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Profile: There’s no silver bullet to boost gender diversity on boards

Broadstone chief commercial officer on achieving a better gender balance on the boards of financial services firms

Just a few months into her role as chief commercial officer at pensions and employee benefits adviser Broadstone, Natasha Glasgow is learning fast. With a direct-to-consumer background focusing on customer experience, setting up back-office systems and working in the general insurance market for a big chunk of her career, Glasgow’s lack of experience in the advice sector and pensions market may not have made her the most obvious candidate for the job. However, that is precisely the point.

“Broadstone specifically wanted someone from outside the sector to come in and challenge their thinking. When I met them, I asked if they definitely wanted someone without pensions and trust experience and they said ‘yes, because you’re going to do things the way someone else does them’. Three months in, I’m loving it,” she says.

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As part of her wide remit, Glasgow has overall responsibility for Broadstone’s sales and marketing and that of its trustee arm, 2020 Trustees.

“Both are under-represented in terms of brand awareness. The proposition is more known internally than externally,” she says. “I’m bringing all my capabilities to this role – with the right customer experience, you can get the right consumer outcome.”

Glasgow is currently pondering on Broadstone’s customer proposition and how to provide a digital focus for employers, with the ability for products to be sold online.

“My challenge is how to generate marketing and sales in the workplace, how to drive different ways of thinking about customer and client experience, and how to think about digitisation. There will always be a need for face-to-face advice but some products can be sold online. I’ll be looking at how we can ensure we have the ability to sell all of them, not just one part.”

Aside from being new to the advice sector, being a woman at board level within a financial services firm makes Glasgow’s appointment all the more interesting. When working in her previous role at MoneySuperMarket, someone told her she was a role model for women in the industry and she was taken by surprise.

“It is only over the past two years I’ve started to think of myself as a role model and think outwardly about what I’m doing. I’d just been focusing on me and building my career. I had accepted things I didn’t even realise I had, because I’d just seen them as the norm. For instance, no meeting I went to ever had more females than males. I was often the only female there, especially events at insurance companies.”

Something which brought home to her she could inspire a younger generation of females was seeing her teenage daughter’s homework.

“My daughter is almost 14 and for her homework, she had to write about two people that inspired her. One was Usain Bolt and the other was me. She said where I had got to in my career had inspired her. Wow – I hadn’t even noticed until then.”

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With over 20 years’ experience in financial services, when Glasgow started out she thought her youth was the biggest barrier, rather than her gender. Her first boss at Norwich & Peterborough Building Society was female, so her perceptions of senior management did not run along gender lines.

In hindsight, however, she recalls that everywhere around her were men. “At board level it was always males, or there would be one female, which felt like a token because they were in very ‘safe’ roles. It’s only as I’ve got older, I realised the barriers are there,” she says.

CV

2019-present: Chief commercial officer, Broadstone

2014-2019: Head of general insurance, then commercial director, insurance, MoneySuperMarket

2012-2014: Head of commercial trading, Hastings Direct

2008-2012: Various marketing roles then senior manager, commercial development and propositions, BGL Group

2001-2008: Marketing manager, Norwich & Peterborough Building Society

1999-2001: Sales and marketing, Pearl Assurance

“One of the things I want to do is ensure I lead by example. I’m now actively looking at ways to drive the culture of financial services – for me it’s about getting the right people for the right job, with no barriers.”

In her previous role, Glasgow set up a group to support women in leadership as part of a wider focus on diversity, which promoted ethnicity awareness as well as gender. She is concerned about whether her daughter will face the same level of barriers in the workplace that women currently face.

However, she feels getting more women in roles with real influence at board level is a bit of a chicken-and-the-egg situation. “There’s no silver bullet that’s going to change the number of females at board level. What’s hard is that most females have no board level experience, but how are they going to get it if they are not given it?” she questions.

In Glasgow’s view, there is a role for companies to look at how they can open up their boards to more women, whether that is through shadowing or pinpointing who is showing potential to be on the board in the future and enable them to gain some experience.

“You’re just expected to know how to sit there on a board and that’s the case for males, as well as females. Companies should identify the talent earlier on and put money into their development. There should be something around confidence building which is started early in a person’s career,” she says.

Five questions

What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?

Bring your whole self to work and be present in meetings, otherwise question why are you in the meeting.

What keeps you awake at night?

Worrying about the shape of the workplace for females when my daughter starts her career, and whether I have done enough to ensure she doesn’t face some of the barriers that exist today.

What has had the most significant impact on advice in the last year?

Changes to pension legislation – the need for education and advice is paramount to ensure clients get the right outcome.

If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…

Train everyone in digital, as they are not focused enough on tomorrow’s world.

Any advice for new advisers?

Remember the basic principles of treating customers fairly and keep focused on the outcomes you are trying to deliver.

Glasgow, who “fell into” her financial services career with Pearl Assurance in 1999, says the industry has come a long way since then, now “led by females for females”. “But there is more for us to do. We need to share our experience and open ourselves up by mentoring, so people aren’t limited by a lack of experience,” she says.

Another concern that feeds into her role at Broadstone is the lack of financial education among the general public, particularly in relation to pensions. “There is a fear in people that financial advice is only for the wealthy. That’s where employers play an important role; they can show people it is for them,” she says.

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Glasgow points to the lack of knowledge of the average person about the implications of pension freedoms and the decisions they make at retirement.

“It’s only when things hit their pocket that they start to be more alert to it and that’s why education is so important,” she says.

“It’s critical they understand advice is for them, whether they have a big pension pot or not.”

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