Being the macro spokesperson for Cazenove and now wealth manager Brewin Dolphin has made Janet Mui a familiar face on the BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC and many other media outlets.
We caught up with Janet to discuss her career and the impact of achieving media prominence.
“I started as a research executive, doing everything for everyone – research, charting, reading, writing,” Janet told us. “I think it’s very important for younger people to understand this background work is absolutely the basis for your future career.”
Many people – and especially women – note that it can be easy to get stuck in such junior work. How did Janet avoid that?
“Having a supportive boss is very important. I worked alongside the chief economist, and I took over his role when he retired, though without the “chief” title. That was a career breakthrough.”
“There is a bit of luck as well,” she admits. “When Cazenove was bought by Schroders we became part of one of the biggest asset managers in Europe, so more opportunities suddenly opened up.”
Like many of the senior women that we have interviewed, Janet admits that gender can be a positive as well as a negative.
“Being a woman made me stand out. Most of the senior economists were male, and media channels were actively looking for female spokespeople. So Schroders gave me media opportunities, and my role gradually shifted from background research to spokesperson.”
Janet explains that her diversity has impacted her career path on more than one level.
“People would say, it must be hard because I am not British and don’t have a British accent. There was this perception that it must be hard for a non-UK, non-white, non-posh, non-male person to represent a UK private wealth manager to its clients, let alone the media,” Janet told us.
Janet’s approach was to develop a clear expert niche. “You need to find your value add. Ten years ago China was emerging as a major economy, and I put my effort into establishing myself as a China expert, as I am Chinese and I can speak the language. My peers are not as well versed in China.”
Janet’s experience suggests women face a dual challenge. First is that women are not always offered the best opportunities and have to actively seek out work that is naturally offered to male candidates. The second is that they may have to work harder than their male peers to prove their worth because of traditional stereotyping.
“It’s the perception that you have to be a senior male to take a lead role, because it is what an average leader looks like. My experience, especially as a non-British woman, is that women have to prove themselves first and face more scrutiny.”
“I am often in the situation where the whole team, or everyone in a meeting, is male. In this very competitive, very male-dominated industry a female needs to take that extra step to communicate and to make herself heard. I think that is the challenge.”
“It’s men chairing most of the meetings, it’s men who speak the most,” Janet tells us. “Women are already doing the background work, now they need the opportunity to lead, to host a discussion, or chair a meeting. These are opportunities where women can showcase their skills.”
The perception that senior women are “tokens”, in the role because of their gender, not their ability, also needs to change.
“Even though what I have achieved is based on ability, some people say that it is because I’m a woman. You don’t get opportunities just because you’re a woman. You have to have the ability. It feels like I have already proven myself – but it’s still not enough. This can lead to insecurity or a feeling of devaluation.”
Janet worked to achieve the Chartered Financial Analyst designation after an MBA. Even with the CFA designation she says she still feels there is more to prove.
“There is a stereotype that women are less good at quantitative areas, so I went on to study a one-year part time degree in advanced econometrics. Everyone’s approach is different, but gaining academic credentials helped boost my confidence as a woman.”
Even though women’s attitudes and ambitions have changed, many businesses still operate on traditional stereotypes which leads to issues with career progression.
“Women today have the same career aspirations as men. But women get to a career bottleneck in their thirties, when many start to have children, and they feel that there is a glass ceiling. It’s really important for companies to provide help at that point to get more senior women through.”
Companies have a role to play in driving change – and so do line managers.
“Having a boss who understands that they need to support you is so important. Give me one good opportunity and I will show you how good I can be. I would advise any woman who doesn’t have such a boss to move on. Don’t waste your time. If you feel that a company isn’t supporting you, or it has a bias against women, then just move on.”
Is there a role for setting quotas?
“I don’t like quotas, though businesses do need a benchmark or a soft target to help them get better representation for women. Ultimately the pressure will be there so we will see results, it’s just a question of time. So much has changed in the past 10 years. There is an increase in the number of women in all levels, and that’s as a result of company policies and efforts. Change is definitely happening and in the right direction.”