M&G Investment Management’s chief risk officer Margaret Ammon is a highly experienced financial services professional. Having gained over 20 years of expertise in risk roles across the UK, Asia and Australia, Margaret is witnessing a slow but steady flurry of women joining the industry.
Everywoman journalist Behiye Hassan met Australia-born Margaret to learn more about how businesses can help advance women's boardroom careers, the importance of networking and why she returned to the UK to work alongside her role model.
Both the city as a whole and the risk management sector tends to be male dominated. Can you tell us about your experience in navigating your way through this? Are we seeing signs of progression?
I think it’s getting better. We moved back to the UK last year after being out of the country for six years and I was quite struck by the difference in comparison to when we left. We came back seeing the focus and the messaging around women and diversity more generally, and the need for companies to be able to achieve that. I was really pleased by the progress.
I've never really felt that I would have been discriminated against or that being a female has worked against me. But I know that a lot of people face those challenges. I received help from two incredibly supportive individuals at really important junctures in my career and both happen to be men. They have given me great support and opportunities so I’m incredibly grateful to them. I think that people should look for supporters - whether they’re male or female.
Female chief executives in the FTSE 100 are still outnumbered by men. Many FTSE 100 companies are also failing to advance women's boardroom careers. How can companies begin to tackle this issue?
It’s improved significantly but I do think there’s still work to be done. Reliance continues to be placed on networks to identify candidates for senior roles, and unfortunately, I don’t think women are as good at networking and maintaining those relationships as men, partly because it takes time to network and if you've got a family at home then it can be a tradeoff. So I think the answer to achieving better female senior representation is a combination of organisations looking beyond the usual networks to identify possible candidates, and women themselves looking to find efficient ways to build strong relationships.
How do you network?
I’m more of a one-on-one networker, preferring to have a coffee with somebody and then go to an event. That said, there’s a couple of CRO forums that I get involved in and from that you tend to identify people that you feel you can relate to and so build a relationship through that. Sadly, social media is not my strength.
Do you think female risk officers approach the role differently and bring an alternative perspective?
I think women offer a different approach. I find you that you need to have relationships with a wide range of people to be a good risk manager and I think sometimes women bring a different approach to relationship building. Developing relationships grounded in trust is a really important aspect but I think the attributes you need to be a successful risk officer can be found in all sorts of people.
What advice would you give to women that are taking their first steps in career in risk management?
I would advise them to ask questions, to be curious, to not take anything as a given, to be thoughtful, to be respectful. Regardless of where they choose to focus their career, I would advise them to build relationships – not necessarily in a networking sense, though of course that is helpful but with a view to establishing authentic relationships. By building your own relationship network you create an opportunity to create a support base that has a broad application, and which will be valuable throughout your career.
Do you have any female role models in business?
One of the big reasons for me to move back to the UK was to work for Ann Richards, who was then the chief executive of M&G, and I'm incredibly impressed by what she has achieved. She’s quite specific to my industry. Generally speaking, it's a tough gig, particularly in an industry where there is an inherent male dominance.
People like her who come through and achieve things with grace and good humour and kindness are so important. A number of women came in as result of Ann being at M&G – and I am one of them. She's an impressive individual and she sets an example for what can be done. She’s now the chief executive of Fidelity.