IWD 2023 spotlight interview: Michelle Scrimgeour, LGIM

Industry veteran Scrimgeour discusses her experiences as a woman in asset management and shares advice on how to make financial firms more inclusive.

Headshot of Michelle Scrimgeour, LGIM CEO
Michelle Scrimgeour - CEO Legal and General Investment Management

This article is part of a week of coverage by Responsible Investor to mark International Women’s Day 2023. 

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When Michelle Scrimgeour started her career in asset management, she was one of just a handful of women in the industry. “I was often the only woman at the table – in a team, in an executive committee, in a region,” she says. “It could be difficult.”

Scrimgeour entered the industry in 1989, as a fixed income operations manager at Mercury Asset Management. Thirty years later – after stints at Merrill Lynch IM, BlackRock, M&G Investments and Columbia Threadneedle – she took over as CEO of Legal & General Investment Management in July 2019.

She is one of a small but growing cohort of women heading up large asset management firms, which also includes Anne Richards of Fidelity International, Jenny Johnson of Franklin Templeton, and Amundi’s Valérie Baudson.

“We’re clearly not done, but we’ve come a long way [on gender] in the time I’ve been working in financial services,” says Scrimgeour. “When I think about representation in the sector today, the mix has significantly improved. There are some amazing senior female role models.

“The challenge is how we keep this going so that we can have broader DE&I representation across the industry.”

There is obviously still work to do. While LGIM proudly boasts a 50/50 gender split at leadership level, the senior ranks of most asset managers remain male-dominated.

“If you look at the broader workforce, it’s made up of around 50 percent women, so it’s quite hard to argue that there shouldn’t be more women in senior finance roles,” says Scrimgeour.

What is more, while attitudes in the industry are changing, progress has often been slow.

Scrimgeour recalls early in her career hearing a women’s professional network, which she was chairing, described as a “knitting circle”. She was also told that women “lacked ambition, weren’t natural risk takers, and weren’t interested in finance”.

As she notes, this is easily disproved by looking at the statistics on graduate intake to the industry – yet research by Responsible Investor suggests that such myths are still prevalent.

Top-down approach

For Scrimgeour, this is where female leaders such as herself can play a crucial role. “Discussing representation is really important,” she says. “This is about culture in organisations and how we make firms more resilient and successful.”

She is a firm believer that, to be effective, DE&I initiatives must be led from the top rather than simply being an HR endeavour.

“Organisations need to recognise that this is about business,” she says. “DE&I shouldn’t be a subject that is discussed on the side-lines, it needs to be embedded holistically in a company’s business strategy.”

As she notes, however, given the preponderance of male leaders in the industry, “it’s not just up to women”.

She attributes LGIM’s outperformance on gender equality to its ability to ensure buy-in from both men and women. “In my team, we all care about DE&I,” she says. “If it were just the women who cared, we wouldn’t be able to make the progress we have.”

Again, Scrimgeour says this has to be driven from the top. “It comes down to how the leadership team translates its thinking into action, as well as how the whole organisation comes together to support this.”

For leaders, her advice is to work on their listening skills. “People in leadership roles need to be prepared to listen,” she says. “If you ask questions and don’t listen properly to the answers then you’re not progressing. At LGIM, we have an open dialogue, which I value very much.”

She also stresses the importance for managers of understanding inclusive hiring practices. “It’s essentially basic housekeeping – but until you get it right, you can’t make a huge amount of progress.”

In addition, she is a strong believer in the value of sponsorship, mentors and support networks for redressing the gender imbalance – especially for women in senior roles.

For younger women, Scrimgeour is keen to emphasise the range of opportunities that asset management offers. “I want them to see this industry as a place where you can build a successful career across lots of different roles,” she says.

“There is a need for different skills and approaches, and it’s about finding an organisation which has a culture which embraces this. There are some great opportunities at asset managers and I’m keen to ensure that we continue to build that pipeline.”

So what advice would she give to young women coming into the industry today? “Embrace change, take risk, get out of your comfort zone, and think about your career as a portfolio of skills you need to acquire,” she says.

As to what success will look like for gender equality in finance, Scrimgeour’s answer is simple: “When we stop talking about a ‘woman CEO’, we’ll know we’re done.”