Women in Risk – here come the girls!

International Women’s Day

While it may not be easy to predict what tomorrow’s business will require from its leadership there is a growing body of evidence that women are no longer trying to fit into the culture of the organisations they work for but are creating that culture. This is also the trend for women working in risk management.

Anecdotally there appear to be a lot more women working in operational risk, which requires a more qualitative skillset than say credit risk which is heavily quants biased. Whilst some may say that technical skills can be learnt we want to understand what are the drivers of women working in risk? How they function and whether emotional intelligence is a factor that may positively influence how risk is managed.

We have some views from senior females drawn from the IRM membership and risk arena.

Nicola Crawford CFIRM, Managing Director, i-Risk Europe Ltd and Chair of the Institute of Risk Management says:

“In 2017, the IRM will undertake research into the trends of women working in Risk Management culminating in an event later in the year.

We have established a Women in Risk Group for women working, or aspiring to work, in the practice of managing risk in work and community environments. Our goal is to promote diversity in risk management, to harvest the unique experiences, skills and perspectives that women can bring to optimize decisions and build positive risk cultures. We will achieve this by uniting and empowering women in risk through networking, discussing and sharing of experiences”.

IRM Board member, Helen Hunter-Jones, Head of Group Risk, Network Rail says:

“Very few risk professionals can say that they left college/university with the aspiration of becoming head of group risk. My journey was via manufacturing and then engineering. I’m not an engineer though in the traditional sense but I very much believe that the engineering mind-set of problem solving and thinking outside the box is superbly aligned to risk management. Coupled with the practicality and process disciplines of manufacturing and risk management felt like a natural progression.

It is fair to say though that women in STEM subjects are badly underrepresented by women. Within Network Rail we are actively targeting women to join our apprentice schemes as we firmly believe that a balanced and diverse organisation is an absolute requirement in the modern world.

Diversity in thinking is essential for good risk management. I have the benefit of a great team; men, women, different ages and backgrounds and I need that diversity in thinking. We also have many different risk specialisms in our business; strategic, operational, project, safety, security, IT, etc. Some of these areas have very specific requirements but they all rely on people being able to ‘see’ in front, behind and to the side. It is that broad perspective and propensity to ask questions that is essential in risk management – we don’t always need to have all the answers.

There is also a difference to being a risk manager and my role as ‘head of risk’. As my team and I are there to support the risk managers and the business we have to have excellent communication skills and other soft skills. I very much see us as the match-makers; we join the dots across the business. We have a unique perspective across the organisation and a privileged position and we can make a real difference.  I have found that women make very good risk managers but sadly there are too few in many of these disciplines – it’s a great job with many opportunities maybe it’s time to be thinking of a career in risk”.

Fiona Davidge FIRM, Enterprise Risk Manager at the Wellcome Trust comments:

“In the charity sector there are many women in operational risk roles. In my own organisation the two risk roles (one in a more investment risk role) and three Health & Safety roles are all female. My experience attending IRM’s Charity special interest groups is that there are equal numbers of male/females in risk aligned roles. I think as a sector women are valued and there is not such a perception of male orientation.

In the profession as a whole my perception is that there are increasing numbers of women, including in some senior roles, although still not parity with numbers of men. I must admit my focus is not on the finance sector where the picture may be different and there can still be a drop in numbers in large infrastructure organisations albeit in conflict with that observation, I worked in the utility and transport sectors with no issue about being female!

What would I advise females coming in to risk is to get qualifications as well as experience, work towards business and risk qualifications. Create an exemplary CV. Do not forget soft skills such as negotiation, influencing and be VERY good at written and oral succinct argument which must include suggestions for solutions.

Be known as reliable and as someone who delivers. I think women should excel here, we are often used to multi-tasking and time management – these natural skills must be honed in the organisation and will serve you well    

Work at building a peer group network – that is why I participate in the IRM, AIRMIC, BSI and ISO. It means your name is known (again you need to volunteer and deliver); you meet others and see what they are doing and can apply it to your own organisation. Women can be reticent – they must not be.  

And finally, and this is a very personal observation and preference – do not be a ‘mini-man’ – women on the whole have strengths; work and influence in a different way and I never felt the need to change who and what I am. I have never felt the need to influence over a drink or in the pub, in fact I rarely socialise this way! Fortunately the old boy network way of working and getting jobs is reducing”.

Alyson Pepperill CFIRM ACII, Chartered Insurance Risk Manager, Client Projects Director, UK Retail, Arthur J Gallagher and Chair of the IRM Charities Sector Interest Group (SIG) comments:

“The Charity Sector is one with a fairly even split between men and women involved in risk. One notable feature is that it is relatively rare for people working in risk to have ‘risk’ alone as their title – with only the largest charities creating such roles and/or departments. I have yet to come across anyone involved in financial risk within the Charity Sector as this tends to be within the remit of the Finance Director (or equivalent) . Instead women involved in risk seem to have titles such as: Governance Manager, International Safety Coordinator, Research Governance Manager, Head of Performance & Planning, Safety & Security Adviser, Head of Quality & Audit, Compliance Officer, Senior Internal Auditor and so on. As the titles indicate risk takes many forms but they tend to be strategic and/or operational. Many of our SIG cohort talk about the need to embed risk and the challenges of this, as well as the ever-changing risk landscape within what is an extremely visible sector.

Probably because the charity sector is fairly evenly apportioned generally between men and women there is potentially less of a focus on your gender than in some where women are in the minority”.

Dorothy Maseke GradIRM, Group Risk and Compliance Manager at ICEA LION GROUP and Chair of the Institute of Risk Managements Kenya Group gives her perspective:

“Over the past couple of years, there has been a lot of emphasis placed on empowering the girl child in Kenya. As such, there has been a lot of progress. A lot of C-level positions including senior risk positions are filled by women.  Since Risk Management within the East African region is a relatively new field, the gender  debate specifically for the risk manager is no longer quite a subject.  A number of risk professionals are women and this cuts across many sectors within this region. 

Women are naturally caregivers, nurturers and trainers. They find it easy to bring forth new things (almost synonymous to bringing forth children and seeing them grow.) Through this process, they educate these young ones as they learn great life’s lessons like patience, perseverance and multi-tasking. Being a woman, and a mother of young children has actually helped me through my journey as a risk professional. I am able to work towards providing solutions, plan strategically, birthing new things and ideas, with an energy that seems to never end.

Strengths that women have include strong communication skills, attention to detail, high emotional intelligence (ability to read  facial expressions, moods) as well as trusting our guts (strong intuition) which helps us when at a crossroads. We are able to make decisions without all the facts at times by simply trusting our very strong gut feeling. These unique qualities make women a “safe pair of hands”.

Advice - don’t be afraid to stand out and take risks. Don’t be afraid to take the lead – to help drive strategic directions”.

As risk management develops as a discipline there will be less focus solely on financial risk and more on understanding behaviour and decision making - risk will play more of a strategic role at board level, there is a need for qualified staff with a mixture of soft skills and technical knowledge.

The UK government has set a voluntary target for FTSE companies of 33% of women directors by 2020 (source Professional Boards Forum BoardWatch)

Join the change journey that we are about to begin - join the Women in Risk Group.