Interview with Moni Mannings, Non Executive Director – Hargreaves Lansdown
When asked to interview Moni, I did some research and found a video interview of her years ago being asked about her legal career. She came across incredibly warm and authentic, the experience I had with her was no different, as I sat down to ask her about her portfolio career.
Moni’s legal background from barrister to solicitor, puts her in good standing for sitting on a number of boards as a non-executive director (NED). I asked her how she chooses the positions she has so far, including the recent announcement of becoming a board member for Cazoo, an online car retailer.
The interview was relaxed, fun and informative. We talked about her experience and why she chooses the boards she sits on, to diversity and changing the face of what a board looks like.
What has led you to sit on the boards that you are a part of and what advice would you give others?
It’s important to understand how I decided to pick my boards, which may help others. The main thing they have in common is that they are purposeful businesses with a strong ethical management team and board.
I keep the sectors my portfolio covers very wide.
Others may want to be more specialised. I choose the boards that accordwith my core values. I also tend not to repeat myself, and have deliberately joined boards spanning a broad sector range.
This has included plastic pipe manufacturing and cheese making, of which I have no knowledge, to finance, air travel and now online vehicle retail. This isn’t the only approach and others might specialise in one specific sector. There is no right or wrong way but this works for me.
I would advise anyone looking at joining a board to ask themselves, “what are my core values? What will keep me engaged?” It’s important to not go into something just because it might look good on your CV. As a NED a business needs to retain your interest for you to give your best.
Fundamentally, though, it comes down to the people. Do you like them and do you rate them?
So, values, purpose, people and team – everything else you can learn.
Bringing Cross Sector Diversity
Its interesting how, even across a wide range of different sectors, similar issues tend to crop up. However, each industry, from airline, to manufacturing will tackle it in a unique way. Hearing the different approaches enables me to pick out common threads to how these problems are addressed and thereby add value to each board.
Cyber is a good example of this. Every industry has issues with cyber security or risk of attack and each sector has to come up with plans to stop breaches. At its core, though, the issue is the same if defences have been breached. So I contribute with my knowledge from different industries to help provide a broader perspective and inform better decision making.
How has the landscape changed for women (and women of colour in particular) on boards over the years?
I have seen a shift over the years, albeit slowly. The landscape for women was significantly different when I started as a lawyer in the 80s. This is true of most professions. There are now proportionately more women on boards than when I started out, particularly on FTSE boards.
There were hardly any women, never mind women of colour, on boards in the 80s and about a third of Board roles are held by women. However, there is still a long way to go. If you look closely, most of the women are in non-executive positions. At executive level the pipeline is slow; there are still very fewer women in the C-Suite, at CEO and below. That’s where we still see big disparity.
For women of colour, the gap is even bigger. Racial inequality has a different trajectory and has not quite reached the higher echelons as fast. They are almost invisible. I am still the only person of colour of all of my FTSE boards, past and present. Even though in the last 18 months there has been a significant focus on increased ethnicity on Boards, there a long way to go. Unfortunately there is no silver bullet, so we need to keep pressing on.
Are women coming forward and if so, are they being accepted once they get their foot in the door?
We have all heard the phrase, “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.” But what I would add is, “Belonging is dancing like nobody is watching”. At the moment we’re being invited to the party, we aren’t yet dancing, so acceptance has a way to go.
There is no shortage of capable, qualified women and they are applying. They often apply when they see other women in similar positions. I would say, though, that more women of colour should be applying for NED roles.
How would you encourage women to apply?
While there are certainly more women applying than before, many of the ones I know still tend to second guess themselves. It’s a typical , learned behaviour that still persists even in incredibly capable women. But one of things I try to do is encourage them with the following phrase, ‘give yourself the benefit of the doubt.’ I tell them they have a choice to make giving themselves the benefit of the doubt a mechanical act and a mindset change. You need to leave it to others to decide whether that doubt is actually an issue and not edit yourself out too soon.
I also make myself visible, as I lacked visible role models when I started out. It seems to work as I regularly get messages from women saying they are encouraged by seeing me doing this. Another way is to identify pathways through active sponsorship. I use my name to endorse then or put them into the recruitment process. I’ve found women don’t need any more mentoring but sponsoring is important. I will speak to head-hunters and put women forward I believe are worth looking at.
Do you think the events of 2020, COVID, world events and racial tensions have opened up conversations for real change in diversifying boards, as opposed to filling a quota?
Recently, I have experienced being approached to join a board triggered by my being a person of colour. Boards need to have greater ethnic diversity and I know this.
I don’t let that put me off because I know that my capabilities will be scrutinized, perhaps more than other candidates, but that’s not my . I give myself the benefit of the doubt because I know, if appointed, I will make a valuable contribution.
For boards, there was what I would call a perfect storm in the last twelve months. COVID, Black Lives Matter and the Parker Review. The review said that FTSE 100 companies must have one person of colour on their board by the end of 2021 and for FTSE 350 by 2024. Both of these happened in 2020, from a board perspective racial disparity awareness was more heightened than before.
What COVID did was act as a pressure cooker along with everything else to add urgency to making the change.
Of course, there is an element of quota filling. People haven’t suddenly become more informed and enlightened, but I think there is a place for quotas. What we need is for the more dominant group (usually white males) on boards to keep the momentum going. Yes, whilst there are positive changes and Boards are looking for more diversification, they need to avoid falling into the trap of ‘one and done.’
What advice would you give others who are considering applying for board positions but lack the confidence in doing so?
I would say give yourself the benefit of the doubt and go for it.
The other advice I would give is extend your networks, if you aren’t yielding what you currently need in your networks. This includes finding mentors and reaching out to them to ask if they would mind mentoring or sponsoring you. Most of us will say yes.