In October this year I was incredibly honoured and excited to be shortlisted for the Women of the Future Awards, in association with Shell, in the Business Woman of the Future category. This amazing opportunity has really brought to the forefront of my mind my relatively unique position of being a young, female leader working in banking.
In the first part of this blog I shared the 'secrets' of my success, which aren't actually secrets at all, and since then I've been thinking more about what I've learnt in my career and the responsibility I have to other females. Some of the small, simple steps I've taken over the last couple of years have started to address some of the gender imbalance.
Learning to be myself
I think one of the most important lessons I've learnt in my career is to be myself. Don't get me wrong, I've learnt a huge amount from others but I've found that it's your uniqueness that makes you stand out. Know your strengths and capitalise on them but also know your limits and your weaknesses and don't be afraid to be honest about them. If you can do this then it helps you frame what you can achieve (rather than over-promising), deal constructively with what you can't, figure out what's a true development area that you can do something about, and recognise what you can't change but where you need to shave off the rough edges. Being honest about who you are makes you human and remember, no one is perfect or has all of the answers all of the time! Always strive to be your best self!
I think I've been lucky over the years to have never felt held back because of being female. I do wonder when I reflect on it now whether if I'd been more conscious of it I would have found more blockers just because I expected them. It's hard to tell, but it's definitely something to watch out for!
Being a deliberate female role model
Nothing I've done (yet!) has been ground breaking but over the last couple of years I have started to make the most of my position to make a small but important impact on the diversity agenda:
- Showing I Care: letting people know diversity is important to me has helped to set the right tone. It has encouraged colleagues to be confident in raising tricky issues and given them the opportunity to talk about potential solutions - a recurring theme that comes up is balancing the merits of promotion against the potential impacts on family life.
- Be Inspirational: inspire people to make their own changes. By giving people the opportunity to make suggestions for improvement and supporting them to change things that aren't working inspires them to improve the environment they work in. I've seen some great examples recently of colleagues putting together new initiatives on improving the return to work from maternity leave process and publishing work/life balance views, tips and best practices from the senior team.
- Don't Make it the Elephant in the Room: Challenging people more senior than me has been a recent theme of mine with good results...it reminds them to make diversity (of all kinds) a priority and gets them talking about it with the wider team. It's important to be brave and ask the difficult questions, to challenge what may be perceived as accepted norms or insurmountable problems. Find a constructive way to let people know when their response or attention to the matter is just not good enough.
- Lead by Example: Even though I don't have children yet myself I do make the effort not to book meetings with my team outside 9-5 to help with those who need to do the school run and to help the team with their work life balance. Even when the pressure is on and it's busy at work I try to always make sure I leave the office on time at least a couple of nights a week for commitments I have outside of work - it lets people know it's okay to have a personal life as well as a career!
- Value the Individual: A lot of this isn't gender specific but could be just as applicable to ethnicity or disability and for men who are working and juggling family commitments. Knowing the people you work with and what's important to them can really help you to get the best out of them.
My current role is in the recently formed TSB Bank, which is in the unusual position where 50% of the Executive are 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.