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Tuesday 24 April 2018

Women stand to benefit from City’s Brexit shake-up – Helena Morrissey

The Legal & General Investment Management chief said she backed Brexit based on concerns over EU influence on UK legislation.

By Kalyeena Makortoff, Press Association City Correspondent

City heavyweight Dame Helena Morrissey has claimed that a Brexit-induced shake-up in the Square Mile could open up opportunities for women in business, while dubbing herself a “progressive Brexiteer”.

The  head of personal investing at Legal & General Investment Management backs Britain’s divorce from the bloc because of concerns over EU influence on UK legislation, on issues such as the proportion of female executives on boards, which she thinks is best addressed through voluntary action rather than statute.

“I would describe myself as a progressive Brexiteer,” the women’s advocate and business leader told the Press Association.

“My first-hand dealings with the EU – whether it’s on financial regulation or women on boards – was sort of the opposite of progressive. It was very much about one-size-fits-all, command and control, quite remote, you know, and no-one disagrees with me when I say it like that.”

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Helena Morrissey

“The reason I came out publicly is because I felt people were being told about an EU I didn’t recognise from my direct dealings,” she said.

“But obviously it has proven much more controversial than I would imagine.”

However, Dame Helena – who came to prominence during her 15 years as chief executive at Newton Investment Management – denied that women’s rights would be under threat in an independent Britain which would no longer be bound by EU’s anti-discrimination laws, or those governing equal pay and pensions.

“Not in the least,” she said on the sidelines of the 30% Club’s mentoring event.

“We were at the forefront of most of the work on equal opportunities, we are at the forefront of clean energy and other aspects of good environment and social governance … I think it’s a complete misunderstanding to think that we’re like that because of the EU.

“We have led the charge and I have no worries at all that we’ll go backwards on that.”

The mother-of-nine said she had “great confidence in the City”, which she stressed was “very good at reinventing itself”, and with a raft of firms sitting on Brexit contingency plans that could forced them to relocate or restructure operations, there may be a window of opportunity for women to get ahead, Dame Helena said.

“The fact that we are in this state of flux at the moment is in itself a good opportunity for women because no-one can claim to know all the answers,” she said.

“I found in my own career that, in these times of upheaval, that’s when people are more receptive to new ways of thinking.”

The fact that we are in this state of flux at the moment is in itself a good opportunity for women because no-one can claim to know all the answers Dame Helena Morrissey

Dame Helena – who recently traded her chief executive hat for a role as head of personal investing at Legal & General Investment Management – has now turned her attention not only to her new book, but also the fallout from the men-only Presidents Club dinner which saw the charitable trust shut down after a Financial Times investigation uncovered allegations of sexual harassment.

She is now organising a string of events meant to serve as the antithesis to the Presidents Club dinner, and raise £2 million to replace charity funds that are being returned in light of the accusations and fund further diversity initiatives.

Support, Dame Helena said, has been pouring in.

“The Lord Mayor’s very much on board, (Bank of England governor) Mark Carney’s very much on board, the highest levels of Government are very much on board”, with 51 “major institutions” now having “pledged their support, wanting to take tables and get involved”.

“I was not aware of the Presidents Club dinner before and actually I take great encouragement from the fact that these things are now coming to the fore,” Dame Helena said, but added that she is not completely confident this is the only enduring pocket of bad behaviour.

“It’s not the City I recognise. But I can’t, hand on heart, say I’m 100% confident that it’s the only thing (going on).”

“I would be surprised if this would be the last,” she added.

“But you’d think anyone who is smart and running one of those – perhaps that’s an oxymoron or incompatible statement – they would stop quickly before they’re found out,” she said. “Old habits die hard.”

Press Association

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