Tuesday 8 March 2002 marks International Women’s Day, a day that is aimed at helping forge a gender-equal world, celebrating women’s achievements and increasing visibility, while also calling out inequality.
At Suffolk Building Society, we’re proud to employ brilliant women across all business functions and levels of seniority, so to celebrate this important day, we put a selection of questions to some of our female employees about their experiences of working in financial services.
This International Women’s Day has the theme #breakthebias. In your opinion, how does this apply to financial services in the UK today?
“International Women’s Day and campaigns like #breakthebias are essential for raising awareness and spearheading the need for change, especially when it comes to boardroom diversity and inclusion. But we need to think beyond the feel-good factor of the hashtag. Boardrooms and senior management balance have improved significantly over the last few years, but we as an industry still have a long way to go!” Fiona Ryder – Non-executive Director
“Financial services have traditionally been very male-dominated, and it has taken a long time for women to reach senior roles and for this to be considered normal. There is still some way to go, mainly because women still take responsibility for most of the childcare within the family. I think this is where the roots of the bias lie.” Sarah Shallish – Head of Treasury
“When I first began my career in banking, women were frequently overlooked for promotion, the expectation being that they would leave to have a family and investment in the individual would have been wasted. I am pleased to say this attitude has changed but there is always more that can be done. Diversity and Inclusion is a topic on everyone’s agenda and not before time.” Elaine Lenc – Non-Executive Director
“There is no doubt that the position is getting better, but the financial services sector still has some way to go. There is still quite a significant gender pay gap in the sector, worse than the average gap in the UK, and the statistics show that women are still under-represented in senior positions across the sector. That said, there is now much greater awareness of the benefits that a truly diverse (in every sense) workforce brings and a real drive to make the necessary changes.” Sian Hill – Non-Executive Director
In your time working in finance, how has the role of women changed?
“I think women have proven that they are capable of performing equal roles as men to an equal, if not better, standard and I think there has been a shift towards recognising the worth of an individual regardless of sex or any other characteristic, which has got to be a good thing.” Sarah Shallish – Head of Treasury
“There has been a shift in more women in senior roles and the focus has been on recognising the need for women to be taken seriously and earn equal pay for equal jobs. It’s a shame that this has to be seen as a ‘battle’ or ‘fight’. I have never felt that I could not achieve things because of my gender.” Clare Argent – Head of Change and Strategic Programmes
“I remember going to countless diversity talks where the narrative was very much that in order to succeed as a woman in business you needed to become the ‘alpha-male’ of the room. I think that people now understand that the whole point of diversity is to allow for a difference of opinions, approaches and ideas. Men, women, in fact, everyone, is different, and those differences should be encouraged.” Rebecca Newman – Chief of Staff
“I have seen some improvements during my time within the financial sector. The pay gap is already less than 1 per cent for 22 to 29 year olds.” Shelley Curtis – Member Experience Manager
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently in your career?
“Nothing to date, no – how lucky am I to say that? Everything I have done has led me to Head of Sales at the Suffolk Building Society and the journey has been great – hard work but great. I have met some of the most interesting and amazing people (colleagues, brokers, friends) but no two days are the same and that keeps you on your toes.” Charlotte Grimshaw – Head of Sales
“So many things! Honestly, I wish my 25-year-old self knew that ‘imposter syndrome’ is something that many women in business suffer from. It took me many years to develop sufficient confidence to publicly disagree with male peers. We need to better support women to find their voices earlier. Our companies need diverse and participative thinking to become more resilient and overcome the global challenges of the future. Women in senior positions are a key part of that.” Fiona Ryder, Non-executive Director
“I wish I had insisted that the bank I worked for paid for my banking examinations and study leave, the same as they did for the males. I had to complete them in my own time!” Elaine Lenc – Non-Executive Director
“Don’t let negativity get in the way. Being discouraged to take any action, losing confidence over small failures, and brooding over bad luck are all very easy to do. Wisdom teaches you to utilise tough times to learn about your weaknesses and improve upon them.” Shelley Curtis – Member Experience Manager
What would you recommend about a career at a building society to other women?
“Yes, absolutely! The building society sector, as a whole, is appropriately collegiate and supportive. The general principle of building societies is to support communities and I think that feeds through into the support given to people who work in the sector.” Rebecca Newman – Chief of Staff
“It is very rewarding! In the sales team we’re educating mortgage brokers to help customers that don’t tick the right boxes with the high street lenders. Showing customers that there are still mortgage options available to them – that’s hard to beat – whether it’s a first-time buyer or a later life mover – helping people feels great!” Charlotte Grimshaw – Head of Sales
“I would recommend a career at a building society to other women. The ethos of building societies to support members and being owned by our members and not shareholders also relates to staff. I have certainly been supported, allowed to develop and encouraged to grow and improve.” Clare Argent – Head of Change and Strategic Programmes
“I think the culture of building societies is supportive of women and the challenges they face in wanting a fulfilling career whilst needing to devote time to bringing up a family.” Sarah Shallish – Head of Treasury
“Yes! I found working in a building society a friendly environment and with us being a small society the need to have knowledge across the whole Society was what interested me the most. It made any role I had in the Society interesting and varied, even if a little challenging!” Chloe Brown – Member Experience Manager
What do you love most about working with other women in finance?
“Our passion and helpful nature towards one another, helps create a healthy well-rounded workforce.” Shelley Curtis – Member Experience Manager
“I find the other women in the society quite empowering to work with. We bring a lot to the table and add so much value, as do men. Over the years it has become apparent it’s more about the person’s values and culture rather than what sex they are.” Chloe Brown – Member Experience Manager
“I think there’s an unspoken camaraderie between the women I work with. They understand the challenges of balancing work and home life at all stages of your career.” Sarah Shallish – Head of Treasury
“Generally, I think women in finance support one another and are eager for other women to succeed. I think the emotional support you get from other women is crucial.” Rebecca Newman – Chief of Staff
“We embrace being women but there is no women vs. men vibe across the industry. Women in finance are really supportive of each other and it makes it an enjoyable industry to work in.” Charlotte Grimshaw – Head of Sales
What advice would you give to other women starting out in this industry?
“Have high expectations of yourself and don’t limit your progression.” Chloe Brown – Member Experience Manager
“Be confident, gain experience and always push yourself forward for a role, even if you only have a 70 per cent skill fit. Men do this and progress, women are more reluctant to venture outside their comfort zone. Always celebrate success but most of all, enjoy work!” Elaine Lenc – Non-Executive Director
“Go for it, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want and do what makes you happy.” Clare Argent – Head of Change and Strategic Programmes
“Have confidence in yourself and your ability. Don’t be afraid to speak up, your opinion is just as valid as anybody else’s.” Rebecca Newman – Chief of Staff
“Go for it! You won’t regret it! Be yourself and embrace the differences you can bring to the role.” Charlotte Grimshaw – Head of Sales