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Twenty Minutes with Gina Miller, the Business Owner Challenging the Status Quo

This month we launch our Women in Industry initiative, encouraging equality across the board with the goal of equipping women with the knowledge and tools to smash the glass ceiling and pave the way for others to do the same. Our ultimate aim is to inform and encourage businesses to think about the preconceptions and processes they have that may be stifling the progression of diversity in their workplace and boardrooms. We feel strongly that diversity can and will lead to a more productive economy, as well as an increasingly inclusive society.

We wanted to launch the initiative with a bang, and were so excited when Gina Miller agreed to talk to us about her inspirational career.

Gina co-founded fund management firm SCM Private, SCM Direct, with a mission to be an innovative and honest force for good in the British fund management industry. She is passionate about consumer protection and believes that financial firms have a duty to manage people's money with honesty and integrity, a mission which has led to dismay from many of the more traditional firms and characters in the industry.

Gina has started six innovative brands, worked for global brands such as BMW and has degrees in Marketing, Human Resource Management and Law. All her businesses have been characterised by innovation, efficiency, a profit for purpose model and putting the customer at the centre of all decision making processes. Gina is also the founder of True and Fair Foundation, which supports small dynamic community charities, primarily in the UK.

Apex's Women in Industry Ambassador, Kirsten Shilling, took twenty minutes with Gina to discuss her career and the challenges she still thinks equality is facing:

1.    Do you ever get tired of having to make the extra effort needed to ensure a female voice is heard amongst the male throng? How do you motivate yourself to keep making the extra effort when it could be very easy to get frustrated with constant inequality?

It goes through waves but generally it’s a constant battle and is extremely exhausting from two points of view. Firstly, if you’re going to a meeting or an event you’ve got to be better prepared than your male colleagues because you know you’re going to get the hard questions. Secondly, it’s the supposedly “funny” jokes or wit that you’re constantly coming up against. It isn’t funny or witty but there’s no point in getting angry as it feeds the pre-conceptions. Keeping your responses under control all the time is quite exhausting. I started in the City in 1992 and generally people think things have improved since then but I think it’s actually just more under the radar, which is harder to detect. 

What do I do in order to motive myself? I tend to get angry in order to motivate myself. Even when I’m low, my anger and sense of injustice motivates me as I will not let them win, plus I’m pig headed! Because of my daughters and the young women that I meet I feel it is my duty to clear a path, so that also keeps me going. 

2.    Where do you find motivation to speak out about inequality?

I’m very fortunate in that I’ve made my own money and don’t have external investors, so my success affords me an independent voice, meaning I can be very vocal and go against the status quo. I suppose an unusual personality trait I have is that I don’t really care what other people think of me. I can turn up at a conference and no one will talk to me so quite often I’ll walk in, do my session and leave. Due to the stance I’ve taken, networking is the worst thing to do as people ignore me, so I don’t do those kind of events anymore to protect myself. I tend to go in to do my speech and then leave.

3.    Have you seen any improvements in gender gap in your working life or do you believe the situation to be worsening?

There are subtle things happening from a data and statistical point of view. But my worry is that it’s just females in the male mind-set. What I mean by that is that it’s people who have gone to the same universities and had the same background; females from the same gene pool as the males. There’s been a lot of publicity about these “super women” in the banking sector but few are different from their male colleagues; they are almost men in skirts! One example of a woman I think is different and incredible is Jayne-Ann Gadhia of Virgin Money, who’s an inspirational role model and advocate for women. 

I don’t think we’ve encapsulated diversity in its true sense. I’m not just a promoter of women, I think there should be diversity and equality in its entirety. This means social mobility from the point of view of ethnic minorities, age, social background, sexual orientation and disability too. In the City everyone talks about how things have improved but actually if you look at the ethnic diversity of middle or senior management, diversity is actually decreasing. I think the latest data shows a decrease from 6% to 4%, so we’re regressing. 

I am aware of cases where companies have looked for a woman from a minority group and think they’ve ticked all the boxes in one person. I get really frustrated by that, as it should be about ability and nothing else. I have been really vocal about this. 

4.    Have you ever tried to make yourself more “male” to fit in with your colleagues? 

We all did in the 90s, but stopped in the mid-2000s. There was more acceptance that women could be themselves, feminine and be in a professional environment, but things haven’t changed enough. An example I give is from a young lawyer who recently asked me to speak at an event. When she told her senior team she was leaving to meet me they said to her, ‘It’s a shame you didn’t meet Gina last week when you’d had your hair done’. It’s amazing isn’t it? So the unconscious biases are still there – you have to think about what you wear, how you look, you still can’t relax. Unfortunately, some senior women haven’t made it easy for other women. They suddenly say they like rugby or football, go out drinking, even going to lap dancing clubs. They want to be seen as ‘one of the boys’, fitting in, but I think it’s all nonsense. Women have different skills and assets to offer compared to men. I never see men being better or vice versa as we have different strengths, so it’s about respecting and harnessing our differences.

5.    How do you balance career & family?

This will make you laugh. It’s a bit like a swan – it might look calm on the surface but underneath it’s chaos and frantic paddling. But it‘s my choice to live like this. There’s lots of things I’ve given up, for example it’s been about 2 years since I’ve had a facial and most of my routine beauty appointments are ‘hey presto’ or mini ones. My priorities outside of work are my family so I have to be very organised. That’s the only way things work; for example I have to sort out what I’m going to do the next day before I go to bed. I can’t afford to leave things until the morning or tomorrow. The other thing is I’m very fortunate that I don’t need much sleep. I can do a huge amount between 10pm and 1am because the phones aren’t going. So every day is planned from my 7am start through to 1am but as I say, that’s my choice and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

I do have bouts of feeling guilty but it’s important to get away from the notion that the amount of time you spend with your children is the same as the quality of time you spend with them. When my children were young we left secret notes to each other when I was away, under pillows, in their blazer pockets, even in their school shoes, so they always knew I was thinking of them. 

The other thing I think I, and many ambitious women I have met, are guilty of is trying to be perfectionists. They want to be great at everything and sometimes it’s learning what’s important, rather than trying to be perfect at everything. I have a real problem with moneyed women who say it’s all possible; they tell other women it’s possible to do it all. What they don’t tell you is that they have a housekeeper, nanny, driver, tutor – an army of support, there is nothing wrong with this but you need to be honest. It is impossible to juggle everything; it’s about prioritising and seeing what’s important. It’s also important to talk to your children about what it is that you’re doing at work so they know what it is that you’re doing and why.

6.    Have you ever had a business relationship whereby you were struggling with your credibility due to being female and what actions did you take to ‘prove yourself worthy’?

Being overly prepared and conscientious is the only way to do it. The problem with that is that people then always expect you to deliver at that heightened level. Unfortunately I still think it’s the only way to get credibility. It’s not about shouting, or how prominent your clients are, or who you know; the only way of gaining credibility is by being over prepared and over delivering.

7.    Do you have any advice for young women looking to start their careers? 

I would say don’t be put off by the reputation of an industry. Women can be change makers. One habit that women need to stop which might seem a small thing but speaks volumes,  is saying sorry – for example, women tend to knock on the door of a meeting and the first thing they say is “sorry”. We need to stop doing that. It’s about owning your own space and walking taller. Exude confidence – you know you know your stuff so think about your physical presence; it is really important.

8.    What are you most proud of in your career so far? 

Getting text into three EU directives which will change the transparency of costs across the whole of the investment and pensions industries across Europe, coming into effect in 2018. I am very proud of that but there is still a lot more I’m determined to do!

We think you’ll agree when we say Gina Miller is inspirational and has a lot to offer the world, not just in her promotion of equality but also her work in the charity sector. For further reading we’d suggest checking out this video, or heading over to SCM DirectTrue and Fair Campaign, and True and Fair Foundation websites for more information on their business and history. 

While there is still so much to be covered and remedied to achieve equality, Gina’s advice on physical presence and frequency of apologies uttered by women on a daily basis is a fantastic take away, and one we can all action straight away. For more on this, head to Linkedin to read Danielle Restivo’s article “Why I’ve cut sorry from my vocabulary”.

Check back with us in a month for our next in this new series of interviews with Women in Industry, and until next time, thanks for reading.