International Women’s Day 2023 - Embracing Equity


International Women’s Day 2023 - Embracing Equity

Welcome to a special PineBridge podcast to mark International Women’s Day 2023. For this edition, Melissa Lessi, Managing Director at PineBridge Benson Elliot, alongside Chris Perryman, Portfolio Manager, Emerging Markets Fixed Income team and Lindsay McMillan, Investment Oversight Manager at PineBridge Investments Ireland, discuss International Women’s Day 2023's campaign theme of embracing equity, and how they endeavor to support equity in both the workplace and at home.


“Hi, there I am Lindsay McMillan, and welcome to a special PineBridge podcast to mark International Women's Day 2023. Today we will hear from two of my colleagues at PineBridge, Melissa Lessi, Managing Director at PineBridge Benson Elliott, as well as Chris Perriman, Portfolio Manager in our Emerging Markets Debt Team. We will be discussing International Women's Day 2023’s campaign of embracing equity, and how Melissa and Chris endeavour to support equity in both the workplace and at home. So welcome, Melissa. Welcome, Chris.


Morning, Lindsay. Morning, Chris.


Morning Lindsay, Morning Melissa.


Great. So how about we start with just explaining what embracing equity actually means. So embracing equity can be defined as giving everyone what they need to be successful, regardless of background. How does this resonate with your career? Or how do you think about supporting your team's career development?


Yeah, Lindsay. I mean, we've certainly had examples of individuals in support roles that have demonstrated an interest in other work streams, for example, and have then moved over to new roles.

And I think it's really important that people don't feel defined by where they start. So if you're interested in a different area, you know, put your hand up, let people know, don't be shy, because I think people can either be a bit nervous about saying what they might be interested in, or asking for favours.

But people are generally both really generous in giving advice if you ask them. And also, everyone's grateful for an extra pair of hands. So that's a good opportunity to move into a new area. Chris, I know you have an approach within your team that works really well.


Yeah, thanks Melissa, from our point of view, I think with the less experienced team members, what we try to do is have a five year plan for them to create a financial professional. So, they'll come into our team as a trader, and that role, they build up and learn, but they also have exposure in and learn other areas. And to be honest, that can develop them in many different ways within the team.

So, you know, we have examples of people going from trading to become sovereign analysts, we have traders who have developed into a senior lead role in trading. And then we have another person who's specializing in the macro area of what we do.

So, for me, the key I think, for equity, in what we do, is really having an open mind. And as I say, for me and to your point, you start thinking about, you're creating a financial professional, first, you're not creating a single line of role. So that I think then helps everyone not have, you know, their own bias towards how that person could go until they've experienced it.


That open mind approach, is certainly something I have benefited from, I would say, because if I think about my own career, my path isn't what I had initially planned. And it has been influenced by things including, taking and making opportunities, but there being senior managers who've taken a chance on me when I haven't fitted a role 100%.

So, if I think about when I first moved into private equity real estate, the role that was advertised was for a finance or a real estate lawyer, and I was neither. So I thought about how my experience could be translated. But it wasn't just a matter of that, it was also a matter of speaking to people who were willing to take a chance on me and give me the opportunity to show what I could do.

And that's also happened I guess, now in the more recent years, where my role has expanded to areas which are outside of what would be my in inverted commas, “normal scope of work”.

And at times, that has been a little bit scary and has required a different mindset, but I've been given this opportunity and I think most people do rise to the challenge and are motivated by new experiences. So it's great when you have senior managers who are willing to give you that scope.


Yeah, from my side, in terms of my personal career, my first role in finance came about through having a manager who was open to the idea of fishing in a different pool, right.

So, they actually advertised the role in a completely different area, it wasn't in finance, it was actually a secretarial agency, which, maybe for younger people, they might not know, because it's internet based, how you do a lot of your application.

But you know, you’d have to go agencies when I was little, and yeah, he hired me specifically with the view to only having me in the team for a year, to develop me sufficiently, to go to a firm within finance. And that's what he did. And what he got from that was an enthusiastic person who wanted to work hard. And what I got from it was a career.

So, it was an amazing balance of opportunity. And like you said, there's two parts to it, right, being given the opportunity and taking it. So, I think that's the mindset, I would say.

The one area, I think when we recruit that we have to really think about now and what you're talking about Melissa around, not over thinking about, can you do everything in the role, because I think the biggest thing for us and what we've looked at from our research is a male applicant will be happy if they can do 50% and still go for it.

What we find with female applicants is they need to feel they can do 90% of it to be confident to apply, because otherwise they talk themselves out of the role. And it's like, that's a different mindset.

So, I think if you can feel an openness, and a willingness from the person hiring, to give you a chance and to learn and they know you're developing, that's enough, you should apply. Because being interested is your start, right? Like, you can't go into a career with no experience and expect to be able to do the job.

So, you are going to learn it and showing you're willing to learn is enough, that's a great start. So for me, that's again, how you can be equitable in kind of how you recruit people is, really, really press home, that you're not expecting someone to know all of this. It's that's where you get to, that’s your journey, you're going to start.


I really like what you're saying about energy and grabbing that energy, Chris. And it also I think, chimes in with, where I feel that fundamentally, equity starts by getting to know people, and how can you know, what levers are going to be most appropriate for an individual. or what they want to do if you don't actually know your team.

So speaking to people at every opportunity, rather than emails or chats, because that's the best way to get to know people and know what they're interested in. And for them also to have the opportunity to share what they're interested in, outside of a formal and orchestrated environment. And you can see where the sparks are, and leverage that.


That’s great, thank you both. That's really good, I would agree with everything you say there. I've been really lucky, plenty of people have taken a chance on me along the way and I have been very lucky in that regard.

But I would also agree with the enthusiasm piece like for anybody who is listening, you know, the kind of enthusiasm shines through. And that often generates opportunities as well.

So thank you both for that. And my next question is around, how do you manage your busy job with family life - in respect of how do you support your partner and vice versa? What kinds of things would they find most valuable? How do you work it all out?


I guess at my house, we have one daughter. And the way we've always described being parents is it's three jobs between two people. And if you start with that approach, you understand that it's an equal responsibility across the household.

It's not a defined role. It doesn't mean I don't do pickups, it doesn't mean my wife Sarah does pickups only or vice versa.

So for us, we have to do a lot more planning, I'd say that's the change. I'm not naturally a planner. And that's been the change in life. And, you know, the biggest support I can give Sarah is to be unapologetically a parent. Right?

So I think one of the big things that I think she had to deal with going back to work after having Millie was worrying about “Mum Guilt” and worrying about the workplace having an impression of her that she's not as committed to work because she's now a parent.

For me, that's not gender specific, you are a parent, regardless of gender and being a parent means your life balance is different. And you just have to plan a bit more. And that's it, that’s not gender default.


Yeah, that's a really good point. And I think part of me, Chris is thinking, why to some extent, we shouldn't be having this conversation on International Women's Day, right? This shouldn't be about women, it also shouldn't necessarily just be about childcare, there are so many other caring responsibilities or priorities people might have.

But planning is necessary and people do sometimes get a bit sick of lists, I know that. But for us, we also need to have that notional rota, because it does make our lives a lot simpler. Just checking in with each other, having some idea about which work meetings, you're going to be able to accept, what times you know you will definitely be available, planning is 100% how to get there.


Yep, planning is key. We have a Sunday night planning meeting in our house, and it's a complicated schedule and Excel spreadsheets would be simpler. So, all fun times, yeah, indeed.

When we think about how companies can support parents and caregivers, would you have any thoughts about what you've seen may work well in practice?


Well, I have to say, I was really lucky to benefit from a really good maternity leave package. And I'm conscious that’s not necessarily worldwide the same structure in all countries.

So, I took about nine months, I think, for my first son. When I came back, and that was pre Covid, I started working one day a week from home, and that was so that I could use my commute time with my children instead. And that's been really helpful for me.


So I, I guess, from my point of view, I think, as a parent, and as a team, who have a lot of people who have become parents, so I've heard a stat about my team, we've had 21 babies in our team, since I've been with the company. So parental and caring roles, we also have people with older parents and things that they need to take time to do.

The one thing I always try and remind people is, you can do one job well. So, if you need to be a parent, take that time being a parent, don't try and do your job and be a parent.

So you know, the way we can support people in work is have an open conversation, understand each other, you know. When there's a tough day, I'm very happy to tell my team when I haven't had sleep, because of an earache, or whatever, you know, life brings you things you can't plan.

And you know I may not be the sharpest person on the call today. You know, and things like that and just, you know, again, for me, it's about removing the stereotypes and removing, why is that one person or another person.

But yeah, for me, it's open conversation and being accepting of people’s situations, that doesn't mean, you've got to shirk the work job, but you're just understanding of how people can find their balance today.


I like what you said about that. Because the way I hear that, Chris is two things, one you're setting an example to your team about the shared responsibility, but also the other part of that is communicating to your team as you say, I'm not firing on all cylinders today.

So it's also communicating and letting your team help you and making sure everyone's expectations are managed, which is communication - it's a large part of it right.

When it comes to your point about doing three jobs between two people, and just having the time to focus on one of those, one of your roles at a time.


Covid, I think has changed the workplace in many ways for us. And I think that when we used to think about working from home, I suppose we generally weren't as open to it.

But I think one of the good things has been, there is a good balance between working from home and working in the office, which does provide more flexibility for anyone who might need that flexibility. So I think that's been a positive development.


That's a great development, I think, the end of presentism generally is to be welcomed, and of course, trust people to do their job where they need to do it. I would say though, let's see and I know this is contentious, but I am always a little bit concerned or have my warning signals up that flexibility might be seen as a panacea for childcare and more broader structural difficulties when it comes to childcare requirements, for example.

And I'm worried that if those structural considerations are not dealt with, we end up in a situation where, for example, people might be leaving work at 2 to pick up their kids or attend to whatever caring responsibilities they might have.

They don't have an opportunity to participate in afternoon discussions and then need to log on at eight and work till twelve every night. Now that to my mind, that's not the work life balance. If the flexibility is you're working every evening to make up for other things during the day, so I think we need to be a little bit careful about that.


Yeah, I would agree with that. For our listeners today what would be your key tips for them, given your experience to date?


I think from my side openness, it is a challenging word for different characters and different people. But openness doesn't mean you're telling everyone your life story. It's just sometimes, you know, helping people understand you from a perspective that may not be visible, right?

So I think for me, it's beholden on me as a man in a workplace to normalize the conversation, as I say, to move it away from gender. So, childcare is part of my life, because I'm a parent. That's not a function of gender, that's a function of fact, that I am a parent.

And also for me, it's something I think, particularly with children, I guess, as a tip is, planning, planning of your day is actually just necessary. And, you know, throughout the stages of your children, the planning changes.

So our child went to nursery first, and then to school. And we thought school would be easy, because you know, their day is sorted, and actually school’s harder than nursery, because you have to feed them more, and you have to plan a lot more of the time, right?

So, to Melissa's point earlier, right, three o'clock is when school finishes. So, what do you do with the rest of that time? So, you have to really have good conversations around time and leverage off of the experience of others, right like, who've been through it.

So as I say, 21 kids in our team, there's a lot of experience out there to leverage off of and talk and don't be frightened to ask like, Say - Hey, how did you do this? And you may find a solution for you within them.


Yeah, I can think of them, I probably have two points, Lindsay. So on the childcare front, I would say, what I often see amongst my peers is that often the higher earners career is prioritized. And it's understandable that the family might make a decision to do that. But I think that there can be a risk of a bit of a reinforcing loop there.

So often, the first thing to go is sacrificing you know, an individual might sacrifice their networking or stretch opportunities at work. And that means that their progress is then further stunted.

So I think that's probably something that's worth being conscious of, if you're returning to work from parental leave, making sure you carve out and prioritize some time for the networking and the stretch projects and also for managers to be a bit aware of that as well.

Stepping aside from childcare, I think another useful tip, which people have shared with me before is don't assume that other people are necessarily thinking about your career path all the time. You know, people are busy getting on with their jobs or getting on with their day.

So don't be afraid to ask or suggest. And I've been really surprised by the number of times I've been nervous about proposing something and I've thought about it for a long time. And then someone's just come back and said, yes. So let people know you have energy. This is tying back to your point earlier, I guess, Chris, and that you're interested, you know, what's the worst that can happen?


Yeah, I would agree with that. And I think that speaking up, when you want to take on some new challenges and you never know, yeah, they might even take you up on it.


I failed to mention the one thing that actually is what makes my life work, which is our childcare.


I think childcare is really absolutely essential. And I would agree with Chris, that you talked about 21 children in the team.

And there's a huge amount of experience in terms of how does it work when you're returning to work. And it is really, really, really important.

And I think it's really important to recognize everyone's full life, so their work life, their home life, and all of their priorities you mentioned before, but I do it all the time in work. So, the Dublin office are sick of me asking, what about this? What about that, because they all have children at different stages. And they all have their own challenges. And I think there's a huge amount of support.

And your colleague, Chris, on his leaving speech the other day, was talking about don't underestimate the benefit of coming to work and people being really interested in your own life, what you got to say and how you are doing as a person as well as your work.

And I think that is something that creates an amazing workplace, that you have that support amongst colleagues, you can pick their brains on both work topics and non-work topics.

So all it leaves me to do is to thank our panellists today. Thank you to Melissa, thank you to Chris


Thank you Lindsay.


It has given us some really interesting points. It's given us some food for thought and wishing you both a very good International Women's Day 2023……………………………………………………………..”



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