If “lack of diversity” is the problem, I’m part of it!
Like the eight panellists at the pension sessions of Sage Summit I was male, pale, grey and stale! Apologies (to our regulators Charles Counsell and Neil Esslemont, to Standard Life’s Graham Bell, Aviva’s Malcolm Goodwin , Smart’s Will Wynn, People’s Kevin Hart , Now’s Rob Booth and Nest’s Paul Budgen) but we fail on all counts – no youth, ethnic diversity or gender balance!
This appalling state of affairs was not of Sage’s making. They had asked for spokespeople and they got spokesmen. The pension industry is constantly trying to reinvent itself as something different from days gone by, with people from days gone by!
Life is different outside of pensions
Sage’s two keynote speeches on its opening morning were from Deborah Meesden and Martha Lane Fox.
The session before ours was a debate on diversity and how to improve it.
Despite pensions having a large number of prominent women CEOs (Cracknell, Dean, Titcomb, Altmann and Rookes), our public face continues to be framed by a suit and tie.
I joked that you could tell we were in pensions because we looked uncomfortable, but that was a little close to the mark and it wasn’t till a flurry of tweets, sparked by someone in the audience pointing out what a bunch of old farts we looked!
So where is the diversity? Well the answer was staring us in the face. The room was packed with young, ethnic and gender diverse delegates!
The democratisation of pensions resulting from auto-enrolment means that “we are all in”! We need to find new ways to connect with our 1m + new employer customers and new ways to engage with the 10m new employees who will be saving into workplace pensions.
I don’t think the line ups of these sessions will change overnight. Our spokespeople are currently what they are (including me!). But we need to find new faces and new voices that can tell the story with credibility for a more diverse audience.
Should I have chaired?
Well – unusually I was the only person at the session without a chair!
I was asked to chair because Pension PlayPen acts as the point of advice for Sage’s 500,000+ employers looking to choose a workplace pension- and I guess Sage saw me as the natural choice.
While I didn’t choose the panel, I didn’t insist on diversity. There were calls on twitter last night for me to have stood down in protest.
I do quite a lot of chairing, I like it and I think I’m good at it. But Debora is right, I am part of the problem so long as I don’t demand diversity.
So from now on, I’m going to try harder and – where we have the right to appoint – make sure that I do not chair male only panels. That Debora is a promise!
Challenge my chairing!
I would be very open, if my future chairing is publicised, to stand down if my chairing is challenged . I cannot insist on the challenger being chair , but if a more diverse candidate than me can be found, I will promote that candidate.
I cannot see any point in talking about the need for change, there is a need for succession if change is going to happen!
On Monday we had a great pension playpen lunch, great that is – other than it had 23 men and one woman in the Counting House!
There is a real need for wider participation in the pensions debate and we need a new kind of thought leader who doesn’t conform to our pattern. We need female intelligence – and we need the different experience that comes from diverse ethnic, religious and generational backgrounds.
We stop talking to the echo chamber when we stop talking! The echo chamber ceases to be , when new people step up and take over.
So if you’d like to chair a pension playpen lunch and you’re not male, pale, grey and stale, drop me a line on firstname.lastname@example.org or drop a comment below.
I know that this sounds patronising, but that’s me – a pater (father). I have never heard of anyone accused of being matronising!