Jayne-Anne Gadhia: The “most powerful woman in banking” on workplace equality

Felicity Garvey 1 March 2018

As the longest serving CEO of any European Bank, Jayne-Anne Gadhia of Virgin Money UK is a stalwart of the finance sector. She has many accolades, including a CBE and being the government’s official ‘Women in Finance champion’. During her talk at the union, she spoke about the toxic masculinity prevalent within the big banks, calling it a “rotten culture”, where there are “too many white Oxbridge men”. She notes that Finance is statistically, the worst sector in the UK economy for gender equality and that it was this fact that prompted her to accept then-Chancellor George Osborne’s offer of leading the 2016 Women in Finance review, which resulted in the Women in Finance Charter. This asks firms to commit to building a more balanced and fair industry and now has 162 signatories. The charter does, however, lack some significant names – most notably, Goldman Sachs, who refuses to sign on the basis that it maintains a 50:50 gender balance on the European scale, if not within the UK, and so does not deem it necessary. “I think that’s bullshit” Gadhia says adding that “CEOs of businesses need to take ownership of the problem.” 

When asked in the interview about the gender pay gap – with specific reference to her own company, where the mean hourly pay of women is 33% less than that of men, she explained, “The way in which the pay gap is calculated… takes two main things into account. The first is, are men and women paid the same for the same job. And, in most companies in fairness, the differential there is not as significant as the overall pay gap implies.” She is happy to report that this pay gap, in her own company, is as low as 2%. “The issue is that, as you rightly say, it’s the mean salary of the total female population and the total male population – to the extent that organisations have got, historically, more senior men in management positions and often, in customer service roles, there tend to be a lot of women and actually that skews the population. The real challenge is to make sure that we, at Virgin Money and at other organisations have as many men coming in to customer service roles as women… and getting women into the senior roles.” She is careful to note here, and later in her talk, that equality is not simply about improving women’s positions. “This is not about women over men,” she says, but about “creating a bigger economy and better society.” She is keen not to alienate men, and recalls an incident where a male CEO refused to sign the Women in Finance charter on the basis that ‘there aren’t enough good women’. While she eventually persuaded him to sign, she emphasizes how systems such as positive discrimination can simply perpetuate these ideas.

Gadhia also spoke of ‘compassionate capitalism’, with the idea that finance should not just be about making profits, but giving back to a community as well. After returning from maternity leave, she informed her board that “If I’m going to give up being with my child, this has got to mean something.” She spoke about the £650 million a year given to charity by her firm, and the importance of the London Marathon, which is sponsored by Virgin Money. She also speaks about promoting inclusivity, saying that “Role models are really important,” and as such she talks openly about her role as a female CEO, being part of a mixed-race marriage and her struggles with mental health, adding that “Mental health issues are as much of a problem as physical health – you just can’t see them.”

When asked about the recent President’s Club scandal and what kind of image this promotes, she explains her shock, adding that this kind of event had “all of the sort of sleaze I attach more to the seventies than where we are today […] Interestingly, when you talk about the figures that were there… I hardly knew anyone there. I feel quite good about that… I hope that that means that the message has got through to part of the area we’ve been trying to get through to. Maybe we have got some traction, and there’s work to do in other areas, quite clearly.”

On the future of the financial sector, she says, “I have been on record as being a passionate Remainer, but the fact of the matter is that we are where we are so we’ve got to make it really successful.” She respects the outcome of the referendum but maintains we need to have “as close as possible in terms of trading partnerships going forwards.” She remains optimistic however, saying that “I think that the exciting thing about finance is that it’s about more than money and about more than numbers … It’s the oil that means the economy can motor.” As for anyone looking to get into the sector, her advice? “Find a purpose, work out what business you’re really going to use to transform the world.”