My career journey… I have worked in pensions since I left University. I didn’t go to university planning to work in pensions, I studied marketing as a degree and I wanted to work in a creative ad agency.
Then I graduated in 2008 at the height of the financial crisis and it was quite hard to get a job So I started temping at a local company that was in pensions and stayed there for seven years and then left there and joined another pension company.
Anyway, I’ve never left, basically. I then had some time off to have my daughter – I had two years out and then joined my current employer after my extended maternity break.
The barriers I’ve seen and overcome in my career… for me, the biggest kind is the juggle struggle since I became a mum.
I returned to work when my daughter was two and relied totally on free childcare by my parents. Without them, I would not be working. The cost of childcare is a huge barrier and I know that the charity, Pregnant and Screwed, say 54,000 women a year leave the workforce.
I think women get it quite tough if I’m honest and I think there is a lot of prejudice and the assumption that it’s always the woman that takes on the primary childcare and I think the whole return to work journey.
A couple of my friends of mine who worked for the same organisation where they both took shared parental leave and it was their time to return to work and he was told if you start back, nothing changes, don’t worry, the team is still here, nothing’s changed, it’s all good.
And then their HR had a conversation with her asking if she was okay, if she wanted reduced hours, what is she going to do about childcare, etc. It was more negative and not celebratory of her as it was for the man.
On the other side as well with being a woman is you have to be kind of led by the top and it is obviously hugely male-dominated.
There’s still not enough role models that big organisations are really championing, essentially the equality between men and women, especially when it comes to the work-life balance.
I think there is just always the assumption that the woman is going to do it and I think that’s been a barrier for me and just running late because you’re late for drop off and then you’re late to school and then you’re late to pick up and it’s just like the juggle struggle, essentially – that’s probably the biggest barrier.
The importance of starting a pension… the problem with pensions is that we don’t engage with them early enough and the years that you can make a real difference are as soon as you start working.
Obviously, the longer that you’re saving, the longer your money has to grow. You benefit from things like compound interest, which is where you get interest on top of interest.
So hypothetically, somebody could put money away at 18 and not touch it for 50 years. Because of compound interest, that would be a sizable amount of money.
I have a five-year-old and she has a pension, I started one for her. She’s had one since she was two and again, that will be invested until she is of state pension age. I don’t put away a lot, but it’s got 60 years to grow.
Equally, women who are maybe ten years out and starting to think that they haven’t got enough. I mean, what is enough? That’s an industry problem or discussion that we have all the time and there isn’t a magic number.
So, I think it’s important for women not to just single out pensions in terms of their assets. It’s to look at their entire portfolio in terms of if they have a property, they might have ideas, they might have other investments, they might have a car, or they can downsize. It’s important to look at kind of your whole entire situation.
Ultimately everybody should have access to the state pension. To qualify for the full state pension, you need 35 years of National Insurance contributions, but you can have ten years of National Insurance contributions.
Anything that you can do on top of that in terms of additional savings would obviously be of great benefit to everybody.
The gender pension pay gap… is simply the difference in pension savings between men and women by the time they reach retirement age.
So I started working on this campaigning and lobbying in 2019 and the gap in pension savings between men and women were £100,000.
In our latest report that we just published in June 2022, that gap has now risen to £138,000. So, now women have around a third of the pension savings as men by the time they reached 65.
To close the gender pension pay gap… outdated pension policy systems have to go.
There are a few things that we’re tackling in three of areas. So we lobby the government really hard. We are pushing for policy changes which would help get another three million women in the UK to save via a workplace pension because currently there are 3 million women who are locked out.
So outdated pension policy systems have to go and we’ve had a commitment from the government that will be introduced in the middle of this decade. So we’re getting there.
That’s one part, obviously while we wait for that, let’s not rest on our laurels! For women themselves, there is absolutely a difference that they can make. I think from an employer perspective and a workplace perspective, flexible working is the single biggest enabler for women to return to work on a full-time basis.
The more women that we can get working on a full-time basis and obviously on an increased pay compared to part-time, that will have a huge impact on both women’s finances, the gender pay gap, career progression and ultimately the ability to put money away to save for your pension.
So that’s what we’re lobbying employers to do around flexible working. Then in terms of the individuals themselves this year, let’s not wait for the government and our employers to fix that – let’s do it.
In my last report in June 2022, we had modelled the additional money a woman in her twenties, thirties and forty’s would need to put away money in a pension to close the ten-year career gap, and pension gap, and then if they wanted to be really ambitious, kind of go hard or go home, we close the ten-year gap and also retire with as much money as our male counterparts.
So, as an example, a woman in her 20s would need to put away £14.79p a week to close the ten-year gap, but to close the gender pensions gap as well, it’s £17.90p a week. If they did that every week from age 20, they would essentially close their gender pensions gap by the time they reach 65.
To support future generations… we are now taking that to the government and saying about adding financial literacy to the primary school curriculum.
Since 2020 I’ve been working with a charity called Debate Mates. The research that I’ve been doing since 2019 has shown actually a lot of the barriers for women are in terms of financial literacy and career progression and actually entering the workforce.
We actually tend to get better grades than boys, so it goes really well up to kind of age 18 and then we tend to go for, we tend to then get paid less than mental pay gap, then we have time out.
But actually, there’s a big thing around financial literacy for young people and there are studies that have shown that financial habits and behaviours are set between the ages of seven and nine.
As the UK has quite a problem with debt and kind of money management, it’s not something that we’re not comfortable talking about.
We’re very British when it comes to money; you don’t sit around your dinner table kind of telling people what you earn and what you own and it’s kind of quite taboo still in this country.
With the charity, we’ve been mentoring 2000 primary school students aged between eight and eleven and teaching them the very basics around money, finances, budgeting, saving, and of course, pension. The reaction we’ve had has been absolutely amazing, they can’t get enough of it.
We did a survey last year and we asked all of them 2000 if they would like to learn more about money at school and 93% of them said yes. So, we are now taking that to the government and saying about adding financial literacy to the primary school curriculum.
There is a few classes now in Secondary schools and A-level age, but there’s nothing for primary school children. So we’re also campaigning to kind of get early years financial literacy on the map. So that’s another campaign that we’re working on.
I want my legacy to be… for my daughter to have that conversation, kind of going, I can’t believe women put up with that or had that.
My daughter is five, so let’s say when she gets 70, she will be saying to people, ‘Oh my God, do you remember women used to have these pay and pension gaps? How crazy is that?’, kind of like we have now when we think there were places that women weren’t allowed to go.
But I mean, we’re 50 years on from the Equal Pay Act, and we’re still talking about the gender pay gap. So I have hope that in another 65 years’ time we might be in a different place, but we will see.
The things that keep me motivated to drive change… I think the unfairness of it, I just see it as a huge injustice and things like the barriers in terms of the onus being on the woman to have a child, that 54,000 women leave the workforce, that they might be very ambitious, driven women with successful businesses. It’s actually cheaper for them to stay at home for childcare.
I feel like we’ve been down for a little too long, and we shouldn’t live the set normal or stereotypes that we set at home and the husbands go to work.
That actually just perpetuates the system, because then men will always continue throughout their career, get better jobs, get more money whilst we’re at home. So that’s what drives me, I don’t like unfairness and inequality and I get really fiery about it and I know we just need to change it and there is no acceptable reason why we’ve still got it.
The people that inspire me are… warrior women who are campaigning on women’s rights and equality.
My daughter kind of; I’m single mum, very proud, single mum, divorced as well, so I kind of tick every single box that means I shouldn’t have a very good job or pay or pension. So I kind of aware of those quite proudly.
I’m motivated usually by her, but equally, I think in the last three years and the journey that I’ve been on and the people that I’ve met, like warrior women who are campaigning on women’s rights and equality and just kicking ass, quite honestly, I guess the movement, I feel like we’re really building momentum.
I feel like we are accepted, and it’s allowed to just demand more and as you say, it’s just not good enough. And it feels like we are starting to make progress.