The HM Treasury’s Women in Finance Charter – just keep swimming

Amelie Breitburd, Chief Financial Officer in Guest blog

18 March 2019

Last week, it was my first time representing AXA UK as the Diversity and Inclusion sponsor, and the Accountable Executive of the Women in Finance Charter. As I’ve only been in the role since January, it was a little bit like being thrown in the deep end of the pool…

The event, held at the Guildhall in the City of London, was to mark the launch of the Annual Review of the HM Treasury’s Women in Finance Charter. The Review, undertaken by New Financial and HM Treasury, found that 87% of signatories have met their targets or are on track to meet their targets for female representation in senior management. I was invited to share best practice and AXA’s experience, on a panel with three other Accountable Executives – Bernard Charles from Handelsbanken, Alison Jefferis from Colombia Threadneedle and Tim Hinton from Santander.

I was inspired and agreed with so many sentiments shared, from City Minister John Glen MP who said it was important that people could progress in Financial Services “irrespective of who they are and where they came from” to the Women in Finance Champion Jayne-Anne Gadhia’s encouragement for us all to support the women of tomorrow.

Reflecting on the day and all the work we do at AXA to support our female staff – part of our effort to try to ensure equal opportunity for all to progress – I realised how much diversity and my favourite hobby of swimming have in common…

Using every muscle

I’m very aware the day after a swim, that swimming uses every single muscle in the body. If you didn’t use one arm or your core…you’d make very slow progress to the other side of the pool!

The same approach applies to D&I – it is the responsibility of everyone at AXA to create a truly diverse culture. Whilst it’s important to have a senior executive who is accountable and responsible, to ensure the issue is valued at the highest level of the company, you cannot create culture from the top-down. It is crucial that all of our team feel empowered to make a difference.

As I said on the panel, I think the Gender Equality Employee Resource Group (made up of volunteers in the company from a range of positions) are doing a great job to help foster this culture as they put on a range of events to create role models and support career progression.

Set yourself a target

As CFO, it’s hardly a surprise that I’m a big fan of targets! At AXA UK, we have set an ambitious target of ensuring 40% of senior management roles are held by women by 2020 – with a 10% tolerance. We’re on track to achieve our target, and we have recently boosted our representation from 30% to 32%.

We set targets to be able to measure our progress and to provide vision. In the same way that I wouldn’t be motivated turn up at the pool each week without setting myself a goal of completing a 5km swim just off the coast of Nice in September – we must have an ambitious but achievable goal for diversity.

It’s not sink or swim

Publishing our goals and action plans creates ultimate accountability and encourages best practice sharing. There will be ebbs and flows to our progress and we need to be transparent about that – with our staff, in our Gender Pay Gap reporting and with ourselves.

We have a number of initiatives at AXA that we have put in place, from our membership of the 30% Club mentoring scheme, our Ways of Working policy or the Women in Leadership development programme. We need to regularly reassess if these are helping to support women to progress – and if they aren’t we must try make changes.

Get out of the shallow end

Whilst we must remember that creating real and sustainable change will take time – and we must pace ourselves – we can’t paddle at the edges of diversity and inclusion. We must dive in and make it a core part of our culture to reflect our customer base, help to ensure people can progress at AXA regardless of who they are or where they come from.

So, let’s throw away our floats, break into a front-crawl and keep on swimming.