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Making it in fund management: ‘They awarded me the status of honorary man’

OLIM co-founder Angela Lascelles on her determination to make it
in a male-dominated industry and juggling work with motherhood

More than three decades ago, Angela Lascelles, co-founder of investment manager OLIM, decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and pursue a career in the investment industry.

She recalls: “When I was a child, I asked him what he did. When he said he was a stockbroker, I said ‘well, I am going to do that’. And he said ‘no, you can’t. They don’t let girls do it’.”

At the time, Lascelles explains, her father’s response was not a personal judgement; it was a fact.

She says: “It was the system. Women were not admitted as members of the stock exchange. I thought, well, I am going to do it anyway.”

Lascelles did not let the fact that she was not permitted to become a stockbroker distract her from her plans on how to become one: “I  joined Phillips & Drew; they were forward-looking and one of the biggest in the City. They took on a number of graduate trainees, and one or two of us were female.

“I still couldn’t be a member of the stock exchange, but at least I got my foot on the ladder.”

While Lascelles was at the time prohibited from what she wanted to do because of who she was, she did not take it personally. She says: “It was a male society in those days. I didn’t have a problem with it; I just thought, I want to do it, so I’ll do it.

“But I wasn’t sitting there thinking it was unfair. And then in due course, pretty quickly, they changed it.”

Apart from Lascelles’ desire to do what her father did, a career in the investment industry was a match because it suited her academic background, reading philosophy at university, combined with a passion for maths.

Then and now
Lascelles believes the industry has definitely improved for women over her 30-plus years in it: “It’s much more open now.

“Women are equally encouraged to start; women are equally acceptable as men. The biggest difference is that nobody raises an eyebrow now when a woman turns up at a meeting. It’s absolutely equally respected and welcomed.

“So if you’re a graduate woman now, thinking of what to do, it depends on your interests.

“If you are willing to accept the long hours, you need to have quite an analytical approach to life, or you need to understand markets and how business works.”

Lascelles’ reaction to any eyebrows she used to raise was to laugh it off. She fondly remembers times when she felt she was well-received by her male colleagues.

She recalls: “The best thing that ever happened was after a year at Phillips & Drew, where I was the first woman who worked at that department, they awarded me a certificate, which they drew themselves, giving me the status of honorary man.

“I thought it was hilarious and I felt very privileged indeed. In other words, they accepted me, and it was lovely.”

The sacrifice of motherhood
Lascelles is clear that she does not think there are any barriers in the industry for women today.

However, bringing up children can be a real test. She says: “I think it gets difficult to carry on when you’re a mother.

“It’s difficult because the culture demands – particularly if you are on the sell-side of the industry – you have to be at the office at 7am, or 8am if you are on the buy-side.

“They’re long hours. And nobody is afraid of long hours and hard work, but long hours away from your small children are difficult. And that is a sacrifice that some people have to make or choose not to make. That’s a difficult one.”

Lascelles, who has three children, says that for her, the solution was threefold.

She says: “One part was having a very short journey to work, which meant not moving out of London, which I would otherwise have done.

“Secondly, it was having great help. I had one nanny for 18 years, and never, never, never another one.

“And thirdly, it is flexibility in your own time. And I was very lucky by being invited to do a four-day week.”

From Lascelles’ recounting, it is apparent how she appreciated men who accommodated her when she was fulfilling the role of professional and mother at the same time when they were not legally required to. She says: “There was no maternity leave. They could have said goodbye to me, but they didn’t. They were
incredibly nice. They just said come back whenever you’re ready.”

For Lascelles, that meant three-and-a-half months, but it was a shock.  She says: “It was difficult to go back to work after I had a baby.

“It was terrible. I didnt have long hours, I had a great journey home and I got used to it.”

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