How did you get to be in your current role? What kind of career path did you have?
I graduated from high school when I was 15 and went into the US Air Force when I was 17. I stayed for four years and wanted to pursue my university degrees at Long Island University, which I did all by night – including Baruch College to pursue my MBA. I did all of that while trying to simultaneously build a career – my family was poor so going to college and getting recruited onto a graduate programme wasn’t my route.
I started out in hospitality and was working for companies like Marriott, doing event planning and catering. From there I was recruited to work for American Express and ran their executive dining room and employee cafeteria. I was then recruited to Salomon Smith Barney, which later became Citigroup. I was working in the conference centre and I came across a women’s group that was focused on advancing women in the workplace. I was fascinated by what they were doing and asked if I could be involved.
I got involved in their diversity training programme, which helped me get connected to very senior women in the organisation. From that network I was able to move from the conference centre to a Client Services role in transaction banking. I took that opportunity and turned that into where I sit today – I’m now Head of Digital Channels for J.P. Morgan Payments. I think it was a combination of me raising my hand to take on complex initiatives and wanting to be involved on things outside of my role such as Diversity and Inclusion that had an impact on my career growth. I’m a huge proponent of being engaged and being involved – people will notice you if you are passionate.
How did this fit with the career plans you had at the time?
I realised that I could take my background in conference planning and hospitality and convert that into a career where the focus was still around finding a way to meet the needs of a client.
I think if you’re trying to plan out your career, the best thing is to be conscious about all the things you can bring to the table. There may be things about yourself that you do not realise – what your core competencies and innate qualities are – especially if you come from a different background than the majority of the people in your particular workplace.
When you were offered a role in transaction banking, did you recognise it as an opportunity at the time? Do you think other people in your shoes would have turned it down because transaction banking didn’t feature in their ideal career path?
I didn’t know what transaction banking was! My thought process was that I am here doing catering and food service management and conference centre planning at a financial institution. I thought that if I wanted to advance, I would have to leave financial services and find something that was more aligned to the expertise I thought I had. It did not occur to me that those skills were transferable. I think it’s a good idea to speak to as many people as possible to understand what value you can bring because you can’t just sit there on your own, imagining how your skills might be leveraged.
There are jobs that really require technical knowhow – such as lawyers and doctors – but there are so many roles that don’t need that. Many roles require different skills – such as leadership, influencing skills, communication and articulating a vision – and these are transferable skills.
Do you think it’s hard to navigate the ‘power grid’ of organisations if you don’t come from a privileged background?
When you come from a background where you have to put the pieces together yourself – without the privilege of having it mapped out for you by parents or other people – you can be more hesitant about putting yourself out there. You have to learn how to do it, but once you learn it you can become very skilled at it.
I used to be the person who sat in the class but kept quiet. But I heard so many people giving the wrong answers I realised that my thinking was relevant, and correct, and I should vocalise it – my voice was just as important. I learned not to sit back and let other people go in front; I learned that my experiences and contribution are just as valuable.
How should people be approaching diversity and inclusion, and creating a speak-up culture?
From my perspective, I think we all have an opportunity to make a change – no matter how junior you are – and it is everyone’s responsibility. We will not see a real impact with diversity, and with people speaking up, unless everybody does a little bit. Women need to be pushing the needle and others need to be receptive to that.
When it comes to diversity and inclusion, most large organisations focus on programmes to drive change, which is fine – they do help bring people together when otherwise they wouldn’t have. Many organisations have programmes where they can say they have mentored so many women or given them better opportunities. The kind of change that is needed though is more systemic and the change needs to happen from within.
What about the inclusion piece – it’s one thing to have diversity, but how do you make sure everyone is included and involved?
At J.P. Morgan we have the ethos that ‘I belong here’ – everyone belongs. If you feel like you belong, then you start to feel you can eat from the buffet and partake in everything that is on offer – you can access everything that is available in the organisation.
With speaking up it is important for the organisation to stress there will be no retaliation for doing so. Also, organisations need to make clear that inappropriate behaviour won’t be tolerated and make some examples of people early on.
There is a tremendous amount of discretion that goes into giving people the opportunity to speak up and actively creating an environment where there are no repercussions.
When something egregious happens, it is not only the person it has been done to, but the other people around who have seen it – if they were to speak up then it could be addressed without the victim having to do it.
Companies have to stand by what they say if they want to change behaviour – and not just take action where there is a financial or legal impact for them. The behaviour has to be ingrained from the top – the leader does not get to say one thing and do something else.
Do you have a motto that you live by?
My motto is ‘do to others as you would have them do to you’. That may sound cliché, but I think that is the only way we should think as human beings. If we all had that motto, imagine what life would be like if that were true all the time.