RPMI's director of trustee accounting Victoria Bell was named pensions manager of the year at the inaugural Women in Pensions Awards. She speaks to Stephanie Baxter about her achievements
What does winning this award mean to you?
It's fantastic to be recognised. I've worked in the industry a long time and it means a great deal to be appreciated for the work I've done both within RPMI but also within the industry as a whole. RPMI has many initiatives to ensure we are diverse and inclusive - one of the reasons why the MD was keen RPMI get involved with the Women in Pensions Awards. It was lovely to think that he recognised I had done something worthy of nomination.
What have been some of your biggest achievements in your career?
Apart from winning this award, my biggest achievement is developing and building an effective team, with some strong high‑
profile women that I've been able to mentor and develop. The team really supports each other and has done some fantastic work - for example, on investment costs, which has been the most high profile work we've done. That was a real team effort. This work highlighted that almost two-thirds of the costs the pension fund was suffering were ‘hidden' in layers of fees within investment structures.
Highlighting and quantifying this enabled the fund to better control costs, ensuring improved value for our members. I have been able to share this work with the industry through numerous forums to help other pension funds and to shine a light on these costs.
I manage a team of around 30 people, of which there are four senior leaders including three women. We didn't specifically go out to recruit women, it just happened. Perhaps that was down to being a woman - I've been in their shoes, developing my career while raising children.
So where it comes to the women in my team, I'm able to support them and recognise their potential. I'm not just judging on what they're doing now or have achieved in the past but what their future contribution and impact could be. Getting women in the team wasn't intentional, but keeping them on the team and developing them to their full potential certainly is intentional because I know what they can offer.
The Women in Pensions Awards Winners Series
What's been your experience as a woman working in the industry now compared to when you first started out?
It's definitely changing and improving; women are being recognised as equals. We have an equal voice. We still need more women in senior positions, but I'm confident that everything's in place and that this will happen given time. The women starting their careers now will have the exact same expectations as men do, are being treated the same as men, and will hopefully therefore progress their careers as equals.
There are so many great initiatives out there, like these awards. There's still some way to go but the tide is turning. One of the issues is that generally men will blow their own trumpets, whereas women tend to be a bit more modest and not sell themselves as much as a man would. Senior leaders need to recognise that difference. But women also need to be more confident in their own ability, and blow their own trumpet a bit more.
What else can the industry do to get better at supporting and encouraging women?
It's not necessarily just pensions - the financial services industry tends to be one of the worst culprits of being a male-dominated industry. It starts from the words used when advertising positions. Using terms like "you'll be required to develop a team" as opposed to "build and manage a team" - which tends to have more male connotations - helps with the recruitment of a diverse workforce. There's the well-known statistic that a man will apply for a job if he can do 60% of the skills whereas a woman will only apply if she can do close to 100% of the skills. You need to make the advert as welcoming as possible and use inclusive language. In the interview process, have a diverse interview process with diverse interview panels to avoid subconscious bias.
Once you have recruited, flexibility, empathy and understanding are needed. Generally, women still do the lion's share of the childcare and if children are sick, it will normally be the mother that will need time off. It's about making allowances and ensuring you provide opportunities to all based on ability and potential.
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