The designated media area at the Women of the World Festival overlooks the buzz of stalls, stands and stages – not to mention the hundreds who have crammed into London’s Southbank Centre, writes Steve Plowman.
Olga Miler, managing director at UBS Wealth Management, sits opposite me having kindly granted me an interview before she is due to sit on the panel discussing the role of women in the global economy.
Miler radiates enthusiasm, passion and a sense of excitement at the chance to speak about how UBS is tackling gender imbalance. With Miler’s energy undoubtedly the infectious sort, I waste no more time and begin my line of questioning.
Why is speaking at the Women of the World Festival important to you?
Because I am incredibly passionate about making the financial services industry a more inspiring place for women. The Women of the World festival is a great event. It encourages women to come together and speak about important issues, but it does so in a manner which encourages celebration and encouragement. It’s a light hearted environment that tackles very serious issues in a very positive way.
Why is it important for young women to have positive role models?
I think it’s always important to have a role model to aspire to. Anyone who looks to drive change, I believe, is a role model. Anyone who tries to make the world a better place, is a role model. The work we do at UBS, we want to inspire women and men to work towards a gender bilingual financial services industry. The same applies to tech and Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
Did you have any role models?
My biggest role models are my mum, my grandmother and my ancestors. I am very privileged to come from a family of strong women. I am originally from the Czech Republic and one of my ancestors was one of the first published authors in the country, my grandmother was one of the first women to go to university and study technology. They are my mentors and role models. I was so fortunate to grow up in an environment where being a woman was never the factor that would decide what you can become.
Professionally, every boss I have worked for has been a fantastic boss. I have worked with people that have always challenged and supported me at the different stages of my career.
The one inspiration that I would like to pass on to younger women is that it is possible to have a family and a career. I have two kids and it has still worked for me! It is possible to do both – you just have to do it!
What needs to happen to achieve greater representation for women at the executive level?
I think it is very important that we encourage and support women at every stage of their career. In financial services, there is a career gap where women get to a stage that they feel that they can’t advance any higher, or it becomes too difficult. This is why our initiative that offers support to women at this stage, to encourage easy re-entry after maternity leave, is a good step.
It is also important to fight unconscious bias wherever you find it and to offer support through connectivity and community. If you are a woman working in a male only department, it can become a very lonely place. It is so important to realise that other women face these same challenges and it is good to know how they approach them.
At UBS, we run a returning to work mothers programme, a mentoring programme, a career development programme and unconscious bias training, it just takes time for all of this to translate into greater representation.
What do you mean by unconscious bias and what is UBS doing to combat it?
Unconscious bias in the workplace and in general life is very hard to fight because it is not visible. We are piloting some very significant efforts to make everyone at UBS aware of their unconscious bias. You can’t eliminate it, you just have to know that you have it and know how to deal with it. Most importantly, you need to have the courage to remind people when it is being applied to you.
A number of initiatives have taken place for this, from video and online training to physical role play and actor-lead training. For us, it is and will continue to be an on going effort to consistently remind ourselves about unconscious bias.
What is UBS doing to inspire the next generation of women in the company?
We have a lot of very good initiatives at UBS both to promote gender diversity in the workplace and for us to improve our customer experience for our female clients.
For more than two years we have been piloting a number of approaches and at the end of last year, we decided it was time to begin voicing a broad commitment to a consistent change programme, UBS Unique.
It is UBS Unique because we regard all of the females and males that work for and with us as unique individuals!
What we want to achieve through this systematic programme is a gender bilingual value chain and we aim to achieve this in three key ways.
Firstly, we have taken all of the initiatives we are currently running and scaling them up through UBS Unique. Initiating a consistent review of all of our processes, from how we are on client satisfaction to the portfolio products and the client adviser workforce, we are going through the company from top to bottom to try and achieve a gender bilingual approach at all levels.
For those outside of UBS, we are launching a financial confidence programme that aims to increase the financial confidence of a million women in the next five years.
Finally, we will achieve our goal through all of our internal efforts, through getting more women into critical positions in the business.
What we do not want to do through this programme is put another pink product into the market, or design a special department which deals specifically with female clients. It really is a top to bottom value chain change approach.It is my very personal wish that with an organisation of the magnitude of UBS stepping forward on these issues with such a strong commitment, that it will inspire others in financial services to do the same.