Kirstine Cooper

Career highlights

I’m fortunate to have had a number of highlights in my career with Aviva. One highlight is becoming General Counsel and Company Secretary of Aviva plc: I was the first woman to hold the role in the company’s 320-year history. Another highlight was managing all the legal, regulatory and governance aspects of the £5bn acquisition by Aviva of Friends Life in April 2015. It was the largest transaction in the UK insurance sector since the creation of Aviva. Last year I was honoured to speak at the UN General Assembly on human rights and the UK’s Modern Slavery Act.

What did your legal education at the University of Glasgow give you?

Clear thinking, analytical rigour, a strong work ethic and discipline that stand me in good stead today. Also having fun – you spend your life working so you need to enjoy it.

What struggles have you faced as a female in your profession?

Unfortunately, financial services suffers from particularly low levels of diversity and remains quite a male dominated environment. My career could have followed a fairly narrow path but I had a mentor who supported me in taking advantage of other opportunities, which were outside of my comfort zone. I have overcome a number of challenges by operating with integrity, professionalism and tenacity.

What progress have you seen being made throughout your career?

There have been both cultural and policy changes and they have influenced each other. Recently in the UK we have seen important reforms such as the 30% target for women on boards and gender pay gap transparency. These reforms show progress but as important are the actions that companies are taking internally and understanding that unless they treat women equally then they are missing out on 50% of the talent pool. There is still a lot of work to be done, particularly in ensuring equal career opportunities at middle management and senior management level.

What progress do you think will be made/would you like to see in the next 100 years for women in law?

Ideally, the idea and practice of sexual equality will be so embedded in society, organisations and individuals that the need for laws to forbid sexual discrimination will wither away.

How can men support women in their profession?

Men can support women in the workplace by becoming more aware of unconscious biases and calling out sexism, tacit or explicit, when they see it.

Complete the sentence, “I am proud to be a woman in law because…”

I can help clear the path for other women and build a culture of equality.