Pension Insurance Corporation (PIC) chief executive Tracy Blackwell was named pensions woman of the year at the third annual Women in Pensions Awards. She speaks to Professional Pensions about winning the accolade.
What does winning this award mean to you?
I am honoured to have won this award out of a group of highly respected and talented individuals! I have been passionate and proactive on issues of importance to the world of pensions especially as they relate to fairness for members and putting them at the heart of policy. It's also vital that we try to continue bridging the gap between the financial services industry and pensions - vital for our economy - and society. Focusing on these issues, which also really help inform how PIC is run, in particular focusing on our purpose, means that where we can, we can all contribute to a better society. This award is completely unexpected, but it does give me the opportunity to raise these issues and hopefully galvanise others! I am delighted to have won.
What is the most important lesson you have learned in your career?
Throughout my more than 30 years' experience in financial services, I have learnt that having a clear purpose is essential for well run businesses which balance the needs of their stakeholders. This year, with the turmoil caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, our focus on PIC's purpose, of paying the pensions of our current and future policyholders, has provided PIC with an anchor and helped us thrive during very difficult circumstances. The gender issue has also been a big issue for me, certainly in my early career. What we have seen is that over recent years the gender approach has been quite focused on women "leaning in". All the development training that I went on during my early career was very much about women adapting to a broadly masculine workplace. In my view, this is only part of the answer. Companies also need to be more "feminine" as well, and draw on traits such as emotional intelligence, support for employees around things like mental health, with more genuine focus on purpose. The most productive companies are those that balance both masculine and feminine elements.
What has been your greatest achievement, or one that you are most proud of?
That I am able, through my role as chief executive of PIC, to genuinely make a difference to society - our policyholders receive a very secure pension, as attested by the current situation, and benefit from genuinely excellent customer service. We have invested billions of pounds in areas like social housing and renewable energy to help secure their pensions, benefitting society. Uniquely, we have hosted more than 25,000 policyholders and guests at our policyholder events - which were moved to being virtual over the past year - to help them understand they are top of our minds. My work is making a real difference to people's lives and contributing to a better society.
What has been your experience working as a woman in the pensions industry?
I do not come from privilege. I worked hard to put myself through university and succeed in this industry. I saw, in my early career, how incentives can change an organisation's culture and how employees behave, and the difficulties I faced as a woman on the trading floor made me more determined. We don't repeat those mistakes at PIC. On a more personal note, having a son strengthened my resolve to support working mothers and diversity, and ultimately these lessons have helped to shape my outlook and thinking and inform my leadership of PIC.
What is your top tip for women looking to progress or start a career in the pensions industry?
I have been fortunate in my mentors, who were impressed by my drive and dedication. Mentoring can be a powerful way to improve confidence and nurture talent and I would advise others to seek out mentoring opportunities. This experience can be valuable both as a mentee but also, later in an individual's career, as a mentor. That was one of the reasons that I spearheaded the first cross-company mentoring scheme for female actuaries, "AMP", run in conjunction with the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries. The scheme is now approaching its fourth year, with over 20 companies and more than 200 individuals having taken part so far.