An investment firm that talks about integrity, about creating an environment where curiosity, learning, candour and accountability are encouraged and there is a culture of constructive acceptance for different points of view seems a wonderful fit for the value-led organisations I have been considering. And it is led by a woman!
Edgbaston Investment Partners is a small, relatively new, start-up organisation and I was able to meet with all the key staff. All except one, for whom this was a first job, had worked for other companies within the financial sector, so had clear views on how Edgbaston Investment Partners compared in terms of ethos and strategy. I am going to group what they told me around some of the central ideas that came out of the discussions.
This is an employee owned organisation and has features that challenge what happens in larger companies. Employees don’t invest outside the company. The growth of the whole business is seen as the key for success, rather than the success of particular individuals within it. It doesn’t matter who has a particular idea, or whose research project is accepted by the team – it is doing the right thing for the company that is of paramount importance. No one has performance targets or individual performance rewards. Decisions are made based on scrupulous research, data analyis and open discussion where conclusions are not presented before discussion has taken place and there is no sense that the ‘real’ decisions are somehow made behind the scenes. There is an awareness that people matter and everyone has a valuable contribution to make. A concern for a healthy and realistic work/life balance ensures the organisation is not dependent on hugely long hours being worked by everyone.
Size is seen as crucial to the ethos. The sense of ownership, not just in the technical sense of the word, but in the sense of moral stewardship was linked by more or else everyone to the small size. Criticisms that were made of other investment companies often stemmed from their larger size, the belief that big is best and empire building is a justified use of client resources. It was small size that allowed success to come from everyone being very involved, being respected, decisions being reached through discussion, transparency and flat structures.
Though led by women, this is not an all female company and their financial investors are not female. As I have often experienced, people start conversations about gender differences by being reluctant to talk in generalisations – ‘it all depends on the man/woman’ but will nevertheless quickly point out fairly clear gender specific patterns.
Some of the ‘female’ characteristics that we discussed were
*women recognise they can’t do everything themselves and work at collaboration and relationships
*women managers care about the people with whom they work as people not as instruments for profit
*women are interested in consensus decision making
*women are driven but more concerned about the ways and means of achieving success
*women will try to address conflict quickly in an open manner
*women will take a long-term and often pragmatic view
*women are underconfident
*women do not like taking risks or making mistakes
*determined women can be seen as stubborn rather than principled
*women don’t publicise themselves
*women don’t judge success by the length of time you stay at your desk
*women not interested in office politics and jostling for status
The overriding impression I came away with is that the financial sector as a whole is characterised by large egos, short-termism, individual ambition, unhealthy work/life balance and a lack of transparency. Edgbaston Investment Partners has specifically set out to challenge this and whether this is because it is a woman-led organisation or because of the particular character of the women involved was a matter of debate. But there was no doubting that the partnership sees itself as forging a different model of financial success that is ultimately more sustainable and forward looking than the traditional City one.
Tips for young women
We teased out some ideas that could help young women in their careers.
*Confidence! You can do anything you want!
*You learn from mistakes and move on
*Work at relationships with other women at work but develop networks with men too
*Talk about your successes
*Be open to diversity – it is finding the best in lots of different ways of doing things that leads to success
*Get infrastructure right at home if you are committing to a family and a career
*Question any organisation that expects very long working hours and creates a culture of panic to achieve it
One of the most cheering things I came away with, was that the management style here was having a tremendous impact on everyone who worked there. The men felt they had learnt a huge amount from the women and I was left in no doubt that there was a very specific ethos that they would take away with them, wherever they worked in the future.