension trustees (and parents of teenagers) but I have never met one that wasn't made just a bit better by a sensible conversation.
The Women in Pensions Awards Winners Series
What has been your greatest achievement or one that you are most proud of?
This is an easy one. In June 2003 I spotted a potential loophole in the proposed legislation to support the creation of the Pension Protection Fund and emailed the policy team in government on behalf of my client, the Institute of Actuaries. This led to me going on secondment to government, designing the moral hazard powers in the 2004 Pensions Act, and taking them through parliament with the most amazing (largely female!) policy and legal team. The day Sir Philip Green received a warning notice based on those powers, which ultimately led to him putting his hand in his pocket for the BHS pensioners, was the proudest day in my career, as well as the first time that my father understood what I had been doing for the last 20 years.
What has been your experience working as a woman in the pensions industry?
My experience has mostly been extremely good - people working in pensions are generally great anyway, and it helps to have started off as a pension lawyer, which is the one area of pensions where women are strongly represented. It is perhaps no coincidence, but I would single out the Association of Pension Lawyers as a truly remarkable organisation where ostensibly competing firms share their extensive knowledge in a collegiate and supportive environment and the quality of the (unpaid) work put in is outstanding. Though the women still ask very few questions at the annual conference!
As a trustee, women (and all those who are not retired white middle class men) are hugely outnumbered; this is a problem we all need to seek to address, particularly to encourage younger more diverse member-nominated trustees (MNTs). I think we need to put greater emphasis on the value that MNTs can bring via their common sense, different perspective and willingness to learn, as well as the support on offer and potential career benefits, rather than just the scary responsibility and technical knowledge required - there are plenty of advisers to help with that! As a professional trustee I see my gender more as an advantage - it helps get you noticed. There are still a few dinosaurs around who are looking for "more experience" or "gravitas" (by which they mean they want you to look like every other trustee) but they get closer to extinction by the day.
What is your top tip for women looking to progress or start a career in the pensions industry?
Just go for it. And while you are on your way, consider getting to know some of the other women in the industry, including via the number of networking groups which are growing all the time. There are many fabulous role models out there who also happen to be brilliant company - you'll probably end up with some lifelong friends out of it too! And follow @manwhohasitall on Twitter!