Much like Lynda, Kate had to step out of her comfort zone to become the COO of State Street Global Advisors’ Americas Institutional Client Group a few years ago, after being the Deputy General Counsel for the company. One key fear, she said, came from realising that her predecessor had a vastly different background to her own. “I learned a lot,” she said, “I had to learn to manage and lead large teams of people that were subject experts in areas where I had less experience.” After moving back to the legal department as General Counsel in January 2019, she said that being in a role on the other side of the table has given her a new perspective that she feels can benefit the legal department as a whole.
Laurette gave an outline of the concept of reverse mentoring – the process of getting younger employees to be mentors to senior leaders. “The millennial generation can teach senior leaders how to use tech,” she gave as an example, noting that this understanding can put leaders in a better position to lead the business in an increasingly digital world. And the same principles can be applied beyond technology. The concept is still relatively new, so there isn’t yet the data to demonstrate whether it’s making a change, explained Laurette. But as she said, “Exposure is the first step, and I would like to think senior leaders are listening, and that this can help to eliminate unconscious bias.”
Catherine gave a personal example from a long time ago, where she was overlooked for a promotion for a year because the promoting manager knew that she would react to the rejection better than her male counterpart. In her experience, “it comes down to having either an official or unofficial mentor or advocate.” She recommends building trust across certain teams of leaders who understand your strengths.
Laurette, meanwhile, encourages women to “open the dialogue” about their achievements. “When it’s clear what you’ve achieved and what you’ve delivered, and you know what it is that you want, you need to speak up for it and let people know what that is,” she said. Laurette spoke of an idea publicised by HSBC’s Global Head of GLCM, Diane S Reyes, that every woman should have an ‘elevator pitch’ ready. The idea is that an individual should be able to say exactly what they want in the time it takes for an elevator journey, should they bump into a senior executive. She also seconded Catherine’s advice and recommended that women get themselves a sponsor.
Lynda said she talks not only about things she has done in her company, but also about the sponsoring she does and the boards she’s on. “I share that I’m a broad thinker and contributor,” she added. With regards to an elevator pitch, she noted that the best thing to do is “know your pitch and keep it succinct”, and recommended thinking of it as a performance assessment.
India remarked on how “women second guess themselves about being ready,” whereas male peers tend to approach new opportunities whenever they can. “If there’s a job that you want and you know you pretty much tick most of the boxes, then go for it. What do you have to lose?” she asked. India also commented on the difference between core skills and behaviours, and how women shouldn’t be put off by these requirements for jobs. “You can learn skills and change behaviours,” she said.
For Laurette, “Ally-ship is about supporting people who are marginalised,” and requires a large focus on relationships. The purpose, she thinks “is to give them a hand up, or even just help.” As she said, “I’d rather teach someone to fish than serve them a fish dinner.”
India expanded on this, stating “I believe in teaching people to fish, as long as the pole is the same length.” For her, it’s a “humanity issue”, and about “basic human behaviour”. She has found that “there is absolute value in supporting people, and it takes brave voices for people to stand up and support marginalised people.” She also said a key question people should be asking is: “do I need allies or do I need people to behave like humans and do the right thing?”
“Ally-ship is interesting as a concept, but the reality is that it’s about shifting your behaviour, looking at how people are impacted in your organisation, what you want your business to look like, what you want your life to be like and how to get the best out of people. The demographic of the population is changing and we have to ensure there are equal levels of representation across all sectors of business, government and education,” India said.
As Lynda stated, “we are the current and future leaders of our organisations.” By opening up the dialogue around all intersectional points at events like the WiT forums and roundtables, and by utilising concepts like reverse mentoring, “we can take this cause even further along in elevating women to the next levels in the organisation,” she added.
With the steady increase in the number of companies offering flexible working, Kate explained that “this is an area in which we’ve seen very strong improvement over the past ten years.” She described it as an “invaluable tool” for both managers and employees, drawing on her personal experience as a parent. When she worked from home for one day a week after the birth of her first child, she said, she worked harder and longer on those days because she was so grateful for the opportunity. She credited technology for enabling the ease of a flexible working arrangement and removing some of the challenges and stigma that used to exist around it.
For Laurette, flexible working is a necessity at HSBC. Working in a global role, they meet with colleagues all hours to accommodate varying time zones, she stated that in these instances “the only way for staff to fully do their job is to work from home.” She added that “the lack of stigma is making all the difference in the world, for men and women.”
Like Kate, India found that when she began working from home, she worked a lot longer and harder, “largely because I wanted people to know I was still working hard.” However, she stated, this isn’t necessarily a good thing – and corporate culture needs to shift so that employees don’t feel that need to prove their dedication.
Words of wisdom
When asked what they’ve learnt along their journeys, and what they can do in positions of leadership to open access and encourage inclusivity, the speakers had plenty of insights to share. Kate noted the importance of small gestures, like “scheduling meetings for times that work for families, people with religious obligations, people in different time zones,” as well as undertaking things like unconscious bias training.
Lynda stated that she found the most important thing to be achieving a good work-life balance. “I felt I couldn’t do anything but work, and I realised I didn’t have a life,” she said. After finding things to do outside of work, she realised she actually felt more productive when she had a fuller life, which in turn led to her giving more back into work.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” is what Catherine had to offer. “You have to move on from small things that you can’t change and focus on the positives in your career.” She also recommended finding a network and “someone that you connect with and can talk about challenges with,” highlighting the importance of these actions from a career perspective.
For India, authenticity is the most important thing when building the groundwork for progressing in a career. “Be who you are,” she said. “It’s clichéd but true.” She adds that while it may be easy to adopt other characteristics to try and succeed – “like those of the people above you” – being “authentic and comfortable in your own skin” is one of the most important things an individual can do.
Echoing India’s thoughts on authenticity, Laurette has found that “you don’t have to bring your whole self to work, but you do have to bring your authentic self.” From the increase in flexible working and awareness of unconscious bias, she said it is clear that “the call to action is here and organisations are answering.”
We’d like to offer our thanks to all who took part in, attended, and supported our Women in Treasury New York Forum, and encourage anyone who is interested to get involved.
There are a number of ways you can do this, including attending our global forums, taking part in the 2020 Women in Treasury Global Study, joining our dedicated WiT network on LinkedIn, or by nominating yourself or a team member in the Adam Smith Awards Woman of the Year category – submissions open on 31st January 2020.