“The finance industry in the UK has the largest median gender pay gap” Anny Lian, Partner, Fatgreen Consulting

With an international career in corporate finance in the US, Hong Kong and mainland China, Anny Lian knows how to be successful in a man’s world. Now living in the UK, she runs her own business advising entrepreneurs, with a particular focus on female entrepreneurs from all walks of life and hopes to ensure more directors recognise the benefits of a varied work force through her role as an IoD Inclusion and Diversity Ambassador.

I grew up in mainland China and my mother was my first role model. She wanted me to have financial independence so I was discouraged from dating or marrying until I could stand on my own two feet financially. Encouraged by her, I studied business at university in China and then moved to California to take an MBA.

Multiple babysitting and waitressing jobs helped me cover the tuition fees and I was lucky enough to land a job with Bechtel in San Francisco when I graduated. This was the 1990s and I remember walking into a conference room full of white men in crisp white shirts. I was a woman, I was Chinese and I hadn’t been to Ivy League schools like all of them, it was quite an eye opening experience and I felt second place and isolated. At the time my first boss, who happened to be a female, showed me how to stand my ground when challenged by men in the office.

I transferred to Hong Kong with Bechtel and then joined JP Morgan. For the first three months with JP Morgan, I didn’t leave the office until the early hours of the morning and kept slippers under my desk for my ‘all nighters”. Every day it felt like you were running from one crisis to another, but somehow I liked it.

Investment banking was, and still is, a male dominated environment and I quickly learned to toughen up. There was once a client who threw his shoes across the table at me. There was another time when I was on a business trip with my male boss who was younger than me. I was wearing heels, and struggling to carry a bag, laptop and a pile of meeting materials running down the airport to catch our flight. He didn’t offer to help nor did he even look back at me while striding ahead. I remember thinking to myself ‘I will never let anyone carry my bags from now on’. One of my female bosses told me “Never cry in front of any one in the office”. I continued my career at JP Morgan and UBS then worked my way up on to senior roles including Managing Director at both Standard Chartered Bank and ICBC International. In between, I took a career break working in Tokyo as a CFO for a start-up company where some of our Japanese male clients would even expect me to serve coffee for them during meetings.

Although there are more women in banking now – it is about 50/50 at the entry level – female representation drops off massively as you go further up the pyramid. Unfortunately, the finance industry in the UK has the largest median gender pay gap. On average in the UK for every £1 a man gets paid, their female counterpart gets 88p, but in the finance industry it’s just 75p.

I left Hong Kong, and the world of corporate finance a few years ago and came to the UK with my husband, who is a Geordie, and our teenage children. I joined the IoD to make connections and, hopefully influence change. In my role as IoD Inclusion and Diversity Ambassador for York, I would like to encourage company directors to implement change through corporate governance measures and by leading example. Policy is important, but it is also the little things that count towards shifting corporate culture. Leaders have to remain conscious and intentional about what they say and do on daily basis. That is how a culture can be transformed, by starting with baby steps.

In my own business, I am using my experience to advise female entrepreneurs about wealth  planning and insurance solutions. Too often women make a huge contribution to the family but organise no financial security for themselves. Perhaps my mother’s advice about being financially independent is still influencing my career.

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