International Women’s Day 2024 - #InspireInclusion

I’m Frances Hill.  By day I am Bank of England’s Agent for Northern Ireland and co-chair of the Bank’s DisAbility Network.  I am also D&I Ambassador for the IoD in NI.  For this year’s International Women’s Day, I thought I’d write a short article on why I’m so passionate about inclusion.

As a female business leader coming from a state school background and starting out life in a very junior admin role, I’ve had to break many glass ceilings and class ceilings, only to find another glass or class ceiling waiting to be broken.

I’ve spent most of my career in a very male dominated environment, including working as an Investment Manager in the City of London surrounded by public-school educated white men.  I was frequently the only woman in a meeting, a couple of times the only woman in a restaurant and while attending a two-day meeting the only woman in the whole hotel!  When I came to NI to be the Bank’s Agent, I was the only female Agent in the UK and the youngest Agent they’d ever had.  Having divorced a few months earlier, I was also the single parent of a 4-year-old with a brain injury and visual impairment.

I had plenty of challenges to overcome, not least that my daughter didn’t transition to NI as well as expected.  Like many mothers, I consciously paused my career progression but I took this time to learn new skills, including Chairing the Board of a Northern Ireland charity supporting parents with visually impaired children as well as chairing a D&I working group at the Bank.

My work and passion for DE&I has shown me that I hadn’t been bringing my whole self to work.  I’d kept hidden how hard it was to juggle the demands of a job, which definitely wasn’t 9-5, with single-handedly parenting a child with a disability.  I just got on and made it work, but did it have to be so hard?  I’ve resolved to help make it easier for others by using my lived experience to make the Bank and other organisations inclusive of diversity in all its aspects.

In my working life gender diversity has improved.  25 years ago, as an investment manager, women had to prove you were “as good as” a man.  For me this meant, working ridiculously long hours and showing that I could drink all of my stockbrokers under the table!  Thankfully women can now bring all their strengths to the table and be their authentic self.

But, we still have a long way to go.  We still need more female role models – people who will share their stories, and support and mentor other women (something I now do).  This can be difficult, especially at senior levels which are still dominated by men.

But it isn’t just about gender.  Most workplaces need to be more inclusive generally.  Having a child with a disability, and working with children and adults with disabilities, opened my eyes to what people can achieve with the right support (my daughter is now in university doing a maths degree and having a ball!).  In addition to inclusivity being the right thing for employees, a mass of evidence shows that harnessing diversity and inclusion makes businesses perform better and reduce business risk so it’s a win win situation!  Surely, this is a priority for us all as directors?


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