The last few weeks have seen a rash of awards and ceremonies celebrating the best in class for our industry. Judging by the Twitter frenzy and the LinkedIn profiles, some people were at every one of them. That’s a lot of small talk and drinking!! Not forgetting the ironing. At least a Tuxedo is a simple decision, but I feel for those who feel that they have to choose a new dress for each event. Oh, to be seen in the same dress as the last event!! These events do seem to come around with amazing regularity and in some cases far too regular. One company keeps sending our firm notification for an award for things we don’t even do but for the small price of a £500 we can use the logo, for £1,500 a feature in a magazine special and for £4,000 the prime slot. Excuse me but the word MUG I keep for something I drink my tea out of!! Now I am not suggesting that this firm is like the others but there are some issues that cause me to question some of the validity of many of these awards and the consequences of winning such an award.
Recently, and in some cases rightly so, there has been a new wave of awards; Recognising the work of Women in the Industry and the benefits of having a diverse work force. However, some would challenge as to why we have these. Do we recognise all aspects of diversity in the workforce? In some areas we do such as the “Best under 30” or the “Most Influential”. Sadly, I was well past 30 before those awards ever saw the light of day. Not that I would have won! But the issue here is about “shining a light on the issue” says Bev Shah, Founder of CityHive. “We need to help the industry recognise the work done by women in the industry”. Now I am not a fan of recognising specific groups but are we not missing the point, to recognise the work for the work undertaken by individuals no matter their gender, race or sexual orientation as I am keen to promote people on merit not their difference. That being said however, Bev’s point is simple. As an industry we have continually failed to address the institutionalised and systemic sexism in the industry. If the FCA register states that there are 8% of the workforce who are women with a Controlled Function level that allows them to run money, then why are there only 4% actually doing this. Something doesn’t add up!!
We should expect the landscape to be diverse and society has to change its acceptance so that we avoid the boring old, white, male stereotypes often seen in senior management in our industry. Basically, people like me!!
I was speaking to an Independent Non-Executive Director recently and one of the factors to bear in mind, she said, are the networking opportunities and that the old boy’s network is still out there and being used as much today as it has always been. She sees the awards ceremonies as an opportunity to network with all genders but also to help establish her credibility to others. As we all know 90% of jobs are never advertised. It’s who you know that matters!! I totally agree and if these awards do that then great but do we need an award? Surely networking events put on by the likes of CityHive and Bev Shah are more of what is needed. A chance to shine and chat about the industry and get a voice to the masses of other people and employers. To build a community.
To make matters worse, in my view, is the potential dumbing down of awards and making them meaningless. Last year, one of the trade papers ran the shortlist for their Women in Finance awards or something that sounded like that. The shortlist, however, was over 500 names! That isn’t a shortlist, that’s a list of everyone you can think of at the weekly editorial meeting. Many companies put forward everyone in their firm who is a woman. One positive point here though, is that these women do become role models for all the other women in the industry who will look up to these nominees. So, it does help in a strange way. However, we do need to be careful that it doesn’t end up that it looks like you can’t lose in a race as often seen at school sports days these days. Everyone gets a medal. Tosh!! Life is hard and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. That’s just a fact of life and we work in a competitive industry where there are winners and people who don’t always win. So, by being inclusive you can look like you are giving them a medal by just being in the industry. Wrong.
Now some of you may sense I am a cynical old soul and I am the first to admit that whilst I always see the good in people and that most people have good intentions, I do have a Northerner’s approach to life, that being you have to work hard to get anything and nothing comes on a silver plate. When awards are given out it should reflect the firm, individual or team’s efforts against the rest. However, there is in itself a risk. In recent weeks there has been much debate about the role of Star Managers and allowing an ego to get ahead of themselves, namely the likes of Woodford. Awards unfortunately add to this ego and ironically the very people who dish out the awards are the very people who when it starts to go wrong for the Star, jump on the bandwagon to castigate the individual for their wrongdoings. So, is there a case of double standards here? Editorial should remain independent of Advertorial at all times and if your journalist decides to have a pop at a manager then the events team will be saying “bang goes them taking a table” and the adverts will dry up overnight!
An award can be great in many ways, but the issue is creating a Star and the challenges that this can create. Managing an ego as big as the award-winning Woodford is always going to be difficult but if you start throwing accolades at them then you are compounding the issue. The media are the ones who create the Stars, but they are the first to knock them down. Something we do rather well in the UK sadly. Cynically it is often the kiss of death to receive an award. Many an award-winning manager falls off a cliff not long after. Possibly the ego gets in the way of a good investment idea.
So, if awards are a potential kiss of death or an albatross around the neck of firms we all have to live with the consequences but we should be looking at why and who is awarding them and do they have credence? Well the answer to their relevance is easy, yes, they do add value and validation to a person’s work but as for awarding them, that’s a different story. Trade papers or even Nationals are there to make money from selling more papers/clickbait, to attract advertisers and ultimately control the dialogue. Should they be the one who controls the award, or should we be looking at true independence of these? Ultimately there is an unhealthy relationship between Fund Managers, Wealth Managers and the Press if one of that trio can help make the difference between a “Star” and an “Also-ran”. Perhaps the Investment Association or some trade body takes on the mantel. I will leave it for others to conclude that one but for now I will be taking any award with a bucket of salt!!
Have a great weekend