VG director Debbie Lumsden tells Emily Moore why diversity is about much more than gender
AS the sole female board member at VG, you might expect Debbie Lumsden to use an interview for an International Women’s Day publication to implore companies to recruit more women to senior positions.
Instead, her narrative takes a somewhat different approach as she argues that diversity extends beyond gender and that gender itself is ‘slightly irrelevant’ when it comes to creating a truly inclusive workforce.
‘For me, and for VG, it is about celebrating all diversity so, while I respect International Women’s Day, I can’t help wondering where the men’s day is,’ she smiled. ‘I believe that every human is important, and diversity is not just about those inherent characteristics of race or gender but about your acquired diversity – your personality, background and experience. From a workplace perspective, it’s about looking at each person’s skills and achievements and assessing what they will bring to the table.
‘It’s much more important to focus on providing equal opportunities for all and to get the right people in the right roles to ensure we deliver the right service to our clients. It always makes me slightly uncomfortable when you see people lobbying for a certain percentage of board members to be female. A good board should comprise people with the right skills, experience and personality to put across points and hold peers to account.’
Having seen examples of companies where women have been appointed almost ‘to raise the firm’s profile’, Debbie prefers a merit-based approach. ‘I wouldn’t want a job where I was appointed because I was female. I want to be there because I’m good at my job and have earnt my place.’
It is a work ethic which was imbued in Debbie during her childhood by her Mum who worked extremely hard. She took on a range of weekend jobs and knew from a young age that working hard held the key to independence.
‘I worked hard and gained a scholarship to JCG,’ she recalled. ‘I was half way through my A-levels when I decided to leave and get a job. I went for an interview at BNP Paribas. The directors interviewed me on the top floor, from where there were great views and I was looking forward to starting a job as a secretary, wearing super-smart suits. Instead, I ended up in the basement, working as a junior, and desperately trying to work out what a trust was.’
While the start may not have been quite what she was expecting, Debbie soon fell in love with the trust industry, spending ten years with BNP while completing her JCTA exams – and finishing her A-levels. ‘I felt a bit guilty about having left school before finishing the course,’ she explained.
Subsequent roles at Citibank and Fairbairn Private Bank (now Nedbank), drove her passion for working ‘at the coalface’ in an independent environment. During this time, Debbie undertook her STEP Diploma and International Diploma in Anti-Money laundering and also obtained first-class honours in her law degree three weeks after giving birth to her first child.
‘What I love is having a role where I am both in the thick of it and able to shape and influence decisions,’ she explained. ‘That’s why the opportunity to join VG, one of Jersey’s largest independent trust companies, in a board position last year was so appealing.’
Joining the company about three weeks before the Island went into lockdown, Debbie admits that her first year has been something of a roller-coaster.
‘It is one of those heart-attack jobs that scares the life out of you but is also your dream job. Every day brings something new and, despite all the challenges of the past 12 months, we have achieved a huge amount.’
As well as her board role, oversight of the business development, marketing and HR functions, Debbie is also responsible for one of VG’s private wealth teams, something she says was important to her.
‘I have always managed client relationships and I wanted to keep a say in the way that clients were manged to ensure that we delivered on the promises we had made and that clients are matched to the right people within teams,’ she explained. ‘By attracting and retaining a diverse team we celebrate that every individual is different and has a different story; this gives them the power to contribute an entirely unique perspective.’
Something else which is important to Debbie is her position as a role model within the company and showing people that it is now possible for women to have it all; being a working mum and having a successful career.
‘We have amazing talent within the business and my role now is to encourage that talent, play to people’s strengths and inspire them to achieve their maximum potential. The company has undergone quite a sea change in the past year; the talent within the team is hugely exciting, we have clear leadership and a culture which makes people proud to the work for the company – it’s a really exciting place to be.’