A speech by The Countess of Wessex at the 100 Women in Finance 18th Annual New York Gala

Published 14 November 2019

I invite you all to become more visible, to be great examples to young women and, if you aren't already, to become champions and mentors.

The Countess of Wessex

A speech delivered by The Countess of Wessex at the 100 Women in Finance 18th Annual New York Gala, as Global Ambassador of 100WF’s Next Generation Initiative:

Good evening. May I begin by saying how delighted I am to be with you all and in particular to be introducing the 100 Women in Finance Effecting Change Award.

For what feels like quite a period of time, I have been championing the issue of gender balance and diversity in the workplace. In fact it was four years ago that I was addressing this room and we’ve covered a lot of ground since then. As such I have had the distinct pleasure of working alongside some wonderful women and men in an attempt to push this agenda further along the line. In addition to chairing other leading causes for women's inclusion, I am also Global Ambassador of 100 Women in Finance's Next Generation initiatives, which tonight's gathering celebrates and supports.

My work, like Rupal, takes me around the world and across industries. From the top of corporate leadership ladder, to the entry gates that welcome the next generation into the world of work and, regardless of location, I have come to know how critical it is for women to be visible as experts in the public domain, in the media, at industry conferences and within their corporations.

And this is especially true in the financial sector where as we all know women consistently lag behind men in representation on investment teams and in executive suites, despite their exceptional performance in such roles.

100 Women in Finance understands the importance for young women, and those who are still forming their career options, to see and experience examples of what's possible for their future professional lives in order for them to frame their ambitions and envisage who they might become. This is one particular area where I am pleased to say that this organisation is extremely effective, and last night at our 100 Women in Finance First Impressions Dinner we witnessed teenage girls interacting with women in the finance industry, at different stages of their careers, drawing inspiration and ideas directly from them, which we hope will help them to make informed decisions about their futures.

But we need even more opportunities to put women in business leadership in front of the younger generations. So I invite you all to become more visible, to be great examples to young women and, if you aren't already, to become champions and mentors. By doing this you will be helping to support young career-minded women to approach their jobs with more confidence, and assist them in navigating what can be challenging environments in order that they may reach their potential.

What I don't want you to think is that you aren't in a position to offer any support or insight.  Every one of you here tonight will be able to do something for a younger colleague inside or outside of your company. You don’t have to be at the pinnacle of your own careers to be useful to others - all we need you to do is to be open to a conversation with 100 Women in Finance and we will do the rest.

I applaud Rupal once again - our wonderful Industry leadership honouree tonight. As she has so eloquently told us, she grasped an opportunity, through her book release, to write a chapter dedicated to the next generation of young women who can now follow in her footsteps and I would encourage all of you to do what you can too.

But of course, we know we cannot achieve gender balance and diversity alone...we need everyone, male and female, to support this mission. If we make greater strides towards achieving better parity, then we all stand to win.  There will be bigger slices of a bigger cake for everyone.

Recently, I have noticed an undercurrent developing that is seeking to maintain the status quo and to push back on creating better equality. I am sure the reasons for this are many, but I think in the main it could be because some men feel that we may be trying to take over.

I would like to stress that this really is not an attempt to squeeze men out of the picture. Please be reassured gentleman in the room. Absolutely not... it is not some kind of competition, this is not the emasculation of men.  What we are trying to do though, is to give opportunity and support for the other 50% of the population to have meaningful, successful and fulfilling careers, where potential is not passed over, where salaries are commensurate with male colleagues, where women's voices and opinions are welcomed and where barriers that currently exist become irrelevant.

So I encourage everyone to be conscious of the language we use when speaking about gender balance, be mindful of the sensitivities of others and the misinterpretation that seeking parity might create, be aware that men have rights too, but be determined that it is right for us to seek to level the playing field.

On a more positive note, what I would also say is that I have met many wonderful male leaders who understand the sense in having a better gender balanced work environment, and when a man gets behind this issue, when they really mean it and are not just paying lip service to it, it’s inspiring. So I also invite the men in the room to be visible ambassadors and champions for gender diversity too. Lead by example, not only within your own firms, but externally as well and seek every opportunity to support your female colleagues, and to find out what you can do to nurture young female talent.

Tonight 100 Women in Finance's Effecting Change Awards recognises individuals whose work has created more expansive professional opportunities for women in the finance industry.

The change makers you celebrate this evening are noteworthy not only for being extraordinary in their work, but even more so because of how they have used their platforms to amplify women's talents and accomplishments.  Tonight's awardees have provided powerful "visibility leverage" for women in the finance industry, the effect of which is a fuller, more complete presentation of the industry's capacity to serve. Whether the domain is the media, the conference industry or portfolio management, tonight's awardees have created broader space for women's recognition and reward, and also for role modelling for the next generation.

I would now invite you to give your attention to a short film which helps to illustrate the work and impact of our Effecting Change awardees...