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Voices really are louder together

Since the Voice of Women’s Wealth joined One Loud Voice as chair, Anna Sofat has worked with the charity trustees to design a new programme to help bring about change in the workplace. It starts from the inside with the upcoming launch of the Gender Balance Benchmark for corporates. She explains what drives her and why the Benchmark is so important in bringing about change


When Anna Sofat took the Chair of One Loud Voice (1LV) in late 2023 it was a good match. Anna had spent three decades working in financial services where she was known as the Voice of Women’s Wealth. As the founder and CEO of Addidi, the financial services boutique for women, she had been keen to partner with 1LV to deliver an event, before the Covid pandemic hit and put an end to it. She remained a passionate advocate of empowering women to build a more inclusive and fairer world.

 

Joining the charity was a natural step after she sold Addidi and stepped down. To deliver on the charity’s ambition to help women in the workplace at every point in their career journey, she has worked with the charity’s trustees to put in place strategic initiatives to accelerate gender equity across industries. Services have been designed for corporates ­and individuals to deliver tangible change with a focus on unlocking the talent pipeline in middle management, that is preventing women – particularly in the ‘sticky middle’ – from reaching senior leadership opportunities.

 

The Gender Balance Benchmark goals

  • Goal 1: Business commitment to gender equality and a diverse and inclusive culture

  • Goal 2: Ending unconscious bias in recruitment and selection

  • Goal 3: Resolve structural issues around working patterns

  • Goal 4: Creating psychological safety, D&I culture

  • Goal 5: Genuine partnership approach between genders

  • Goal 6: Ending gender discrimination and harassment

  • Goal 7: Ending the gender pay gap

The Gender Balance Benchmark is the first initiative to be unveiled. The seven goals of the Benchmark are aimed at helping corporates articulate their commitment to equality in the workplace. Signing up to the Benchmark benefits both the employer and employee. Employers show exactly how they are performing in relation to all areas of the working environment from allyship to harassment and gender pay; employees and potential employees understand that they take gender balance seriously.

 

The Benchmark has been rigorously checked by HR professionals as well as business experts, representatives of large firms, and the people it will impact most ­– the women, and men, working in organisations. It will be formally launched in Spring 2024.



 

Find out more about Anna Sofat and why she became known as the Voice of Women's Wealth



Q: What attracted you to the Chair role at 1LV?

 

Anna: I didn’t want to go on lots of boards. The attraction for me in 1LV is not to be a chair in the conventional sense. It is about making 1LV more sustainable – and in turning the dial around gender. I had met Jacqueline Abbott Deane [1LV CEO] in 2019 as we talked about a collaboration potential with ‘Are You In?’ [a financial services campaign around gender equality, which Addidi had spearheaded]. When I was considering what 'work' – and even if – to take on, the name appealed and the scope for impact in women’s space. I felt I had not ticked that gender box completely and that it is unfinished business for me.

 

Q: What are you most excited about as chair of 1LV?

 

Anna: It is a blank sheet of paper. Gender equity and equality is a busy space. The trick is to look at where we can focus.  What can 1LV do? Is there a niche for it? Talking to some of the trustees it felt as though 1LV was ready for a reset. We had new charitable status. I thought I could come in with a product suite that could increase earnings for the charity and I knew I could work with the 1LV team and together we could make a difference in the workplace.

 

Q: You talk a lot about the ‘sticky middle’ – why are those women in the workplace such a focus, particularly for the Gender Balance Benchmark?

 

Anna: There is not as much pressure in the ‘sticky middle’ to make a change as there is at the very top or organisations. Businesses tend to recruit as many women as men. Then, by the time they reach the middle stage of careers, the number of women tends to tail off. Some of that is because they have families. Sometimes it is because it is too difficult to navigate the male dominant culture and they decide they don’t want to compromise on who they are and what they are.  

 

1LV can make a difference, starting with financial services which is what I know best. If we get the Gender Balance Benchmark right, we can bring in effective measures in that middle space. It won’t be easy but if we can get businesses to look at not just the top but at the middle rung – there are things we can help them with to change the cultural dynamics. You have to have goals and measure, and you have to collect the data. At 1LV we have the opportunity to put all that in place.

 

Q: How did you come to be such a champion of women in the workplace?

 

Anna: When I went back to work in the early 1990s, after having my girls, the bank gave me flexibility for a couple of months. After that I had to be seen to be in the office at all hours. I wanted to be home, so I was much more focused and productive. I could have done my job in half a day! The corporate world did not recognise that juggling family and work requires highly proficient skills and the corporate world  does not reward women as it should.

 

I left and set up as an Independent Financial Adviser (IFA) which gave me the flexibility to pick up my girls from school etc... I did not see myself as a businessperson then, but I was. After a return to work in marketing, I progressed quickly to management but I got bored, and saw a job advertised at a women-focused IFA. It was Fiona Price, which had a brand in the 1990s when no other IFA had managed to brand themselves – I was curious how she did that. Fiona was looking for someone to run the firm with her. I helped turn it around. After that, setting up Addidi was a no-brainer. It was just me at the start. I got my head down and got going. After a few months I got my first admin person. After a year I had a lifestyle business. But I wanted to grow it. I raised some money and got a partner. I sold 49 percent and had an option to buy it back after three years. That gave me the foundation. I bought it back in 2011 and sold it the company in 2019. I also set up Addidi Angels, a group of angel investors, as women we need to invest in small business.

 

Q: Why did you sell your company?


Anna: I didn’t grow Addidi  to sell. That was quite unusual in terms of coming to a sale decision. I approached Progeny Wealth, not with a view to sell, but because I was interested in what they were doing. I first met them in April 2019 and the sale was completed in November.

 

It was very emotional – it was not a financial decision. I was not planning to part with the busines. I knew I would have to do succession planning at some point in the next five years, but I had not thought about selling. The business was helping so many great clients on their life journeys. But at the time a sale was the right thing to do.

 

Within six months of completion, I also knew it would not pan out as I had thought. I thought I would help grow Progeny and that was not going to happen. My role came down to being a financial planner and it was not fulfilling me. Leaving in the end became a very easy decision, but it was painful seeing my baby disappear. Addidi had a focus on women in a genuine way and we were the lead business doing that.

 

Q: Apart from being chair of 1LV and rolling out the Gender Balance Benchmark, what else in on the horizon?

 

Anna: I want  time to just be. It is nice for me to simply be able to walk outside and see daylight after years of being at my desk. So much of life is about how you feel about what you have done. Have you been authentic to yourself, have you been kind, and are you comfortable with who you are?  Very little has to do with success or money. I don’t tend to look back. I look forward to just being and living an enriched life.

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We will publish details of each Gender Balance Benchmark Goals over the coming months

 

 

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