Specialist finance industry celebrates International Women’s Day

11 March 2021

Today (8th March) marks International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, in addition to further accelerating gender parity.

As huge advocates of encouraging more women into finance, B&C has asked numerous women from businesses in the specialist finance sector what it is like as a woman in this industry, how they got into the role they are in today, and advice for other women looking to pursue a similar career.

We hope that this will help boost the presence of women in the press, raise awareness, celebrate women’s achievements, influence positive behaviour, and attract more women into looking at having a career in finance/property.

We also think it’s important to note the areas where progress is still needed.

We will continue to post more stories throughout the day. Happy International Women’s Day!

Caroline Ong, non-executive director at Glenhawk:

“Many women feel they work in a male dominated industry, and finance is no exception. That is changing, so I would encourage every woman to be confident that what they know is valuable and they can make a difference. Not only is there an incredible network of women out there, but there are also plenty of men that recognise the value we bring. Don’t be afraid to recognise theirs as well as life is a two-way street.

“If reaching the board room is your goal, stay in your executive career for as long as you can and gain experience in as many sectors of your chosen industry. Or, if you stay within a sector, gain experience up and down the value chain or internationally. You’ll find the broader experience you have at the executive level the more value you can bring to the board room.”

Joan Drummond, head of collections at Glenhawk:

“I joined Glenhawk in 2020 following almost 20 years in financial services, with a background in servicing BTL and residential mortgages. This is my first role in bridging finance and has given me the opportunity to broaden my knowledge and experience further.

“Senior roles in financial services have been historically very male orientated and I am pleased that this does seem to be changing. Here at Glenhawk, four of our core teams are headed up by women and again this was a big draw for me to join such a forward-thinking company.

“The beauty of progression in this industry is that you can build on experience through time and different life stages. As a woman, our career paths can be hindered or at least side-tracked when we have children, but the variety of roles available does mean we don’t have to step away completely. As a single parent of two, for much of my early career in financial services, I worked part-time in various servicing administration roles allowing me to have a good work-life balance while laying the foundation of my industry knowledge. As my home commitments changed, I was able to take that knowledge and experience further and progress to supervisory and then management roles, leading to where I am today.”

Clare Jupp, director of people development at Brightstar Financial:

“I love working in the specialist sector of financial services, although I have to admit, it isn’t something that I ever had a burning ambition to do! Like many of us, I ended up, rather than navigated my way here. I actually worked in the education sector for 16 years, gaining my secondary headteacher’s qualification at 34 years’ old.

“Transferring many of the skills they I used in leadership, in the classroom and in recruiting, training and developing staff, I began my journey in FS, working one day a week at Brightstar and introducing our coaching programme and the foundations of what is now our people development programme to a small team of staff.

“It isn’t always easy working in a sector that remains underrepresented by women and where there is still resistance to change from some and indifference from many others too. I also find it difficult to comprehend that there are still so many organisations that have not signed the Women in Finance Charter, for example, which is the official pledge for gender parity. We signed in 2016 and I’m frustrated that business leaders are not putting their name to the charter and it’s commitments. That said, there is huge support and commitment by a good many organisations to accelerating gender parity and to making steps that will help encourage more women into this sector and support those already in it who are trying to further their careers.

“As well as signing the charter, I think that to facilitate further progress, organisations should look at recruitment and job advertisements, because wording and style can be key in attracting or discouraging female applicants. Flexible working is also vital to attracting and keeping good women in the sector. Events organisers and publications should make every effort to ensure that discussion and judging panels, events, features and commentators etc reflect the diversity of society. We should continue to herald strong role models and successful women from across the sector, but consciously involve different women and those who are building their profiles.

“Finally, we should make this a sector that young people want to be part of by building contacts with educational institutions and offering insights into the sector and pathways to success.”

Laura Toke, associate at SPF Short Term Finance:

“Having worked as a broker for seven years, it’s a dynamic industry to be part of and there are opportunities for growth and progression. Having an assertive personality and not being afraid to ask questions definitely helps. Networking as much as possible can also pay dividends, in addition to reading up and knowing your stuff, as your knowledge may be tested.

“During my time in the industry, I have noticed positive changes and I feel we are on the right path as, since 2018, there has been a significant increase in females within the industry and in senior positions.

“Studies show women bring positive qualities to the workplace as they work collaboratively and tend to have emotional intelligence, empathy and are effective communicators. They are also natural mediators which can be hugely helpful in leadership roles. I would like to see the bridging industry approach global best practices for female representation at executive board level and I believe we are on the right track to achieve this.”

Ellen McCarthy, commercial finance associate at Totum Finance:

“I thoroughly believe that finance holds the key to what our future society will become. Now imagine if the people handing out those keys came from more diverse backgrounds with varied experiences. It could change the very course of our future.

“[Women] can unlock so much potential, by funding or helping to fund projects and ideas previously unheard of, because we have the opportunity to view the business in different light and progress it in alternate directions than our male colleagues. We also have the power to influence young minds to pursue their dreams, be inspired by powerful women and become one. I want future generations to be noted for their greatness in the business world on merit alone rather than the significance of being a woman in a predominantly male-centric sector.

“In comparison, my short stint of the construction world demonstrated a clear and hard gender bias. I’d say 90% of my colleagues were male and comments on my gender occurred in the workplace. I had learned about gender inequality plenty of times, but was still shocked to experience it myself. I was fresh out of school and had a point to prove, so I strived each and every day to show that I could make a difference. Career prospects, progression and opportunities seemed limited.

“Now, in the finance sector, I can note there is still overwhelming male presence, but seemingly no prejudice or limits to what a woman can do. This genuinely makes it exciting, but we all have an obligation to not just affect the industry through merit and hard work but remove all discussion of gender for those that follow us.”

Chloe Fenton, head of marketing at Allica Bank:

“I head up marketing for Allica Bank and have been in the specialist finance industry for the last three years. I made the move to finance from the tech world, where I worked for over 10 years in various, heavily male-dominated companies. I thought it would be the same when joining the finance world, but I was wrong! There have been huge waves in making financial companies more gender balanced and diversified. I’ve been particularly impressed with the approach Allica Bank is taking, from my very first interview they talked about this and how it’s a priority and focus area for them, and it was clear this wasn’t just an interview tactic, but something embedded into the strategy and vision for the bank. They’ve hired a wonderful group of inspiration women who I really enjoy working with.

“In industries which are considered more male dominated, such as finance, you tend to find the women within the business form a tight group and the focus and energy of that group is to champion each other and help each other be successful. It’s a really exhilarating way to work.

“Women bring a unique perspective and approach to the finance world and it’s an industry with masses off opportunity and potential. My advice for any woman looking to get into specialist finance is to absolutely go for it! There are plenty of brilliant companies with roles that need your skills and some fantastic people to work with.”

Sherice Neil, senior relationship manager at MT Finance:

“You can be a single mother and have a career — don’t ever let anyone make you feel you can only choose one.”

Millie Dyson, head of marketing and communications at MT Finance:

“Dare to be different. Dare step out of your comfort zone. Dare to seize every single opportunity that presents itself. Just go for it.”

Lenka Pajkosova, head of underwriting at MT Finance:

“Speak up. How do you expect to change things if you don’t?”

Emma Cox, sales director of commercial mortgages at Shawbrook Bank:

“Being a woman in this industry is equally challenging and rewarding. I’m fortunate to work for an organisation that proactively promotes diversity and gender equality, but the wider financial service sector is still perceived as very ‘male’. This perception can deter women which, in turn, leads to a lack of female representation. However, this is getting better. It is encouraging to see an increasing number of women establish their own businesses within the sector.

“If I could give advice to a woman looking to pursue a similar career it would simply be to go for it! A day in the life of a BDM is so varied. While it can be hard work, it is also incredibly satisfying. As a sales director, keeping your customers front of mind while developing a wider strategy for the business is the best of both worlds.

“The financial services sector needs more women. By increasing their representation, the overall sector will better reflect the needs of the wider society it seeks to serve. It is well cited that a female perspective in any organisation creates opportunities to broaden its scope and leads to a more successful business. There is still a way to go, but we must work together to make real progress. Recognising the value of a diverse culture and wider representation is a good place to start.”

Faye Wilcox, director at Valorem Partners:

“It is important that we all work together to not only support and encourage more women into the specialist finance sector, but to encourage diversity as a whole, as this will ensure the industry is stronger than ever before and extremely sustainable in the future. We can’t wait to continue to play our part in this and watch the market thrive in diversity over the coming years. Happy International Women’s Day everyone!”