Young, Female And A Leader In Banking - Part 1
During the 15 years in which I have worked in the financial services industry there have been several times when I have found myself in a minority. Early on in my career I was one of only a few Brits working on the beautiful Caribbean Island of Grand Cayman - a small island with amazing beaches, a large expat population and some very nice cocktails! Then, after a Category 5 hurricane and a couple of earthquakes that made things a bit hairy, I moved to the much colder and wetter (but fun) city of Dublin. This was a totally different experience but once again I was in an ethnic minority.
When I eventually moved back to the UK I chose to work for a bank. Here I found myself in a position of being in a minority again, but this time as a female at a senior level - and young with it. I really became conscious of this when a more junior female colleague came to present at a leadership meeting and mentioned that it was intimidating that there were so many men, and how did I cope with being the only woman round a table of 12 or so. This really got me thinking, was I intimidated? (No, but then I'm quite confident and assertive) Was I treated differently? (I didn't think so but I'd never paid attention to it before) More poignantly, what responsibilities did I now have to other more junior female colleagues given my position?
Pondering my success and how I'd got here...
I guess the fact that I'd got to where I had without ever really considering my gender, but that I was one of a relative few confused me somewhat. I thought I had trodden a pretty normal path in my career. Yes, I'd worked incredibly hard and been extremely focused. Yes, I'd sought a wide range of business experience and I could demonstrate plenty of examples over time of really going above and beyond but, for a whole variety of reasons, I work in an industry where a diverse workforce in more senior roles isn't commonplace. As a female leader in my business, and whether I was aware of it or not, people were looking at me with interest to see how I had made it work and what the secret was.
On reflection, there are definitely things that have moved me up the career ladder. None of these are gender related and definitely none are a secret:
- First and foremost, working for people who have really believed in me - people who have been willing to give me opportunities in areas that I didn't have experience in and that have coached me along the way. To do this you have to be prepared to take a risk, to go out on a skinny branch and be willing to face right into your development areas and fears. You may be lucky enough to come across leaders like this by chance or you might have to strategically plan your career moves to do so.
- Secondly, without doubt, having brilliant mentors is an important factor - make sure you have people who are willing to share their own experiences, good and bad. People who help you build new skills and ways of dealing with things, and who can guide and coach you in your development areas. I've always sought out people who can explain clearly what I need to do to make the next moves in my career, which makes it easy to plan how to move forwards and upwards. Look out for people that inspire you, or who do things well that you think you can learn from and don't be afraid to approach them. Failing that, share your personal development aspirations with a few more senior people and ask them for advice on who has these strengths and could mentor you.
- Thirdly, having a great network of peers - I was once told that you'll learn more from your peers than anyone else and they were right. Having people that you can call on and ask for advice, who feel comfortable enough to challenge you or point things out to you that you haven't seen, is really important and some of my greatest achievements have come through working collaboratively with my peers rather than in competition with them! Never underestimate the importance of making time to go for a coffee - you never know what you'll learn!
My current role is in the recently formed TSB Bank, which is in the unusual position of having 50% of the Executives being female, and the leadership team I sit in is equally gender diverse. It's exciting to be in this position and I will be watching with fascination about how diverse teams bring out the best in decisions and leadership.
It's important though that we don't get complacent where we have achieved diversity and the focus needs to continue to be on nurturing female talent. The Women of the Future Awards, hosted in association with Shell, is a brilliant way to do this and I am truly honoured to have been shortlisted for the 2013 Businesswoman of the Future Award.
The awards ceremony will take place on Wednesday 13 November and is hosted by Real Business in association with Shell.