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Power gays: Banking boss Julia Hoggett

Power gays: Banking boss Julia Hoggett

Julia Hoggett’s job title is a mouthful and you probably need to be a banker to know what it means. But this understated mom is also a role model for gay women as a senior executive at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

When she’s not spending time with her partner and kids in Ireland, she’s ‘Managing director, head of short term fixed income origination, EMEA, head of covered bonds and FIG flow financing, EMEA’ (we told you) for the bank.

And when she’s not doing that, she’s co-lead of the company’s LGBT employee network.

We caught up with her to ask her about being a woman in banking and a role model for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender colleagues.

To most people your job is a mystery, so what do you actually do?

I help banks and other global institutions raise money.

The stereotype would be that banking is a macho world. Has that been a problem for you as a woman?

I am an only child and my mother had as powerful a career as my father so I didn’t grow up with any expectation what I would be able to do would be any different from anyone else.

Then, when I started in banking the head of my team was a woman and the number two was a woman. So the mindset I had there was nothing I couldn’t do was reinforced.

As you get more senior, the numbers around you do tend to diminish a lot and that is as much to do with the issues of being a woman in an environment which demands so much at just the time you understandably want to stop and have children. We are working very hard as an industry to address that.

But in my own career, I don’t think it has been an obstacle.

I am a [non-biological] mother, I do have two children but I have taken the sum total of four weeks off for the birth of my two children. As an industry we take people in their 20s and train them and just at the point in their early 30s when they are ready to unleash all that learning is usually the time most women are making that judgment about stopping to have kids.

We are endeavoring to bring women who have left to have children back in. To give them the support and guidance and retraining to help.

Can you balance your family life with your career?

It is a challenge but it can be done. The way I do it is almost too simplistic. My kids live in Ireland and I go back home and am a full-on parent on the weekends and I am in London during the week and work flat-out.

That isn’t the ideal solution for everybody but we chose to do it because the quality of life for the children in Ireland was far better than in the UK. They live by the beach, the sea, by the mountains and they have a superb school round the corner. But you are giving something up in making that choice.

I took a job when my children were zero to six that required me to work a smaller number of hours in the day so I could get home to do teatime but got back to work once the children were in bed.

All of us go through multiple roles and careers, we don’t do the same job for the rest of our lives anymore. And maybe we need to think that there are times when we need to move to a job that is more accommodating.

Has your sexuality had any impact, positive or negative, on your career?

I have learned I am much more effective being myself. The emotional energy expended trying to pretend to be something you are not – in an environment where the institutions demand a lot of your time and energy – is wasted.

I am lucky to have had a very clear message from the start that my employers wanted to employ me. And they wanted me to be able to be me at the office.

When you were talking about starting your family did it made a difference you were having your children with a female partner rather than a male partner?

No. My first child was born in 2005 and I’d been out at work since 1999. I moved to an organization which knew I was gay before they approached me to take the role. Whilst I was by far the most senior openly gay person in the institution and the first who had ever had children I didn’t bat an eyelid about saying so.

You are one of the most senior, if not the most senior, out gay women at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. There are thought to be no out gay CEOs of a S&P 500 or FTSE 100 company. Do you feel there is a glass ceiling?

I have been CEO of a bank in the past. And the thing I love about banking is it’s a meritocracy. If you are good you succeed. I have not felt being a woman was an obstacle or being gay was an obstacle.

What kinds of things have you changed and what would you like to change in your bank or elsewhere?

I started my career at JP Morgan and when I was there we organized the first ever dedicated gay and lesbian recruiting event in the City of London – that was well over a decade ago.

And it had another benefit. A number of women from ethnic minorities came who weren’t gay. When I spoke to one of them about why she was there, she said: ‘If you’re going after the gay community, then it must be fine for me.’ It sends a powerful message about what the organization stands for as a whole.

I think you can make a difference by being visible and approachable. One of the reasons for being more visible than is my natural style or desire is because I see the value of that. The role models who helped me when I started my career weren’t gay but were very driven, dynamic women who gave me the sense that I could do it too.

In some countries it is very difficult or criminalized to be gay. Do you ever feel that, for business reasons, you or your company should censor itself with certain clients?

I did emerging markets when I started my career in the 90s and my background is as a Sub Saharan African development sociologist and economist. I did my fieldwork in Malawi. I was openly gay by that stage but I was not openly gay in Malawi.

There are several reasons for that. One is it was not sensible or safe. But it also wasn’t the point. I was dealing with the issues of massive policy changes and huge macro-economic shocks in a very, very poor country and whilst human rights of all forms are important, to me that wasn’t why I was there.

Professionally you have to realize why you are there. If a client asks me about my family life, I will tell them, because that’s a trust issue. I’m not going to lie. If it’s not relevant and it doesn’t come up, I’m not going to talk about it.

Institutions like Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs do say there are certain clients we are not going to do business with because of the way they have treated people. That is absolutely right and proper. But the way this ceases to become an issue is by being a statement of fact and less a political point. There are plenty of my clients who know and it has not been an issue.

But businesses also make very public statements on LGBT issues. Can that scare clients from some countries?

I don’t know. If you are losing people because you are not discriminating, it says a lot about the people you are losing. The industry as a whole is pretty clear about this. Banking has this impression of being straight, male and pale but actually we have been at the forefront of this for a very long time. Our war for talent is a war to get the best people and it’s almost as simple as that.