“I write about the nonsense of office life,” Kellaway said, and every office should be familiar with initiatives where an ordinary phrase — one like “being authentic” — becomes loaded with complicated baggage in an attempt to improve corporate performance.
Kellaway’s point was that different aspects of our personalities are presented (or obscured) depending on where we are and who we interact with. Insisting on one “authentic” mindset for addressing every situation is a recipe for failure.
Kellaway’s ongoing exposure to corporate doublespeak, where communications assign heroic importance to mundane words and downplay the impact of significant phrases, may have ended up inspiring her ideas for success in the workplace. By approaching familiar concepts from unfamiliar perspectives, she has uncovered effective methods that deliver results.
For one thing, she thinks that not enough has been said about the power of being terrifying. “You don’t have to be nasty,” she explained, “You just have to perfect the stare.”
“Fear has defined my working life,” Kellaway said. But it was not the fear that she inspired in others or the fear that others attempted to instill in her. She was driven by a self-imposed fear of “being found out,” a fear that she would fail to meet expectations. Over time, she found that “fear has also been my greatest weapon,” driving her to meet those daunting expectations. “If you’re afraid, you work hard,” she said. “That’s what you do.”
Eventually, Kellaway arrived at a state that she describes as “post fear,” a transition that began around age 50. Employees who are post fear offer a mix of challenges and opportunities, she said. “You’re not necessarily going to bust a gut in the manic way that you did when you were very, very afraid,” she said. But on the other hand, “it means that we dare to do things.”
The Alpha and Gender Diversity Conference was convened to discuss how diverse teams can uncover new ways to improve corporate performance and create better investor outcomes, and Kellaway’s insights raised the interesting possibility of matching post-fear mentors with younger, more fearful mentees.
The question remains whether older, post-fear employees would be able to bridge the generation gap to communicate with their younger colleagues. Kellaway herself doubts that such a gap exists.
“I think a lot of fuss is made unnecessarily about millennials,” she said, in response to a question from the audience. “I think the only definite difference that I’ve noticed is that they don’t do practical jokes in the same way that we do.”
Associate Editor and Management Columnist, Financial Times
2016 Alpha and Gender Diversity: The Competitive Edge
15 September 2016
In this colorful, insightful presentation, Lucy Kellaway, columnist at Financial Times, discusses how women should be fearless in the workplace and that women should embrace their uniqueness and be authentic. Kellaway further explains how women need to be afraid because fear makes you work harder.
Margaret E. Franklin, CFA: I hope everybody has had enough to eat and you are sitting down and ready for what I think will be provocative and entertaining. I do have a couple of housekeeping things. The first is, we are recording this particular session.
So I’d like to take a moment to welcome our audience from around the world joining us remotely via the CFA Institute website. And for those of you who are joining us virtually, please submit questions through the chat feature on the broadcast website. I know we have a crew tuning in from down in Charlottesville, so welcome to all of those.
Our next speaker is incredibly exciting. Lucy Kellaway has been at the Financial Times for 22 years. Many in this room — Lucy, you may not know the statistics, but at least half of this room has 20 or more years of experience. So in my case, I have virtually grown up with Lucy, words of wisdom through her weekly column.
And actually, ironically, it was a stodgy old fellow portfolio manager who got me onto you, who said, “You must read Lucy Kellaway, Marg.” Lucy is irreverent, insightful. She has a public platform where she is irreverent and gets right to the heart of the matter of what is going on in business and with the work world in general.
Lucy, when we met earlier today, said, “Is it OK if I swear?” So for the virtual audience, those who may — you may have to put your earmuffs on at points in time. But when John Ruffolo says no skin color, no ethnicity, and no gender owns being an asshole, I think you can come on up here and be as spicy and as saucy as you want. So it is my complete pleasure to introduce Lucy Kellaway.
Lucy Kellaway: Thanks very much, Marg. I was sitting at the back when he said “asshole,” and I thought, thank God, it’s all going to be fine. The last time that I addressed a big group of women, I inadvertently ended up showing them all my underpants. It was at a conference that was organized by Deutsche Bank in Singapore called The Power of Authenticity.
And when the organizers rang me to ask if I wanted to talk at it, I said that that would be fine, but I didn’t believe in authenticity. And that if you are — especially if you’re a banker, you can’t be authentic. So there was really no point in having the conversation. So they came back and they said, it’s OK, you can come, but say what you like, just be yourself.
So they completely failed to understand what I was saying, which is this whole concept of being yourself. I mean, you’re all sophisticated people. And I’m sure you’ve got about 50 different selves by now. You’re got different selves with your family, with your colleagues, et cetera, et cetera. So I wanted to make this point in Singapore.
And I thought, how am I going to make it? And at about that time, I saw a TED talk given by a supermodel, Cameron Russell. I don’t know if any of you have watched it, but it’s really fab. And she comes on in heels like that and in a skimpy little dress. And then she takes off the heels and she puts on a sort of baggy skirt over the top of the dress. Her point being that in order to talk as herself, she needs to dress as herself.
So I thought that I would make the same point in reverse. That I would come on dressed as myself, i.e., some Birkenstocks, jeans. And I would put on the little DVF dress on the stage and take the jeans off in order to speak to bankers, to make the point that when we’re at work, we’re a version of ourselves.
And I practiced this trick at home and it seemed perfectly OK. And I turned up at the conference and I knew at once it was going to be an absolute car crash. There was this white lacquered — you know, Singapore is so flash. There was this white lacquered stage, huge room of 600 mainly Asian women, all in Prada. Whole audience. Whole immaculate — inauthentic as God knows what. This huge audience.
I was the last speaker, so I had to listen to the entire board of Deutsche Bank telling us that their entire value proposition was based on authenticity. And I just thought, oh no, this is going to be awful. And then the most awful thing was that the woman who spoke before me was blind, and she started telling the audience that it was only through being authentic that she had managed to come to terms with her disability.
So there was me, unacceptably cynical, and in jeans and Birkenstocks, walking on to the lacquered stage. And I lost my nerve so badly that I got the dress on, but it had poppers down the front. And then as I tried to get the jeans off, the poppers all flung open in front of 600 women in Prada. Anyway, it was completely hideous. But I have learned my lesson. No outfit changes.
So I’m in my dress now to talk to you, and that’s that. Now, the title of my talk today is “How I Became a Fearless Feminist at 55.” But there’s another title as well. And I want you to kind of think they’re both true. The other title is, “Why Being Born a Woman Was the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.” So there you go.
So you can decide at the end which one you think is the truest, but they’re sort of both true. I was born in 1959 in a household where the women talked the most and the women took all the decisions. And I went to a school in North London. It was a famously groovy school that had been going for 100 years educating women. And Emma Thompson was in my class.
And we were all — we were very naughty, and we were kind of fearless. It was the punk rock era. We all had blue hair. We weren’t feminists, because we didn’t need to be. We thought all battles had been won.
I turned up in 1977. I scraped into Oxford University. And I thought, I’m the dimmest person here. So I worked like crazy so as not to be the dimmest person there. And after three years, I thought, what do I want to do with my life? And I had no idea, so I applied to lots of jobs in all different sectors.
And I was turned down everywhere, except — thank you JP Morgan. Miraculously, they gave me a job on their training program. And I was the token woman. There were eight young boys, really they were, and me.
And I worked out — even though I was 22, I looked really pre-pubescent. I looked about eight. And from that — it was really quite rough. And from that, I developed two coping strategies. The first was to be terrifying. And I think there’s not enough said about the power for all of us, men and women, of being terrifying.
You don’t have to be nasty; you just have to perfect the stare. And the stare is very sort of cold. It’s like that. And it’s a really good idea. I think everyone should practice it in front of the mirror. It comes in handy a lot.
So there’s that. But there was also, because there was no danger ever of anyone taking me seriously, that I thought, well, why not just try and be funny? So that was what I always did. So I had my stare and I was funny-ish, and I arrived on Wall Street. And the whole thing was different there. There were these things called women bankers in the early ‘80s. And they wore these incredibly weird clothes. They were Brooks Brothers suits and these huge bows.
And the bows apparently are now back in fashion, I hear. They’re completely — I don’t think anyone’s wearing one. I can’t see anyone. But anyway, they were absolutely horrible. And not only did they wear the bows, but these women were very, very — they had all been at business school — they were very aggressive.
And it didn’t occur to me then that they were sort of being a kind of parody of men. I just thought they were a bit strange. Anyway, I was there for a year, and then I was taken back to the foreign exchange dealing room in London. And I spent the next year crying in the loo.
I wasn’t crying because the dealers were horrible to me. They were actually horrible to me partly because — not even really because I was a woman, but because I was posh and they were barrow boys, and they hated me for being posh. But that wasn’t why I was crying. I was crying because the job was both very boring and very stressful. And I kept on booking the trades the wrong way around. And that’s really quite — so it just wasn’t for me. It wasn’t for me.
So I left banking. I left banking, but I wasn’t at all worried about were there women in banking. It seemed to me that 10 years earlier there had been zero, and now there were quite a few. And they appeared to be doing OK. So I wasn’t at all worried.
I went into journalism. More women, a few more, maybe about a quarter female then, in the early ‘80s. Again, I thought, this will all be fine. I spent no time worrying about it. And when I was asked at the FT to join a little group of women, I turned up for the first time and I was horrified.
They just sat round and mooned. “Oh, we don’t get promoted and we don’t get listened to.” And I just thought, you’re pathetic. You are absolutely pathetic. You have been given this amazing job on this amazing newspaper. Just make something of it.
So I didn’t join in. I didn’t join in at all. And in fact, I thought, actually, you’re not even good at your job, so how dare you blame that on being a woman. And so I was really not joining in. I wasn’t being a good sister at all. And so I then tried to concentrate on doing my job, which took a hell of a lot of concentrating.
I did normal things on the FT for a bit. And then at some point, I discovered that actually, what I was really good at was writing unexpected, sort of slightly silly stuff for the FT. And I don’t think I would have been able to do that as a man. It was because I was sort of already different, it was OK to go on being more different. And I worked on that and worked on that and worked on that. And I do have a proper title.
But I have named myself; my real true title is that I’m the FT’s chief bullshit correspondent. You know, that’s what I do. I write about the nonsense of office life. And I’ve done that for years and years. Actually, Marg completely incorrectly said I’ve been doing it for 22 years. 31 is the truth.
I’ve been doing it for a very long time. But as well as writing up — and you never run out. So you can write about bullshit once a week for 25 years and there’s still plenty more there to write about.
But so, as well as doing that, I for a while invented the satirical character called Martin Lukes. And he was meant to stand for everything that was wrong with office life. He was sort of Dilbert meets Bridget Jones kind of thing. And I used to write these fictional emails about him.
And I know we’re not allowed to do any male bashing, but we are allowed to do some Martin Lukes bashing. I mean, he was just the most sort of jargon-talking corporate sleazebag imaginable. And I had to become this man once a week for 10 years. And I got so fed up with it in the end, I thought I would actually kill him.
And I had quite a lot of fun thinking about what the best way of killing someone like Martin Lukes would be. I thought that it was for him to die in a team building accident.
So I had him jump — he and his team went and they were jumping out of an airplane, and he, alas, failed to pull the cord because he was sending out self-promotional tweets as he went down. So that was the end of Martin Lukes. But then I thought, what am I going to do?
So again, something only a woman could do, I became the FT’s first ever office agony aunt. And I’ve dealt with all sorts — those going-on gender problems alone. But my absolute top problem of all time went like this. It came from a man who works in corporate finance.
And he said that — he had one of those squidgy stress balls. He had a squidgy stress ball. And whenever his boss walked past, his boss would go like that, and he’d throw the ball to his boss, who’d catch it and then throw it back again. But one day, he throws the ball to his boss, his boss catches it, and then takes it into his office with him.
And this guy’s problem, to me, was what do I do? That was my ball. It was my ball. Is it too petty to ask for my ball back? And I looked at this, and I thought, I just don’t believe this. It’s just too trivial for words.
But then I thought about it and I thought, actually, this little problem is so revealing. It explains why there are no women in corporate finance, because they don’t think it’s funny spending their time going like that, to and fro, with the ball. But anyway, so as ever with this problem, I answered it myself what I thought I should do, but then asked readers for the answer.
And a guy who worked for a hedge fund sent in his reply to this problem, which was, “Buy a bat.” Bat beats ball. So I thought that was pretty good. Anyway, that was my favorite memory of all time. So during all of this, I had found this sort of different niche for myself. And because the FT, like everywhere else, was desperate to prove itself not to be too male, I was just promoted to the point where it was embarrassing.
You know; my face endlessly on the front of the newspaper. And people would be asking me to talk at conferences all the time, because they didn’t want their conferences to look too male. And at the same time, I was approached by a company that sells car insurance saying, would I like to join the board? Now, as I’ve never even bought car insurance, I wasn’t exactly an obvious choice.
But it was a time when we want women on boards, and I said, sure, I’d go and interview. And I got the job. And it’s been fascinating the last 10 years. But all of these lovely things have fallen into my lap partly because I’m a woman. And some of my male colleagues I know are sort of grinding their teeth and thinking, “God, does it always have to be Lucy?”
And when — I am allowed to get away with things. So talking about obscenities, I wrote a whole column about the joy of swearing at work. And I even managed to persuade the FT to run words with no asterisks in them in the paper. And so a special exception was made for me. So it’s kind of been brilliant.
And in a way, you would have read a couple of weeks ago that Kevin Roberts at Saatchi had to resign when he had said there was no further problem with women in management. And to some extent, I sort of felt the same. Only actually, I didn’t. What about all of those speeches that I was giving? What about who was in the audience?
It became increasingly horrific to me to look at how all of these city audiences were all — they were just as male as they had been when I was in the financial sector in the ‘80s. It was absolutely extraordinary. And particularly in asset management, which should be so friendly to women. All these men, endlessly, endlessly, endlessly the same, the same, the same.
And closer to home, if I looked at the board of the car insurance company, when I joined 10 years ago, there was me and another woman. By the time I left, women were — we were in a majority on the board. So in a way, it was absolutely wonderful. But equally, if I looked at how we contributed in those meetings, not all of us, but most of us, talked on things that we were totally confident about. And maybe less inclined to hold forth on other things.
And most worrying of all is on the FT, in the few dreadful days after Brexit, if you look at the comment pages on those days, we had entirely male comment pages. Why? Well, the editors — and certainly, there were women on the FT going, why? But they said, well, these are wonderful articles and we didn’t have the same wonderful articles from women. And that was why we wrote it.
So it’s not OK. It’s really, really not OK. So what do we do about it? Well, the organizers of this conference have said, can I make it how-to? Well, the answer to that is, I can’t make it how-to because I don’t know what the answer is. And I know we’ve heard a lot about mentors, and sponsors, and networking, and flexible working, and this, that, and the other.
But it hasn’t worked. We’ve been doing it for 20 years. And I think it’s worked very poorly. So I actually think that — and we don’t want to get into all of this now. But my own view is that we need to sort of take the whole sort of quotas and targets route for real change to happen. So I feel a bit grim about that. But that’s a topic for another day.
But in the meantime, I want to talk about two things in particular. One is about children. Now, in talking about my own career, you might think it’s slightly weird that I haven’t mentioned children, given that I’ve had four of them. And they might not be terribly pleased not even to get a single mention. But the reason is that from now, children are a tiny part of — if you think of the stretch of our working lives. We’re all going to live forever. And we will go on working into our 70s.
If you start in your 20s and you go on into your 70s, that’s a 50-year working life, maybe more. And the proportion of that time that we spend bringing up children is small. Maybe 15 that we’re very actively involved, depending on how many children you have. It’s sort of less than a third of it.
And so children, I think, are in a way a slight side issue. I mean, obviously, it’s very important, you know, all those fish fingers to be grilled and all of that during that period of time. But from my point of view, my last child has gone off to university and I still see working life stretching out forever. So I think children aren’t really the issue.
But the thing I want to talk about most is fear. Now, fear has defined my working life. I’ve sort of said, oh, it’s all been so marvelous. And in a way, it has been so marvelous. But I’ve been absolutely terrified. When I started at the FT, my real fear was I was going to get found out. I just wonder, how many people in the audience have worried about being found out?
It’s quite hard to see with the lights, but there’s quite a few of you who aren’t putting your hands up. And I’m absolutely amazed. I sort of think that most of us are — and not just women — the terrible fear of being found out. And it’s sort of affected me in different ways.
I mean, if I think about all of those articles that were written by men about Brexit, I think, where was I in that? Why didn’t I write some of those articles? I’ve got a degree in economics. I’ve got the same training as the men who wrote them. And I think — and this sort of makes me feel quite uncomfortable. But I think the answer is, I decided at an early stage that I didn’t dare. That it was more comfortable for me to write sort of jolly stuff that I knew I could do.
And once I was in that sort of siding, it was sort of too late to switch. And I’m not necessarily saying that that’s what I want to do, because I’ve had such a laugh. But I don’t think that’s all that uncommon, and I do think it is — I think it’s a bit of a problem.
So fear has been bad like that. But fear has also been my greatest weapon. Because if you are afraid, you work hard. That’s what you do. And there was an incredibly interesting study done quite recently that looked at the most successful people. This is men and women. And it concluded that the people who do best are not the most confident. They are the people who’ve got the most self-doubt.
And that makes a lot of sense to me, because if you’ve got a lot of self-doubt, what do you do? Well, you work really, really hard. So something has gone a bit wrong, because if you think of self-doubt as being our secret weapon, why aren’t the masses and masses and masses of women running everything?
And the reason is it cuts both ways, of course — that if you’ve got too much self-doubt, you don’t actually do anything. So you’ve got it — so it’s this sort of complicated thing. So I’ve been doing a lot of mentoring of young women. And what I’m trying to say to them is not don’t be afraid, but be really afraid. Because it is really, really scary. And use that to work really hard.
So when people started asking me to go and talk at things, I was absolutely terrified. So how many people in the audience, when you either now or used to be really frightened of talking in public? It’s sort of everyone. And it is so weird when you consider what an unfrightening thing it is.
I mean, I cycle everywhere in London. And there was one time when I was dressed — I might even have been wearing these shoes. But I was cycling along and very, very nearly died on the way to a speech that I was giving, as a lorry just about missed me. And thought how strange that is. Doing something that might result in me dying didn’t frighten me at all, but standing up on a stage talking to a few people who were quite well disposed to me was terrifying. So that’s nuts. I mean, that really is mad. But it’s a sort of fundamental fear that we have.
And so how have I solved that? I’ve solved it in the best way of solving everything that you’re frightened of, which is to work really, really hard. And also, a few beta blockers help. But so if you think of fear, and fear over the course of your life, there’s a very strange pattern emerges.
I’ve tried to draw a graph of my fear. So it started off in my 20s. When I first started working, I was very afraid. And I got more afraid, because actually, working life is more frightening when you think and you get promoted and you get to do new things. So for a bit, the fear goes up.
But then it starts to come down a bit, because you’ve sort of worked out, you more or less know how to do things. And it’s sort of OK. But then something very, very strange happened to me out at about 50. It started going like that. And I wondered why on earth this was.
And I wrote a column about it, and the response was absolutely extraordinary from readers. So many people agreed that around 50, the fear levels just started tanking. And I’m now in my late 50s. I’ve gone sort of post-fear, which is a very, very weird place to be.
And yesterday I was talking to a group at the IMF. They’re all ancient because at the IMF, they never fire you. And we were talking about fear there. And I asked how many of them in their 50s were post-fear, and they all were too. I don’t know for many people here of 50 or over recognize that and would say they’re post-fear.
It’s hard — so yeah, I’d say quite a lot of us. We’re post-fear. So if you’re a post-fear employee, that means you’re a sort of weird thing to manage.
Because, well, for obvious reasons. But it means that you’ve got great strengths and weaknesses that you didn’t used to have. It means you’re not necessarily going to bust a gut in the manic way you did when you were very, very afraid. But equally, it means that we dare to do things. And I think that women who are post-children and post-fear are maybe in an absolutely incredible position to change things.
That’s what the optimistic part of me says. The pessimistic part of me says that maybe the only things you do when you’re post-fear are take your trousers off on stage. So I hope all of you are going to be more sensible than that. And that’s what I’ve got to say on this, but I hope that questions will come in. And on any of them, I’d be delighted to answer as well as I can.
Margaret E. Franklin, CFA: Very good. Thank you.
I told you she’d be a bit spicy-saucy. I didn’t fail. I know that you do call things out. And you’re pretty comfortable doing it, and you do do it in a very humorous way. Do you think that in a politically correct world, where we have to pay more attention to this stuff — like I feel like when I can quote John Ruffolo saying “asshole,” I feel liberated. I feel liberated.
Do you think that we will find a space for some humor to the whole thing? Or are you fearful that it’s just going to retrench back, and people like you, like us, we will just get marginalized as you kind of come into a period where people feel a bit — the context is fearful?
Lucy Kellaway: Yeah. I mean, I think that being funny and being politically correct are — I mean, you can be funny by just saying “asshole” or whatever. But I don’t think — I think you can go on saying things that are true. I don’t feel that we’re at risk of not being able to say things that are true. No, I really, really don’t.
And I think that’s fine. Although I myself have gotten more politically correct, there are some things that I slightly —
Margaret E. Franklin, CFA: Really?
Lucy Kellaway: Yeah, that I sort of slightly struggle with. So I was on the, getting on the flight coming out here. And there was a middle-aged English couple. And they were reading a story about Theresa May. And the guy says, “Oh, she’s got balls.” And I would, once upon a time, have just let that wash over me. But I found myself being really annoyed.
And I want to say, “Excuse me, can you explain what you mean by that? Why did you use that phrase? In what sense did you think that was appropriate?” So I can feel myself getting really, really cross and getting quite politically correct and things like that.
Margaret E. Franklin, CFA: So when you get to 60, will you go and confront — like is there a post-post-fearful — and then you’re on a plane and there’s Lucy kind of coming at you.
Lucy Kellaway: Yeah, and I’m so post-fear that I’m really, really, really dangerous. Yeah, it could happen.
Margaret E. Franklin, CFA: So one of the things that I have always admired, and really is not enough, is that when we look at what has happened in the industry, when we look at how we interact with clients, what we do for clients, or what we aspire to do, it’s hard not to think that the lack of diversity, divergent thinking, different ways of thinking, hasn’t clearly impacted our business. And then, of course, that’s eroded trust.
What are the things that you would observe going on at the FT, or elsewhere, where people are having different conversations, that you used to think, “You know what? I like that. That is actually making a difference.”
Lucy Kellaway: Having different conversations with a view to diversity. Well, I think — and I feel gloomy about it, actually. And it’s not what any of you want to hear, but it’s sort of my observation, that the sorts of things like mentoring and all of these things that belatedly at the FT we’ve started doing, they’re great. And I’m kind of a fan of them, because I really like the young women who I talk to.
But do I think this is just completely changing things? No, I really, really don’t. I think the thing that has had an absolutely massive difference at board level has been quotas, which have forced the thing. And then everything starts changing. Then everything starts changing, because you’ve already got the critical mass.
Margaret E. Franklin, CFA: So let me pick up on something when you talked about critical mass. So we’re in — not we, Americans here are in an election cycle that from Canada is just horrifying to watch. However, being from Toronto, we had our Donald Trump, who was a mayor. And he happened to smoke crack cocaine in addition to everything else.
And our minister of trade finance, Chrystia Freeland, who is a journalist of great repute, was campaigning at a subway stop, at a metro stop, that was one of the wealthiest neighborhoods. And because it was quick to downtown, actually, a lot of those people took the subway. And one that was one of the most economically challenged.
And they said to her, you know Chrystia, I can’t believe how people connect. Like how Rob Ford has a following, has passionate supporters that transcend socioeconomic. And you’re campaigning in an area that is — what is that? She said Marg, the most powerful of all bonds, which I did not understand, was that of being excluded.
And when you look at what is going on here, there is a negative power of exclusion that bonds people. But I wonder if your gloominess about it might be tapping into that, tapping into that bond that creates a voice, and perhaps the Pandora’s box of, you can be politically incorrect, clearly, in front of bazillions of people with a mic.
Lucy Kellaway: Yeah. The thing is, I don’t feel excluded. I haven’t been excluded. I’ve been included. That was sort of the whole point. I think for a small slice of professional women, we’ve been so privileged. Our lives have been great. We’ve been invited to all sorts of things. So I’ve been the opposite of excluded.
And so it’s more what I feel is not the anger of exclusion. It’s complete frustration and amazement and kind of despair at the slowness with which things are moving.
Margaret E. Franklin, CFA: So — I love this one — why does the world keep creating more Martin Lukes?
Lucy Kellaway: Well, you see, that’s gone —
Margaret E. Franklin, CFA: And how can we make it stop?
Lucy Kellaway: Look, Martin Lukes was an absolute prat. I think that’s an English word, but it’s not terribly polite. But Martin Lukes was an absolute prat. There are some really grim women in the corporate world too. So he was tapping into some awful things about human nature that corporate life encourages.
So there’s the horrendous jargon. And actually, men and women — I used to think that jargon was a male thing. But actually, it’s not. It’s a corporate thing. Oh my god, Angela Ahrendts, who used to run Burberry and is now very senior at Apple: How she speaks is extraordinary.
In the Burberry annual report, she was talking about how Burberry exited doors not aligned with her enhanced assortments. And you just thought, what? This is a company that makes raincoats. Doors — what the hell are you talking about?
So I think that, yeah, that there is something about corporate life that makes people talk like that. It’s not — but yeah, so corporate life goes on and on developing Martin Lukes as male ones, but Martina Lukes too.
Margaret E. Franklin, CFA: Do you equate post-fear with money?
Lucy Kellaway: Well, yes, of course, in a way. In a way. And that’s another really vital element of it. If you’re my privileged generation — oh my god, I’ve got a pension. I’ve got even a reasonably decent pension. My generation mostly have paid-off mortgages. So we can afford to be post-fear, because if we say something so outrageous, or take our trousers off once too often and get fired, then we’re not terrified of that.
Margaret E. Franklin, CFA: Do you think the same, though, applies for millennials? Like, when I look — my kids are millennials. And when I look at them and think about what that looks like, there’s a lot of commonality in terms of what we aspire to, in terms of trying to do work that’s reasonably satisfying, has some useful value to somebody, more than your paycheck.
Like there seems a fatigue, or in the case of millennials, just not a patience around this corporate-kind culture.
Lucy Kellaway: Yeah. I don’t know. I suppose so. I mean, I think a lot of fuss is made unnecessarily about millennials. I mean, didn’t we all want to do interesting work when we started out? Was there anyone in this room that thought, I want to do something really boring? I think we have sort of invented this idea that our kids are somehow these weird aliens and completely different to us. I just don’t buy that at all.
In fact, I think the only definite difference that I’ve noticed is they don’t do practical jokes in the same way that we do. I don’t know about you, but when I started out, we had one long, massive laugh. And oh my goodness, when emails were first invented, if you left your terminal unattended for about three seconds, someone else would sneak along and send a sort of hilarious message to the whole company to make you look stupid.
Millennials don’t do that. I mean, it’s partly that their electronic identity is so closely associated with them it would be theft, rape almost, to do that. So I see them as being, in some ways, more professional and more serious than we were. And I just don’t buy this idea that they’re all sort of spoiled whingers. The ones who I see are smart and want to do very well indeed.
Margaret E. Franklin, CFA: As you look forward, so let’s use — you’re going to work into your 70s; you’ve got a 20-year runway. What’s that platform look like? What do you sit there and think? You’ve obviously given some thought about where you’re at. What does the next 20 years look like, and you say, “I kind of imagine it this way”?
Lucy Kellaway: Yeah, I think that I wish I had known when I was in my 20s that it was going to be 70 years. I think we make that — we all made that mistake much younger of thinking that one career was enough. And I think if you now think that we’ve got 50 years, maybe more, to work, it’s insane to do one thing for that long.
So I think I have been, in a way, in my gilded cage and have gone on at the FT because I really, really enjoy it. But I think what would be a much better working model for all of us is to do one thing for maybe 20 years and get really good at it. And then maybe, just when we’re going post-fear in that one, to start something completely different. And sort of decide you’re a doctor, training to be a doctor at 40, or that you’re doing something completely different with your life. I see no reason why we shouldn’t all do that given that life is so long.
Margaret E. Franklin, CFA: In a world where everybody has access to information, and people like you write about Angela Ahrendts and Burberry, and that can go viral quickly, do you see the corporate world, and perhaps the investment management — do you see it changing, actually, just by the very virtue of what the speed of information and curation that goes on? Like people pop your article and send it around, and everybody’s got it, and it doesn’t take a clipping anymore.
Lucy Kellaway: Well, for a start, I’d like to distance myself from the word curation. You’re not allowed to say that.
Margaret E. Franklin, CFA: Speak in corporate speak.
Lucy Kellaway: If you are putting on an exhibition in an art gallery, you are allowed to do that. But not otherwise. No, I think, yes, I completely agree. I think if you are — because everything can go viral, it’s meant that corporations are even more boring and even more risk averse than they would otherwise be. Because they’re permanently in a complete panic about saying something that will make them look bad.
And everyone on Twitter has to have that awful little disclaimer sort of “view is my own.” Who else’s would they be? So I think, yes, I think it just makes us all more boring, more frightened and more boring.
Margaret E. Franklin, CFA: What would you say to leaders of investment firms who want to have more women at the top?
Lucy Kellaway: What would I say to — great, wonderful. What would anyone else say to them? Great, go for it, I’d say. I mean, that’s not really controversial, is it?
Margaret E. Franklin, CFA: No, that one was not controversial. The other thing is, somebody said at lunch, I heard you know, part of the problem with the — in fact, it might have been Jean who was up here from Wellington. She said, at 50, women just kind of say, I think I’m kind of out. And the pipe isn’t big. And you get your 50s and women say, I’m post-fear, I’m pretty happy to go do something else.
Lucy Kellaway: I mean, that is the other problem. Of course, with being post-fear, you don’t have anything to prove anymore. And isn’t that one of the — having something to prove is one of the things that keeps us really, really, really trying. And if you don’t have anything to prove anymore, then phhh. And if you’ve got the money, you’ve got the — then why would you bother?
But I think that that taps into the question of work culture. Because if the culture doesn’t feel right or feel fun, then of course, you’re out the minute you can be. But if it feels something that still interests you, and you still actually enjoy it for its own sake, then you stay.
Margaret E. Franklin, CFA: So why do you think our business has not — the numbers haven’t changed? They haven’t changed in 20, 25 years in terms of women. What do you attribute that to? Because some industries have done better. Maybe when you get your 50s, I mean, I know we saw statistics where lawyers and doctors, it’s all at 50%. But that is certainly not the case at the top of the house at law firms, and certainly not the top of the house at hospitals are 50%.
Lucy Kellaway: I think it’s absolutely mysterious. I just don’t know. I mean, I think in some — if you’re in a very, very aggressive — I mean, if you’re at Goldman Sachs, I don’t think you need to be a genius to see why that’s not 50/50. But I think if you’re in investment management, why isn’t it?
So you would have a better idea — this is an industry that you work in, which I don’t. But I think it’s utterly baffling, especially in companies that are well run, where women are — where every single policy is in place. And it’s not as if these are things that women aren’t good at. Women excel at all this. So I have absolutely no idea.
And I think that’s the honest answer. And I think if we all knew what the problem was, we’d be able to fix it.
Margaret E. Franklin, CFA: You would have grown up in an era, and you said that you didn’t feel — you might have been fearful that you might have been found out, but not barriers — because I’m a woman, I don’t think I can succeed or anything, sort of any of that hangup. So when you look now at post-fear, post-fearless, yeah, post-fear, what does that look like? Like if you don’t have that driver that you would have had for the last 25 or 30 years, what does it look like?
Lucy Kellaway: Well, it means that you have to do work because the work itself matters. And I know we all pretend that was what we were always in it for. But actually, I think mostly that isn’t true. We were in it because we need to do something, because we need to make some money, because it’s quite nice learning how to be good at something.
But once you’ve gone post — if you’re post-fear and post desperately needing the money, the only reason to go on doing it is because the thing itself really, really, really matters. And maybe, dare I say it, in your industry, does the thing itself really matter that much? Maybe to a lot of you, it doesn’t. And that is why at 50, you just think, I’m out of here.
Margaret E. Franklin, CFA: Well, I might posit that the work — actually, I might posit that the work is very interesting. You know? It’s ever changing, always challenging. It still is lonely. Like it’s still — and then you have 20 years of, I would say, kind of behavior, chameleon-like behavior to sort of not stand out too much. And I think for lots of women, they have been privileged. But you do find it winnows down.
I think Scott Paige earlier today showed a very interesting statistic: that if at each point in career progression, the next level up, 5% don’t get chosen, by the time you get to 10 levels, there’s nobody left. There’s nobody left. And I think, I’m done. I’m done. I don’t think it’s actually the work. You’ve been a journalist for 25 years, do you still feel incredible passion for writing, or does it —
Lucy Kellaway: Well, I’m just going to ask the audience before I answer that. How many of you feel passionate about what you do? That was a trick question. If you look what passion means, it means either a strong sexual attraction or it means the suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross.
So I know your business is very, very interesting, but it’s not actually as interesting as all that.
I have never felt passion for what I do. And I will never ever feel passion for it either, either in the past or in the future. So no is the answer.
Margaret E. Franklin, CFA: I’m sure there’s some bloke at the office who’s kind of like, I thought she felt passion at the office for me.
Lucy Kellaway: You haven’t been to the FT.
Margaret E. Franklin, CFA: No. Actually, I have been. So OK, you’re right. This is an audience of women. Again, very senior. One of the things — this is the second time we’ve done this conference. And speaking of fear, we actually got to this conference, Leah and I, about six hours before it started. And we didn’t feel like we were going to throw up. We felt really good. We thought, this is the second one. We’ve been a bit of a success.
And what we’ve heard over the course of the last day and a half is just how powerful it is to be all together. To be with your tribe. And in particular, this group is analytical. There’s a homogeneity to it, which actually provides comfort, which is exactly what we’re trying to break down everywhere else in the whole theme of things.
But as you have this audience, and I don’t know how many where you’ve sat with 300 women who were in positions of influence and leadership, and care deeply, and are passionate — what would you want to say to all of us?
Lucy Kellaway: Yeah, I think whether or not you’ve gone post-fear, especially if you have, it is really, really to help the people who are younger, to give them reason to think that it’s worthwhile. Not to — and I do think the fear thing is really, really important. To tell them that to be a bit afraid is great. It’s part of the whole business.
And I would promote people and help them. And maybe my generation has failed to do that, which is why things are as bad as they are. But I think that we can still do it before it’s too late.
And so in my business, I really, really want to see the young women doing brilliantly. And I think they just need to be sort of yanked, whether they feel like it or not. So I’d say, that was what I would say.
Margaret E. Franklin, CFA: Well, we have this phrase that we use quite frequently in this initiative called “lean down and yank up.” And I actually think our generation has currency now that — you find yourself at 50 sort of surprised — surprised you’re 50, for starters. And then you’re in a position where you are post-fear, and you have that kind of currency. And I would say that we didn’t have to break through glass ceilings.
We didn’t have to do those things. And those characteristics that allow you to do that are not the ones that say, here are the keys to the kingdom. Have fun. I will help you along the way. So I actually think for many of us in this room that that kind of very deliberate, very focused effort on the next generation, and being generous with that currency, will make all the difference.
Lucy Kellaway: I completely agree. And as I was trying to explain, that I thought it was going to happen anyway. Because that was how it looked in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. It was going to happen anyway. And it hasn’t happened.
And so if we had known then that it wasn’t going to happen without much more stuff, maybe we would have provided much more stuff, and that’s what should happen now. So yeah.
Margaret E. Franklin, CFA: Lucy, thank you enormously. Thank you for being irreverent, thoughtful, thought provocative. And we will all watch this post-fear feminism in full Technicolor the way you write about it. Will you please join me in thanking Lucy for a great speech?
Lucy Kellaway: And just thanks to everybody for no longer being passionate.
Margaret E. Franklin, CFA: OK.